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After the elections, not only is there a new House of Representatives, but there will also be a new Cabinet. The Cabinet comprises Ministers and State Secretaries. During the formation period, the various political parties negotiate about the formation of a new Cabinet for the next four years. Those political groups that are willing to cooperate with one another and together have a majority in Parliament, form a coalition. Subsequently, the so-called formateur chooses the Ministers and State Secretaries for the new Cabinet. The formation process must result in a Cabinet that is supported by a workable majority in the House of Representatives.

  1. Standing for election

    Any person wishing to represent the people of the Netherlands in the House of Representatives has to stand for election. People can join a political party or set up a new one on their own, but this is not necessary. Both political parties and individuals can take part in the elections by submitting a list of candidates.

    Universal suffrage was introduced in the Netherlands in 1919. Every Dutch national aged 18 or over now has the right to vote, as well as the right to stand for election as a member of the House of Representatives. The Constitution grants every Dutch citizen these rights.

    Constitution of the Kingdom of the Netherlands: article 4 Every Dutch national shall have an equal right to elect the members of the general representative bodies and to stand for election as a member of those bodies, subject to the limitations and exceptions prescribed by Act of Parliament.

    Political parties Most people who want to become MPs will join one of the existing political parties. A political party is a group of people who have roughly the same ideas about how to rule the country, for instance ideas about what is best for the environment or for education. Together with their party they will campaign for their ideas. Not everyone has the same ideas, so there are several different political parties. There are also people who decide to set up a new political party on their own. It is also possible to stand for election without being a member of a political party. Anyone wishing to stand for election has to apply to the Electoral Council: www.kiesraad.nl.

    The Elections Act

    The Elections Act prescribes the election procedures and the necessary preparations.

    Voter registration card

    Every municipality is required to maintain an electoral register of the residents of the municipality who are eligible to vote. At least fourteen days before polling day, each person eligible to vote will receive a voter registration card and a list of the political parties and their candidates who are participating in the elections. At least four days before polling day the voters receive a list of candidates. These lists are also published in the newspapers.

    Electoral districts and polling districts

    The Netherlands is divided into nineteen electoral districts for the purpose of organising the country’s elections. These districts are subdivided into polling districts. Most political groupings participating in the elections will do so in all the electoral districts. The votes cast for a specific political party in the various electoral districts are added up. In each electoral district there is a principal electoral office. The polling stations submit their polling results to the principal electoral committee, which in its turn submits the information to the Central Electoral Office in The Hague. The latter determines the overall result of the election.

    Debate about reform of the electoral system

    The way in which the members of the House of Representatives are elected is called the electoral system. Since 1917, the Netherlands has had an electoral system of proportional representation. The more people who cast their votes for a party, the more MPs this party will have in the House of Representatives. This system makes it possible for many smaller political parties to be represented in Parliament as well. The composition of the House of Representatives largely represents the different political preferences in the country

  2. Campaigning

    Shortly before the elections, political parties will unveil their plans in their party manifestos. Politicians take to the streets to discuss their goals with the citizens. Throughout the election campaign they seek publicity for their party. They explain what their party wants and how they intend to achieve their goals. Political leaders enter into debate with each other in the media.

    Every political party wants as many people as possible to vote for them: the more votes, the more seats in Parliament, and the more influence on what is going on in the Netherlands. Moreover, parties that hold more seats in Parliament have a greater likelihood of being included in the Cabinet.

     

  3. Voting

    On polling day, all Dutch nationals aged 18 or over may cast their vote for a candidate on the candidate list. By casting their vote, people make known which party they want to gain seats in Parliament and perhaps also in the Cabinet.

    The Elections Act prescribes the election procedures and the necessary preparations. At least fourteen days before polling day, each person eligible to vote will receive a voter registration card and, in most cases, a list of candidates. At least four days before polling day this list is also sent by mail to the voters. On polling day people can cast their votes at polling stations from 7.30 am. The polling stations close at 9 pm.

    Franchise

    Until 1970 the Netherlands had a system of compulsory attendance at elections. People had to report to  the polling station, but could leave without voting. Since 1970 voting is no longer a duty, but a right. As a result, the turnout in polls has decreased. Generally, between 60 and 80% of the Dutch vote for the House of Representatives, which is a rather high percentage compared with other countries.

