New Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has chosen a cabinet led by senior stalwarts from the two parties that make up the coalition, backed up by a number of young up-and-coming politicians. Just four of the 18 cabinet members are women, fewer than any cabinet since the first one led by Ruud Lubbers back in 1981. The average age of this cabinet is 54.
It will be the first minority government in recent Dutch history, also the first led by a liberal in more than 90 years. Moreover, the coalition has signed an uprecedented agreement guaranteeing it the support in parliament of Geert Wilders' Freedom Party. Yet another first: never before has the prime minister of the Netherlands been a bachelor.
The coalition parties
The official name of the party, which was formed in January 1948, is the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy. Although liberalism has a long tradition in Dutch politics, the movement had always been prone to factionalism and splits until the new VVD united several existing parties. The VVD is liberal in the sense that it favours a free market, free trade and individual liberties but otherwise right-wing and conservative, although there is quite a range of opinion within the party.
The Christian Democratic Appeal was formed in October 1980 from the three major Christian parties, the Catholic People's Party (KVP) and the protestant Christian Historical Union (CHU) and Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP). These parties had been in power almost without interruption since 1918. Threatened by increasing secularisation and the defection of left-wing Catholics and Protestants in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the three parties first formed a federation and then merged into the new right-of-centre Christian Democrat party.
The Dutch constitutional monarchy
The 1848 constitution states that "The King can do no wrong, the ministers are responsible". The Netherlands' form of government is that of a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. Power is shared by king, ministers, and parliament.
The king, or queen, and the ministers form the government. But the Dutch head of state, currenly Queen Beatrix, has no personal powers. The role of the monarch is limited to appointing provincial governors, municipal mayors, judges and other high-ranking officials. Laws, once they have been passed by parliament, do not come into force until they have been countersigned by the king (queen).
After Lower House elections, the head of state appoints coalition negotiators - unavoidable in the multi-party parliamentary system - and appoints the new prime minister. After being sworn in, the new ministers and the monarch present themselves to the people as the new government, usually on the steps of the royal palace. After these ceremonies the head of state leaves the political arena until the next elections.
Other duties of the head of state are largely ceremonial.
The Dutch monarchy was established in 1814, by the Chaumont treaty signed by a number of major European powers. In 1815, Willem Frederik of Orange Nassau was crowned as King Willem. All kings and queens of the Netherlands have been descendants of Willem. The eldest child of the monarch is generally the successor, whether male or female.
Prime Minister - Mark Rutte (VVD party)
also Cabinet Office Minister
First liberal prime minister in nearly 100 years and, at 43, one of the youngest. A quick student, he has a reputation for being a 'nice guy', someone who makes people feel at ease and who can bridge conflicts. Is he perhaps too nice? He’s also the first bachelor to lead the country. (Read more)
Deputy Prime Minister - Maxime Verhagen (CDA party)
also Minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture & Innovation
Maxime Verhagen has finally arrived at the pinnacle of power after spending much of his 54 years manoeuvring toward the top. Mr Verhagen was born in the southern city of Maastricht. He was a leader in the youth branch of the Christian Democrat party (CDA) and went to work in The Hague as assistant to an MP in the early 1980s. In 1989 he was elected to represent the party in the European Parliament. In 1994 he returned to The Hague as an MP.
He chaired the CDA parliamentary party during Jan Peter Balkenende’s first governments, becoming Foreign Minister in 2007. A clash between Mr Verhagen and then Labour Party leader Wouter Bos about whether or not to extend the Dutch mission in Afghanistan brought down the last cabinet.
The new cabinet owes its existence to Mr Verhagen’s ability to persuade and cajole reluctant members of his party into doing business with Geert Wilders' anti-Islamic Freedom Party (PVV).
He is one of three CDA members from the last cabinet to get a senior position in this one. He is a fanatical twitterer.
