Frank van den Heuvel: Struggle for power and influence

5 August 2016 • 2 min reading time

You can feel it in the air: elections are on the way. Over the past few months, the four main players have been staking out their positions, generating publicity and seeking out the spotlight. In June, two major official working groups were front and centre.

One working group, headed by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, together with the Dutch Central Bank, the Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, have already published their budget recommendations, outlining the financial landscape the new Cabinet will face: no additional cuts needed, but no leeway for new investments either. That certainly takes the wind out of the sails of many an election programme! In their recommendation on sustainable growth, an official working group headed by the Permanent Secretary for Economic Affairs has set out the required policies for the economy, innovation, taxation, energy, education and labour.

"MPs intending to stay are currently busy submitting private member’s bills as they climb the party ladder"

A piece of legislation as your own private showpiece

In these two recommendations, the Civil Service makes crystal clear how things work: ‘New Cabinet, sign here on the dotted line’. It reminds me of the Permanent Secretary who said in his farewell address that ‘a minister is an annoying interruption that lasts no more than four years’. The second impetuous group is made up of government members who are eager to push their latest ideas and bills through Parliament. The week before Christmas is a rigid deadline, no exceptions. Politics is the domain of people, meaning the various political parties must also produce lists of candidates. That’s always a tall order for the MPs from the biggest parties, which have not been polling well recently. These MPs have two options: leave politics to enter the private sector, or make a name for themselves in the political arena. This is why MPs intending to stay are currently busy submitting private member’s bills as they climb the party ladder. Such a bill is a personal piece of legislation with a clear and specific focus that the MP hopes to use to shine in politics, the media and Parliament. When it comes to these private member’s bills, the House of Representatives and especially the Senate must remain vigilant: does the MP’s initiative answer to the demands of solid, reliable, enforceable and proportionate legislation?

Finally, political parties are currently refining their election programmes as they jockey for position. ‘What should the new Coalition Agreement contain?’ Following the election, power reverts to the elected representatives and the Civil Service, and the parties are relegated to the background. These four actors share the stage with a fifth: the media. The press and other media channels have the power to make or break the others, to heap on praise or to dismiss them out of hand.

Preferably a stable, long-term policy

Despite all these machinations, come March a sixth actor will have a say: the voter. The electorate determines what the issues will be and who will represent them in the halls of power. And the voters will have read none of the official documents, election programmes or private member’s bills. But they will certainly feel the influence of the media, public opinion and the whims of the financial markets. And TNO? TNO is enamoured of every Cabinet, every MP and every civil servant. But most of all, TNO is in favour of a stable, long-term policy. All the actors mentioned here have a role to play in this process, both consciously and unconsciously, even in aspects not included in the coalition agreement. And that is exactly where we find scope for innovative solutions that no civil servant, politician or journalist would ever dream up.


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