    Preference votes

    Most people vote for the person heading the list of candidates of the party of their choice. The second person on the list generally gets a large number of votes, too. However, people are free to  vote for any of the candidates. If enough people express their preference for the same candidate, he or she may be elected regardless of their position on the candidate list. Candidates obtaining a number of votes exceeding 25% of the electoral quota are sure of a seat in Parliament, provided that sufficient seats have been awarded to their party. The electoral quota is the number of votes needed to gain one seat in Parliament.

  4. Election result

    After the closure of the polling stations at 9 pm the votes are counted. The Central Electoral Office in The Hague gathers all the local polling results, adds them up and determines the overall result of the election.

    Subsequently, the number of seats to be awarded to each party is determined. Candidates who have obtained a number of votes exceeding 25% of the electoral quota are elected in the order of the number of votes cast for them. In actual practice, most votes are cast in favour of the person heading the list of candidates, with only a limited number of candidates obtaining the required number of preference votes. Most MPs owe their seats to their position on the candidate list.

    Electoral quota and residual seats

    In order to gain a seat in Parliament, a political party needs to obtain a minimum number of votes, the so-called electoral quota. This is the overall number of votes cast for all the candidate lists divided by the number of seats in the House of Representatives (150). A seat is allocated as many times as the total vote for a specific list (political party) contains the electoral quota, but this never comes out exactly. Any remaining seats, known as residual seats, are allocated according to a system of highest averages. To be awarded a residual seat a party must have gained at least one seat on the basis of the electoral quota.

  5. New members of the House of Representatives

    After the elections, the chairperson of the Central Electoral Office officially notifies the newly elected members of the House of Representatives of their appointment. Subsequently, they must make known if they accept their appointment.

    The newly elected MPs must file an extract from the register of births to the House of Representatives, as well as a declaration disclosing all public offices they hold, or an administrative office. Together these documents are called the appointee’s “credentials”. The Committee on the Examination of the Credentials of the House of Representatives, composed of “sitting” members of the House, examines every appointee’s credentials. On the basis of the reports issued by the polling stations, the committee also examines whether the elections were conducted properly.

    The swearing in of Members of the House of Representatives

    The chairperson of the Committee on the Examination of the Credentials reports on the examination of the credentials of the newly elected MPs in the last sitting of the “old” House. In the next sitting all the newly elected MPs are sworn in by the Speaker of the House. MPs who are appointed in the course of a parliamentary session must also send in their credentials. They are sworn in at the beginning of the next sitting of the House.

    The election of the Speaker of the House of Representatives

    Since 2002, the House of Representatives has chosen its own Speaker, shortly after the swearing in of the House in its new composition. Before 2002, the political groups used to decide among themselves who would become the new Speaker of the House. Nowadays, every MP can apply for the post, simply by submitting a letter of application to their fellow MPs. The candidates are given the opportunity to elaborate on their motivation. Subsequently, the House of Representatives votes on who may hold the post in the coming four years. Mr Frans Weisglas was the first elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, in 2002. From 2006 until 2012, Ms Gerdi Verbeet was Speaker of the House. From 25 September 2012 until 12 December 2015, Ms Anouchka van Miltenburg was Speaker of the House of Representatives.

    The oath or affirmation

    At the swearing-in ceremony in the House of Representatives every MP has to take the oath or the affirmation:
    “I swear (declare) that in order to be appointed member of the States-General, I have not promised or given, directly or indirectly, any gifts or presents to any person under any name or pretext whatsoever.
    I swear (declare and affirm) that in order to do or refrain from doing anything whatsoever in this office, I have not accepted and will not accept, directly or indirectly, any promises or presents from anyone whomsoever.
    I swear (affirm) allegiance to the King, to the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands and to the Constitution.
    I swear (affirm) that I will faithfully perform all the duties which the office lays upon me.
    So help me,  Almighty God!
    (This I declare and affirm!)”

  6. The formation process

    The election of a new House of Representatives is followed by the formation of a new Cabinet, which is a complex and exciting process.

    Rules

    The Constitution contains no rules on the formation of a Cabinet. It only deals with the beginning and the end of the formation process, i.e. the resignation of the old Cabinet and the appointment of the new Cabinet by the Head of State. The formation process is largely based on unwritten constitutional and customary law.

