THE HAGUE - The results of the Provincial Council elections this week will play "a significant role" in Cabinet decisions about nitrogen emissions policy, said Prime Minister Mark Rutte. The election means the governing coalition of Rutte's VVD, D66, CDA and ChristenUnie could lose about 8 of their combined 32 seats in the Eerste Kamer, the Dutch Senate. The BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB) in its first provincial election will likely hold at least sixteen seats in the Senate, according to the most current tally.
That is an "unmistakable signal from the voter" that will eventually also have an "impact" on certain issues. "That's inevitable," the prime minister said during his regular weekly press conference on Friday.
Rutte said it should be viewed as the public shouting out to the national politicians in The Hague, saying it is something "that we must understand." His fourth Cabinet discussed the election results in the Council of Ministers meeting that preceded the press conference.
Wopke Hoekstra, who leads the CDA and serves as both the foreign affairs minister and a deputy prime minister, said that the Cabinet cannot simply continue "on style and substance" without changing anything. He thinks that the Cabinet should re-examine the largest issues that need to be tackled. Rutte previously said that major decisions are imminent regarding nitrogen emissions, climate policy, and the reception of asylum seekers.
"Support in all these areas is essential," Rutte said of those issues on Friday. In addition, the Cabinet must not only look for enough seats in the Senate, but also listen to the voter's call, Rutte emphasized. The coalition will likely need the support from all senators in coalition parties and an additional 14 senators to pass legislation through the Eerste Kamer.
Incidentally, Rutte added that the BBB's impressive victory was not the only signal sent by voters. He remarked on the strong performance from left-wing parties, and noted that newcomer Volt will enter the Senate for the first time.
To questions from the press, Rutte replied that "as a Cabinet you gradually continue to shape your policy, taking into account these kinds of signals from society." It is still too early to say exactly how the outcome of the elections "will take shape in policy," he said. For example, the prime minister wants to wait and see which coalitions assemble to form the governing body of the 12 Provincial Councils as a result of the election. He called it "logical" that the BBB, as the largest party in every province, will play a "leading role." Provinces are important for the implementation of the nitrogen emissions policy, and must submit plans about this by July 1 at the latest.
Rutte has not yet said whether he is willing to drop the hard target that nitrogen emissions must be halved by 2030. The prime minister said that Johan Remkes had already written in his nitrogen report that an interim evaluation should be carried out after Remkes mediated talks between the Cabinet and interested parties. According to him, the deadline has already become "semi-permeable" and not completely fixed.