The auditors have had their say, and now it is time for politicians in The Hague to respond. For the next few weeks the parties in office, VVD and CDA, and their supporting partner, PVV, will shut themselves away from the public gaze in order to draw up a new coalition agreement. While it is not officially known as such, one should not be misled by the terminology: This is nothing more and nothing less than an interim cabinet formation, which will result in an amended coalition agreement (containing draconic measures, by all accounts). There is a great deal of commotion in political circles in The Hague, and this therefore also applies to the lobby.
The lobby during an interim cabinet formation: The Hague today
What can a public affairs consultant actually do in The Hague, while a cabinet formation is taking place? First and foremost: If one has just begun to exercise one’s influence as a lobbyist, then one may well have missed the boat. After all, it has been obvious that there is heavy weather ahead since last autumn. And while it did not become clear until 1 March that it might actually prove tempestuous, lobbyists worth their salt did not await the publication of the figures by the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB). They already analysed the circumstances for their particular firm or sector several months ago, and proceeded to take appropriate action.
For instance, they made civil servants and politicians alike aware of the risks that the proposed measures entail: Namely what are known as the earning costs, or cutbacks which ultimately cost the government more than it saves. And – perhaps more important still – by proposing serious alternatives. Nothing is more annoying to politicians in The Hague than lobbyists who insist on pointing out the drawbacks to the cabinet’s plans, without offering anything constructive in return.
Opportunities in the administrative lobby
Does this imply that we have reached a stage where it is no longer possible to exercise any political influence? No, the political world is certainly not so one dimensional. While to all intents and purposes, the five gents and one lady would appear to have barricaded themselves in, in the splendid isolation that Catshuis offers, they will nevertheless remain very much in touch with the outside world during the course of the negotiation process. For instance, there are direct lines from the ‘War Room’ to various departments, whose civil servants have to interpret and calculate the outcome of proposals. This certainly offers opportunities to exert one’s influence.
Lobbying opportunities in political circles: The Lower House
In addition, the negotiators themselves are almost bound to use the three parliamentary parties in the Lower House involved as a sounding board to assess both the feasibility of and support for the proposals tabled. There will therefore be opportunities for lobbyists in this area, too, during the next few weeks. A piece of advice: Keep all channels with the House open, including those with the opposition. After all, it may well prove the case that the parties in power fail to acquire PVV support for certain plans and measures, and are therefore obliged (as was the case just last year) to make pacts with other parties in the House.
The Hague tomorrow?
And this neatly brings us to the key question: Will the negotiations being held at No. 10 Adriaan Goekooplaan ultimately prove successful? A glance at my crystal ball suggests that the sextet of negotiators – albeit following a prolonged tussle – will reach an agreement. None of the three parties has very much to gain from new elections, after all. VVD has no wish to place the Prime Minister’s seat at stake, while CDA is still very much engaged in the process of getting back in touch with its roots and lacks an appealing leader, and PVV’s intermittent yapping is certainly worse than its bite, in the firm knowledge that the government has no alternative candidate available to bolster its existing coalition.
Should I prove wrong in my assumptions, however, then I shall address the issue in my next blog: How does one lobby at election time?