    Rules of Procedure

    On 27 March 2012 the House adopted a change of the rules governing the formation process, laid down in its Rules of Procedure. The aim of the amendment was to enable the House of Representatives to take the initiative in the formation of a new Cabinet. Before the House decided to amend its Rules of Procedure, the Head of State played a key role in the formation process. It is now laid down in the Rules of Procedure that no later than one week after the installation of a newly elected House of Representatives the House shall have a plenary debate on the election result. The aim of the debate is to draft an information assignment and to designate one or more “informateurs” to carry out this assignment. The House may also decide to skip the information stage and to start the formation process immediately. In that case the aim of the debate is to designate one or more “formateurs” and to draft a formation assignment.

    The duration of the Cabinet formation

    In the Netherlands, the formation a Cabinet can be a very prolonged process. This may be problematic, because in principle the outgoing Cabinet only deals with current, non-controversial affairs. A Cabinet becomes "outgoing" once the Prime Minister has tendered its resignation to the Head of State. Since 1946 the average duration of a Cabinet formation has been 89.5 days. The shortest formation, that of the Drees I Cabinet in 1948, took ten days. The longest formation took 208 days and resulted in the Van Agt I Cabinet in 1977. The formation of the current Rutte II Cabinet was completed in 52 days.

  7. Tasks of the informateur

    It is the informateur’s task to explore the various options for a new Cabinet. He examines which parties are able and ready to form a new Cabinet and any obstacles which have to be overcome.

    The informateur examines which parties are able and ready to form a new cabinet and any obstacles which have to be overcome. Never in Dutch parliamentary history has a single party gained more than 50% of the votes. Consequently, parties have to cooperate to form a coalition government. Parties who are not included in the coalition constitute the opposition.

    The scope of the assignment given to the informateur depends on the polling results. If two parties have a majority and they agree with each other, the informateur will have a limited role. This was the case in 2012. The mission entrusted to the informateurs was to explore the option of a stable VVD/PvdA Cabinet in the shortest time possible. After completion of their duties the informateurs propose the House to appoint a formateur.

    Coalition

    There are a multitude of political parties in the Netherlands. Never in Dutch parliamentary history has a single party obtained more than 50% of the votes. Consequently, parties must cooperate and form a coalition government. Parties that are not included in the coalition constitute the opposition. All the Dutch Cabinets since WO II have been coalition Cabinets, supported by two or more political groups, who together have had a majority in the House of Representatives.

    The Coalition Agreement

    The scope of the assignment given to the informateur may involve the drafting of a Coalition Agreement. Sometimes a new informateur is appointed for this task. The informateur negotiates with the coalition parties about the common goals and the key policy themes of the future Cabinet. When they have reached an agreement, the coalition parties set out the arrangements in a so-called Coalition Agreement. The new Cabinet is bound by the Coalition Agreement and has to implement concrete policy measures over the coming years, on the basis of the agreements set out in the Coalition Agreement.

  8. Duties of the formateur

    After the informateur has recommended a coalition and the key themes of the shared policies have been set out in the Coalition Agreement, the House of Representatives appoints a Cabinet formateur, who in most cases is the intended Prime Minister. He concludes the formation talks.

    In most cases the formateur will be the intended Prime Minister. As a rule, the largest party provides the Prime Minister. He concludes the formation talks and divides the ministerial posts or “portfolios” The formateur will then look for people who are eligible to become ministers or state secretaries on behalf of the coalition parties.

    When the team is complete, the new Cabinet holds a so-called constituent assembly, where the ministers must state that they agree with the Coalition Agreement, setting out the common goals and the key policy themes of the future Cabinet. Subsequently, the Head of State swears in the ministers and state secretaries. Shortly afterwards, the Cabinet delivers the Government's policy statement in the House of Representatives.

    The duration of the Cabinet formation

    In the Netherlands, the formation a Cabinet can be a very prolonged process. This may be problematic, because in principle the outgoing Cabinet only deals with current, non-controversial affairs. A Cabinet becomes "outgoing" once the Prime Minister has tendered its resignation to the Head of State. Since 1946 the average duration of a Cabinet formation has been 89.5 days. The shortest formation, that of the Drees I Cabinet in 1948, took ten days. The longest formation took 208 days and resulted in the Van Agt I Cabinet in 1977. The formation of the current Rutte II Cabinet was completed in 52 days.

