List of “controversial” policy areas is controversially short

Few of the caretaker cabinet’s contentious plans and proposals will be the next government’s headache as MPs complied a surprisingly short list of “controversial” subjects, the NRC says in an analysis.

Committees of MPs are spending the week deciding which of the hundreds of draft proposals, plans, reports, briefs and debates left by Mark Rutte’s fourth cabinet will be declared off-limits because they are politically contentious.

Convention dictates that a caretaker government should refrain from making decisions on substantial issues until a new cabinet with a fresh mandate from the electorate takes office.

If a “substantial minority” of MPs declares a policy area controversial, it is put on hold unless there is a cogent reason why a decision cannot be delayed. That leaves just the issues a large majority of MPs agree on.

But in what the newspaper calls “a remarkable break with the past”, debates on subjects such as nitrogen emissions and agriculture will go ahead, as will those concerning climate policy, nuclear energy, and medical-ethical issues – all of which have been the subject of controversy both in parliament and in public.

Even the law on housing migrants across the country, the issue that prompted the break-up of the last coalition, may not end up on the controversial list.

The rule committees are applying this time around is that a “normal” majority is needed to declare an issue controversial and that has been impossible to achieve bar one or two exceptions, such as cutbacks on elderly care.

Orthodox Christian party SGP and the extreme right-wing PVV said the current government wished to “rule from beyond the grave” and is “pretending the cabinet didn’t fall”.


In protest, PVV MP Fleur Agema voted to have all issues declared controversial while D66 parliamentary party chair Jan Paternotte said his party would shelve none of the issues. “We won’t sit here playing pim-pam-pet [a traditional parlour game] for three months while there is work to be done, ” he said.

Paternotte said he had been “bombarded’ with letters urging him not to hold up the decision-making process, particularly in matters concerning healthcare.

An added reason for D66 to support the show-must-go-on approach may be that its current 24 seats will be substantially reduced following the elections, the NRC suggested.

Longtime SGP leader Kees van der Staaij, who will not be returning to parliament,  said the trend to carry on making decisions in the face of elections is down to the increasing number of parties. “It will make forming a coalition that much more difficult,” he told the paper.

The question is how many of the issues will be discussed in parliament before the recess in mid-October – especially since the two-day budget debate takes place later in September. Moreover, debating a proposal is not the same as voting for it, the NRC pointed out.

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