10 March 2012 Douwe de Joode wrote a letter to the editor of NRC Handelsblad asking why his newspaper always mentions which political party a minister is from. “Ministers from the cabinet. Though coming from political parties, they are primarily governers and no longer politicians. They work for all citizens.” The editor completely agreed in the context of constitutional law. But “the moment a minister loses support from his own partij (…) it stops. Unless this minister receives enough support from other factions, but this is seldom the case.” As a second reason to mention the political party is because parties see their minister as advertising. Thanks to a minister you are visible as a party. This could just as well be a reason for the newspaper not to mention the political party. It is free publicity for the party as a ‘brand’.
This shows why it is good to not have ministers come from a political party. Which does not mean such a person should not say what he or she votes or is part of. The most important is to receive and keep the support from a majority of the parliament. This works best for an independent minister by not following any party doctrine or coalition agreement, but the wishes of a majority of the parliament.
After the elections in the Netherlands on 12 September 2012 a coalition government needs to be found. According to the opinion polls this will be very difficult. No majority is possible with less than three parties. The biggest problem is the polarisation; the biggest parties will not agree to be in a coalition together. With the remaining parties it is hard to reach a majority.
Since March 2012 the parliament has given itself more freedom in forming a coalition. Within a week after the elections parliament will convene and decide how to proceed to form a government. Previously, this initiative was in the hands of the monarch. We can expect parliament to appoint someone to investigate the willingness of parties to form a coalition together. This formation is likely to take weeks if not months.
My proposal is to let parliament vote on a motion to appointment a government consisting of extra-political ministers coming from the citizenry if there is no coalition within a month. This will at least put extra pressure on the formation process. There now is a deadline, it can no longer last endlessly.
Secondly, journalists can start finding good candidates. All likely candidates can answer the question, ‘would you be a good minister?’ Usually during the formation there is no news to report. With this option open every candidate found can become news. These candidates can then explain how they would deal with parliament. Which compromises and middle ground solutions will receive a majority?
Typically, good candidates are not political figures. The required skill is to find support for a measure from a diverse, even divided, constituency. This is the position leaders of an economic sector find themselves in: education, health care, retail, production and so on. Their constituencies are often not unanimous about proposed solutions or positions. It is their skill to find the band-with they can operate in. Also managers in multinational organisations need this skill to satisfy both shareholders, employees and the legislators of the countries they produce or sell in. They often take great pleasure and pride in pragmatically advancing concrete measures within the constraints given to them. Unlike politicians who are elected for their convictions and their skill to argue that those are the best.