    Formation process changed

    On 27 March 2012 the House adopted a change of the rules governing the formation process, laid down in its Rules of Procedure. The aim of the amendment was to enable the House of Representatives to take the initiative in the formation of a new Cabinet. Before the House decided to amend its Rules of Procedure, the Head of State played a key role in the formation process, which followed an established pattern. After consulting her advisers the Head of State appointed an informateur, who's task was to explore the possibilities to form a Cabinet that would gain sufficient support from the House of Representatives. Once the information process had yielded a clear result the Head of State appointed a formateur.

  9. Coalition agreement

    The Government sets out in the Coalition Agreement what it wants to achieve in the next Cabinet period: for instance a reduction in unemployment, a cleaner environment without damaging the economy, and more money for education. The coalition parties each want to implement as much as possible of their party manifestos in the Coalition Agreement.

    Political parties wanting to make up a new Cabinet first have to reach an agreement on a draft Coalition Agreement, which is then presented for comment to the political groups representing the coalition parties in the House of Representatives. The more comments are received, the greater the chances that further negotiations will be necessary between the intended coalition partners. It may, for instance, be an issue that political groups find too few of the goals formulated in their party's manifesto included in the Coalition Agreement. In such a case, the formation may still fail.

    Give and take

    A Coalition Agreement is a matter of give and take, and a compromise between different party views. In the House of Representatives, the Cabinet sheds some light on the agreement with the Government’s Policy Statement. The majority of the House has to endorse the agreement.

  10. The new Cabinet

    At the inauguration ceremony of a new Cabinet the King or Queen first appoints and swears in the Ministers. This is followed by the traditional photograph of the King or Queen and the Ministers on the steps of Huis ten Bosch Palace. The King or Queen then immediately swears in the State Secretaries. The Cabinet formation is now complete.

    Article 43 of the Constitution states that Ministers shall be appointed by Royal Decree. This is a decision taken by the Government without the prior consent of the States General. Article 48 of the Constitution states that such Royal Decrees shall be countersigned by the Prime Minister. The Royal Decree appointing the Prime Minister shall also be countersigned by the latter. This is the final formality of the formation process.

    Democratic legitimation

    It may appear as if Parliament is not involved in the whole appointment procedure. Yet, there is democratic legitimation. On the one hand, parties must cooperate with each other, for in the Netherlands no single political party ever gains the absolute majority. On the other hand, the confidence rule applies. The new Cabinet must enjoy Parliament’s confidence. Without confidence, the new Cabinet cannot function.

  11. The Government's Statement

    The new Cabinet first draws up the Government’s Policy Statement, stating the key themes of the Coalition Agreement. The Prime Minister delivers the Government’s Policy Statement in the House of Representatives. The same day, or in the next sitting, the House of Representatives holds a debate about the content of the Government’s Policy Statement.

    As a rule, all MPs, Ministers and State Secretaries attend the debate about the Government’s Policy Statement. The debate will last two or three days. It is not formally part of the Cabinet formation process, but is associated with the confidence rule: a Cabinet can only remain in power if it has Parliament’s confidence.

    The “confidence rule”

    All Ministers and the Cabinet as a whole must have Parliament’s confidence. Consequently, a Minister, or the entire Cabinet, must resign if a majority in Parliament no longer has confidence in them. The House of Representatives can withdraw confidence, for example, by adopting a motion of no-confidence. In the event of an internal conflict, the Cabinet will tender its resignation to the Queen, which is often followed by snap elections and the formation of a new Cabinet.

    The new Cabinet

    Will the House of Representatives accept the new Cabinet? This becomes clear after the debate about the Government’s Policy Statement. What matters is that the Cabinet can rely on good cooperation from the House of Representatives. There is very little likelihood, however, that the Cabinet will fall at its first performance. After all, the coalition parties have had intensive consultation throughout the formation process. They support the Coalition Agreement and the Government’s Policy Statement. Only once in Dutch parliamentary history has a Cabinet fallen immediately after its formation, namely in 1939.