When the ballot boxes close on 12 September, an interesting time begins for lobbyists. How can they ensure that their wish list is incorporated into the coalition agreement? After an earlier blog post on lobbying around election time, now a feature on lobbying while the cabinet is being formed: a matter of drawing attention to your message at the right time and through the right channels.
Lower House has primacy
Aside from the results of the Lower House elections: it is hard to say what will happen after 12 September. It looks as if, for the first time in history, the Dutch head of state will not be playing a role in the formation of the new cabinet. So far, the formation has taken place in accordance with the familiar guidelines (fraction chairmen and permanent advisors visit the queen; the queen appoints an ‘informateur’, whose job it is investigate the options for a new cabinet), but this time the Lower House has primacy.
It will, therefore, probably be the chairman of the largest fraction who takes the reins. He will attempt to get his colleague fraction chairpersons in agreement on whom to appoint as informateur and how to instruct him or her. If no consensus is reached, then go back to the usual scenario: a coming and going of councillors and politicians at Huis ten Bosch, the queen’s official residence, after which she will appoint an informateur after all.
Whichever route it takes – Lower House or queen – at some point the formation process begins. That does not mean, though, that negotiations commence immediately. So lobbyists should not jump the gun. The queen (so probably the Lower House, too) generally allocates the first informateur an investigatory task: Explore the coalition options. Or, in the jargon of The Hague, ‘which coalitions can be expected to collaborate fruitfully with the Lower House’. Once this informateur has presented his report, phase two of the formation begins: The parties endeavour to conclude a coalition agreement under the guidance of one or more informateurs.
The second phase of the formation process is when things really get interesting: not only for the public at large, but also for lobbyists. Even though negotiators meet in secret and/or secluded spots – we all remember the picturesque Friesian village of Beetsterzwaag, where the Balkenende IV cabinet was put together – they are not the impenetrable bastions they might seem. No chance of dropping in for a cup of coffee, but the negotiators are in need of information relevant for the coalition agreement. Here are three tried and tested ways of conveying your information.
Letter to the informateur
A good lobbyist will have done his preparatory work long before the elections. In that case, what he or she did immediately after the fall of the Rutte cabinet is to formulate messages on issues relevant to his or her company or organisation over the next few years. With a bit of luck, those messages have ended up in one or more election programmes. In this phase of the formation it is essential to draw attention to those messages again.
Many organisations use a proven means: a letter to the informateur. In my view, in most cases such a letter is useless, but it is necessary. Why useless? Because your contribution will end up in a pile with at least 576 other letters on the informateur’s desk. It is not unthinkable that something will happen with your letter, but the chance is slim. So why send a letter anyway? Because it is a good opportunity to again bring your standpoints to the attention of both society and the community you serve. This is particularly important if you work for an interest group. So convey your letter to the informateur in a big way: through the press, but also through social media.
Through members of parliament and ministries
There are, however, more effective ways of exercising influence during the formation. First of all, keep in contact with members of parliament relevant to your cause. Naturally, you should focus on fractions that are in the process of trying to forge a coalition agreement. You can assume that MPs are in close contact with fellow party members involved in the negotiations. A conversation with these members of parliament, a concise core message, possibly a financial analysis of your plans (what they cost, what they will generate): a real chance of the negotiators at least seriously considering your input.
(Top) civil servants will also be closely involved in the negotiations for forming a new cabinet. The contacts you have already built up with them come in useful in this phase. Make sure they, too, are provided with relevant information during the negotiations.
One characteristic indispensible to a lobbyist is patience. Experience of cabinet formations in recent decades has shown that there are almost always several rounds of negotiations. Take the 2010 formation. The initial negotiations were for a ‘Purple Plus’ cabinet (made up of the two liberal parties VVD and D66, the labour party PvdA and GroenLinks, the Dutch green party), but when that combination proved unfeasible, an entirely different option was proposed (liberal party VVD and Christian democrats CDA, plus support without participation from the PVV, the party for freedom). As a lobbyist, you have to be patient and go with the flow. Do not use up your ammunition all at once; come back and fire a second volley…