Roel, wouldn’t it be better to wait with a budget until a new cabinet is in place?
“Whether there is a cabinet or not, a budget has to be drawn up for the following year. Now that there is no new cabinet yet, the current caretaker cabinet has done this.
The budget must be approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate before the money can be spent next year. That happens in the weeks after Prinsjesdag. First, during the General Political Reflections (APB), the group leaders will have a broad debate about the plans for next year. After that, each budget of each ministry is discussed separately.
In 2017, the cabinet formation was also still in progress on Budget Day. It was then decided to postpone the General Political Reflections and budget discussions until the cabinet had been finalised. This allowed the forming parties to make a number of changes to the budget in November that had been agreed in the cabinet formation.”
What is different on Budget Day because of a caretaker cabinet?
“A caretaker government has less room to come up with new policy and new expenditure. However, the budget for 2022 still contains a number of substantial investments. Billions extra will go to climate, an expenditure that the government has to make after court decisions in the Urgenda case.
Hundreds of millions also go to safety. This is an explicit wish of the House of Representatives. The same goes for the extra money that will be set aside to tackle the problems in the housing market.
The budget will be policy-poor, not full of new plans. A caretaker cabinet is supposed to be careful and only do the essentials that really can’t wait, and for which there is broad support in parliament. It is up to a new cabinet to come up with new plans. If that doesn’t take too long, they can be included in the budget later this year before parliament gives its approval.”
Isn’t that budget immediately obsolete when a new cabinet takes office?
“A large part of government expenditure is fixed. Billions are spent on civil servants’ salaries, health care and various benefits. Expenditure that will not change when a new cabinet takes office. In addition, each cabinet makes its own assessments of which issues and problems are given priority and where. extra money will therefore be earmarked for this. The budget will therefore not immediately be outdated when a new cabinet takes office. However, a number of adjustments will undoubtedly be made so that the new cabinet can immediately start working with its own plans.”
Will there be a very large ‘unforeseen’ pot in it?
“No, it doesn’t work like that. Whether there is still room for a new cabinet to make new expenditures, and if so how much, also depends on the choices that are made. The new coalition can, for example, decide to cut one expenditure. to make room for an investment in another area.”
Can the budget be adjusted in the interim by the new cabinet?
“If the House of Representatives still wants to shift expenditure between ministries, this must be arranged in the General Political Reflections. When dealing with the budgets of the individual ministries afterwards, expenditure within a ministry can still be shifted.”
Can the outgoing cabinet now make financial choices that a new cabinet will soon be saddled with?
Whatever choices the outgoing cabinet makes – and it is therefore usual for the current team to be reluctant to make new policy in the reserve time – the budget will always have to be approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate. a majority agrees with policies that it is already clear the future governing coalition will not support.”
Is it bad that choices are pushed forward, such as about care, climate and housing?
“Even though some claim that it is not so bad that there is no cabinet, and that the country just keeps going, it is still not good. Major problems remain unsolved. Take the nitrogen crisis, for example, which is politically very sensitive and therefore due to the current situation. It is sometimes pointed out that Belgium experienced tumultuous economic growth during the longest formation ever, but that is of course not the result of the lack of a government. The fact that the Netherlands was in such good shape before corona and could therefore take a beating, is because the economy has been strengthened in recent years. it is not for nothing that employers and trade unions are now complaining that it is harmful that it takes so long before a new cabinet is in place.
It is interesting to see how things will go after Prinsjesdag. The House of Representatives could already make a number of changes to the budget for next year during the General Political Reflections. But the question is whether the forming parties feel like it, or whether they don’t want to let themselves be looked at because negotiations for a new cabinet have barely started. At the same time, parties that may be required to support a minority government will see the APB as a test case to see whether it is possible to do business with the parties of the future minority government. If, for example, PvdA and GroenLinks get little done in the General Reflections, the enthusiasm to support a minority government will not increase.”