Freshly sworn in and immediately debating: this cabinet learns everything under pressure

Piet Adema had just become minister when panic gripped his throat. It was October 2022, Agriculture Minister Henk Staghouwer had just resigned and was succeeded by UC member Adema. His start was stormy: two days after being sworn in he had to receive the Remkes report on nitrogen and a day later Adema was already debating fertiliser policy in the House of Representatives. It overwhelmed him. “I panicked for a moment,” the driver said at the time. “I thought: Guys, did I do the right thing? Will I ever be able to handle this?”

The ministers in the Schoof cabinet now also know that ministerial posts do not always start off calmly. The day after taking office, they witnessed an unprecedentedly fierce parliamentary debate on the government’s declaration. “It was not what I expected,” Prime Minister Dick Schoof admitted on Friday evening after the first regular cabinet meeting. “I went through the whole process at a reasonable speed. I will take some time over the weekend to reflect on the past few days.”

Straight to the debate

Even without a tough parliamentary debate, the first weeks of a minister’s life are very much like a crash course. First there is the constituent consultation, the founding meeting of the new cabinet. This is followed by the swearing-in ceremony and the first council of ministers. In these days, sometimes even before a cabinet member has formally taken up his or her post, the new employees are already introduced. For example, the new Minister of Agriculture, Femke Wiersma, spoke to her personal secretary, who will now be aware of her schedule.

Wiersma’s first days were certainly much busier than those of his colleagues. The House of Representatives had originally wanted to discuss manure policy with the new BBB minister on Wednesday evening, 24 hours after he had been sworn in at the palace. His officials therefore prepared well for it between 9 and 10 a.m. that morning. But his own party, the BoerBurgerBeweging, felt that this was not wise. “This is a minister who has only just arrived,” said party leader Caroline van der Plas. “This minister may not have slept for two nights.”

No, Wiersma was not looking forward to a debate on manure on her first day as minister either. She also thought: during the debate on the government declaration, as a minister you should be sitting in the plenary hall of the House of Representatives, not during another debate. She was very surprised when her fellow ministers Caspar Veldkamp (Foreign Affairs) and Ruben Brekelmans (Defence) got up to go to a committee debate on NATO. “It was all confusing,” she said on Wednesday evening. “There was all this fuss, I don’t understand it all either.” The debate was still taking place on Thursday.

‘My first feat’

For the State Secretary for Recovery in Groningen, Eddie van Marum, the first few days were calmer. “We are very well received here at the ministry,” he says. The minister currently works in the Ministry of the Interior, which includes his State Secretariat. But in the previous government, this was still the responsibility of Economic Affairs, so most of the civil servants are still in that department. “We are now busy with the move,” he says.

Van Marum said he wanted to speak to his employees as quickly as possible. All of them. “From the lady at the café to the general manager. I have expressed my great gratitude for their work over the past period. That is my first achievement.” The new minister was then quickly “briefed on all the files by various teams and brought up to speed.”

government program

What now? After the training, all members of Prime Minister Schoof’s cabinet can take a week or two off at the end of July and beginning of August. This is especially true for all civil servants, and above all, the main agreement between the PVV, VVD, NSC and BBB will be developed into a government programme in the near future.

This promises to be a lot of work. According to Prime Minister Schoof, the programme is being drawn up on the basis of the ten main points included in the coalition agreement. “For each main point, the social task will be described, what the government wants to achieve, how and with what approach it will be achieved.” Schoof emphasised that work on this will be carried out “throughout the summer”. It should be completed before Budget Day.

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The surprising debut of the Schoof cabinet

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The VVD and the NSC do not believe in the Brussels manure miracle

How will the new government solve the manure crisis? The new agriculture minister, Femke Wiersma, kept a low profile during her first debate. Meanwhile, the coalition parties VVD and NSC have already made it clear that they do not believe in a miracle from Brussels.

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