The process of forming a government

The law stipulates nothing about the process of forming a government. The process takes a different course each time, though certain procedures are always followed.

The process of forming a new government begins immediately after elections to the House of Representatives. The process lays the basis for a new government and the policy it will pursue.

The first step is for an informateur to investigate which political parties could form a coalition. Then a formateur seeks ministers and state secretaries for the new government. 

The informateur and his role

The informateur presides over consultations with the leaders of the parties that seem most likely to be able to form a coalition. The main topic of discussion is the programme of policies the future government will pursue. Once the party leaders have agreed on a programme, they set it out in a draft coalition agreement.

The informateur then draws up a final report, including the draft coalition agreement and recommending a government formateur, who will probably become the new prime minister.

The formateur and his role

As soon as the prospective governing parties have set out a draft coalition agreement, the formateur sets out o form a new government. The formateur will approach prospective ministers and state secretaries (junior ministers), in consultation with negotiators from the prospective governing parties.

Distribution of ministerial posts

Ministerial positions are allocated according to the size of each coalition party. The largest party generally provides the most ministers, including the prime minister. The formateur can then start looking for candidates that the coalition parties can nominate as ministers and state secretaries. When the new government is complete they meet to endorse the coalition agreement. The formateur draws up a final report specifying the ministers and state secretaries who wish to constitute the new government.

The duration of the formation process

The formateur aims to form a new government as soon as possible, as the caretaker government may deal only with ongoing matters and cannot initiate new policy. In the Netherlands, the formation process can last from a number of weeks to more than six months.

Political rules for forming a government

The Constitution stipulates no rules for forming governments. The formation procedure is based mainly on unwritten law and the rules of the political process. The Constitution addresses only the beginning and the end of the formation process: the resignation of the old government and the appointment of the new one. There is no written law governing the period in between or the role of the monarch.

Draft coalition agreement

During the formation process, the leaders of the parties which will form the coalition notify the informateur of the main points of their political programmes, which form the draft coalition agreement. This agreement is then discussed with the parties. If the parties approve the text, the informateur sends it to the House of Representatives.

Coalition agreement

Before the new government is sworn in, there is a meeting at which the new ministers pledge their support for the draft coalition agreement. When the new government takes office the coalition agreement becomes definitive.

The coalition agreement presents the government’s main policy objectives for its term of office. It is drawn up during the process of forming the government by the parliamentary parties that are coalition members.