Deputy Economic Affairs Minister - Henk Bleker (CDA)
Mr Bleker and Mr Verhagen have been nearly inseparable for the last few months and will continue working together. Mr Bleker (57) studied Political Science at the VU University of Amsterdam, and got his doctorate in law at the University of Groningen. He worked there as researcher and advisor until 1999 when he joined the executive council of the Province of Groningen.
In June 2010 he was named temporary party chair of the CDA, and he helped Mr Verhagen massage his party into joining the current government.
Mr Bleker is divorced and has three children. His passion is raising Welsh ponies
Minister of Security & Justice - Ivo Opstelten (VVD)
Ivo Opstelten was the man appointed by the queen who help cobble this cabinet together. At 66 he is one of the senior figures in the VVD and Mark Rutte’s mentor. Mark Rutte started doing much better after Mr Opstelten became VVD party chair in 2008. He was Mayor of Rotterdam from 1999–2008 and chairs the committee trying to bring the Olympics to the Netherlands in 2028.
He is married and has four daughters.
Deputy Security Minister – Fred Teeven (VVD)
52 years old and born in Haarlem, he worked for the Public Prosecutor's office and gained a reputation as a crime fighter.
He replaced Pim Fortuyn as top parliamentary candidate for the Liveable Netherlands party and was one of their two MPs 2002-2003. He then switched to the VVD and was elected to parliament again in 2006.
He is a keen runner.
Foreign Minister - Uri Rosenthal (VVD)
Another senior figure in the VVD, Uri Rosenthal (65) also answered the Queen’s call to lead the formation negotiations this summer. Twice.
He has been a senator since 1999 and leader of the parliamentary party for much of that time. Known as an intellectual, Mr Rosenthal earned his PhD in political science at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. He has been a professor since 1980. He is also the chairman of the Institute for Security and Crisis Management.
He is married with two children.
Deputy Foreign Minister – Ben Knapen (CDA)
Ben Knapen (59), a journalist and historian, is one of only two members of this cabinet to be taking on his first position in national politics. He has been a member of the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) since 2001. He was Editor in Chief of a major Dutch daily newspaper, the NRC Handelsblad, in the early 1990s, working his way up from foreign correspondent.
A cloud of controversy hangs over Ben Knapen due to a period when he was on the executive board of PCM, a publishing company. A national watchdog now says the company was badly mismanaged during the time Mr Knapen was on the board.
Minister of the Interior & Kingdom Relations - Piet Hein Donner (CDA)
Riding his standard black bike and wearing a black suit, Piet Hein Donner has for many years been a conspicuous figure in Dutch politics. The 61-year-old Christian Democrat will now head his third ministry since 2002. He started out as a jurist at the Economic Affairs Ministry and later move to the Justice Ministry where he established his image as an intelligent and level-headed administrator.
In 2006 he resigned as Justice Minister following several deaths in a fire in the holding cells for asylum seekers at Schiphol airport. Five months later he returned as Social Affairs Minister in a new cabinet. Part of his brief at the Interior Ministry is to cut back the number of civil servants.
Mr Donner is generally regarded as an experienced, stabilising force within the new cabinet.
Defence Minister – Hans Hillen (CDA)
The third of the "wise old men" Mark Rutte has chosen in his cabinet. Hans Hillen may be a few years junior (63) to his aforementioned colleagues, he is no less influential. Mr Hillen has been a senator for the CDA since 2007 and served as an MP for 12 years. He was also spokesman at the Finance Ministry (1983-1989).
He was a journalist for 14 years, six of those as political correspondent. He is know as a political strategist who is not afraid to speak his mind. He criticized his own CDA for being too weak in opposition to Geert Wilders. But he also predicted a few years ago that Mr Wilders’ political career would fizzle out. Now he is in a cabinet thanks to Geert Wilders' phenomenal political growth.
Finance Minister – Jan Kees de Jager (CDA)
Jan Kees de Jager is one of the young up-and-coming members of the Rutte cabinet. Mr De Jager is a carry-over from the last cabinet, having served as Deputy Finance Minister until the government fell in February. He was then named as caretaker minister. Widely praised for his careful and thorough approach, he is also regarded as a good communicator.
Before entering politics, he had his own internet company, ISM eCompany. In 2006, he won the ICT Personality of the year award.
Deputy Finance Minister – Frans Weekers (VVD)
Frans Weekers wills serve under Jan Kees de Jager at Finance. He is 43 years old and from Limburg. He has served the VVD in parliament since 1998.
Minister of Immigration & Asylum - Gerd Leers (CDA)
Gerd Leers (59) is widely known for his time as Mayor of the southern city of Maastricht (2002-2010) Unfortunately, he is just as famous for having to step down after an alleged conflict of interest surrounding a holiday home in Bulgaria. He had a reputation as being tough but reasonable. He advocated legalising marijuana-growing but also tried to get the 'coffeeshops' (which sell it) in Maastricht moved to the outskirts of town.
He has served as an MP for 12 years. In the past Mr Leers has been fiercely critical of Geert Wilders' anti-Islamic rhetoric. According to the Dutch media, he was summoned to a meeting with the Freedom Party leader to "clear the air" before being named to head what, for Wilders, is one of the most important ministries in the new government.
Minister of Social Affairs & Employment - Henk Kamp (VVD)
Henk Kamp returns to The Hague after a stint as Commissioner of the Netherlands Antilles, where he helped oversee a major constitutional reform. At 58, he belongs the senior cadre of politicians in the Rutte cabinet. He has been minister twice already: Defence 2003-2007 and Housing 2002-2003. He has also served a total of ten years in parliament.
Deputy Social Affairs Minister – Paul de Krom (VVD)
A member of the young guard of VVD MPs (since 2003), Paul de Krom has handled integration for the past two years. After a few years as a civil servant in the Defence Ministry in the late 1980s, Mr De Krom made his career at Shell, where he spent time in Dubai and London.
Minister of Health, Welfare & Sport - Edith Schippers (VVD)
Edith Schippers (46) has been Mark Rutte’s number two in the VVD parliamentary party for a number of years. She was at his side during the months of negotiations this past summer. She has long been tipped as a coming talent in the VVD.
Deputy Health Minister – Marlies Veldhuijzen van Zanten (CDA)
One of the few Rutte appointments to come from outside political circles in The Hague. Marlies Veldhuijzen is a doctor specialising in care for the elderly.
Minister of Education, Culture & Science – Maria van Bijsterveldt (CDA)
Maria van Bijsterveldt (49) has also received a promotion. In the most recent cabinet, she served as deputy minister in the same department. Now she gets a chance to run the show. Trained as a nurse, she became the youngest mayor in the Netherlands in Schipluiden in 1994. She became CDA party chair in 2002, the first chair to be elected by the members.
She is married with two children. Her nephew is a senator for the Socialist Party.
Deputy Education Minister – Halbe Zijlstra (VVD)
Halbe Zijlstra (41) is part of the young guard. He got his political feet wet at the Utrecht city council, and came to parliament in 2006. He quickly made his mark by getting a law passed to facilitate prosecuting football hooligans.
Minister of Infrastructure & Environment - Melanie Schultz van Haegen (VVD)
The baby of the Rutte cabinet at just 40 years old, Melanie Schultz van Haegen is returning to politics after a few years at insurance company Achmea. As Deputy Minister for Transport from 2002-2006, she ran into controversy regarding decisions about Schiphol airport.
Deputy Infrastructure Minister – Joop Atsma (CDA)
Joop Atsma (54) is best known for being a cycling fanatic. He was chair of the Royal Dutch Cyclists Union for 12 years. As a Christian Democrat MP (since 1998), he has often promoted cycling. He recently authored a new government-wide cycling policy.
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