New Balkenende cabinet

After months of negotiations, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende is taking charge of his fourth cabinet, but who’s in and who’s out?

Prime Minister and Cabinet Office: Christian Democrats (CDA): Jan Peter Balkenende (50), who will take charge of his fourth cabinet; it is beginning to look like a routine job for the Christian Democrat who almost accidentally became party leader when his predecessor Jaap de Hoop Scheffer left after a row. He became prime minister almost immediately afterwards and by now is a seasoned politician. He was often criticised for a lack of leadership qualities and for leaving it to fellow party member Maxime Verhagen to do his dirty work in crisis situations. But now many Dutch people praise his dependability, integrity and stability.

Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister (PvdA (Labour): Wouter Bos (43) is no stranger to the financial affairs ministry. In 2000 he was appointed deputy finance minister after a cabinet reshuffle. During his election campaign Mr Bos repeatedly stated he did not want to join a cabinet unless he was named prime minister. He changed his mind as a result of pressure from within his own party, but primarily from the Christian Democrats. Wouter Bos has only limited political experience. He was elected a Labour MP only in 1998, but has extensive corporate experience. Mr Bos worked in a number of posts across the globe for the Anglo-Dutch Shell oil company.

Youth and Family Minister and Deputy Prime Minister: (Christian Union): Party leader André Rouvoet (45) has long argued for the creation of this ministry to end the current lack of a portfolio. It was no secret that Rouvoet wanted the job. Mr Rouvoet, a Calvinist Protestant is known as a major political talent. In 2004, the parliamentary press elected him politician of the year for being ‘averse to backroom dealings’.

Foreign Affairs Minister (CDA): Maxime Verhagen (50) has wanted the job for a long time, but party interests dictated he stay on as party leader. His appointment is seen as a reward for the man who was instrumental in helping Mr Balkenende survive several crises and conflicts. He is known for his sharp tongue and for lashing out at political opponents. During the election campaign, his slogan was ‘Bos will be your loss’. Mr Verhagen served five years as a European MP before being elected to parliament in 1994.

Justice Minister (CDA): Ernst Hirsch Ballin (56) will return to his old post. From 1989 to 1994 he was justice minister under the then prime minister Ruud Lubbers, but was forced to resign following the so-called IRT affair, when it was revealed that police were involved in the sale of large quantities of drugs in an attempt to infiltrate criminal gangs. Mr Hirsch Ballin next served as an MP in the lower and upper house of parliament, and was later appointed to the Council of State, the highest government advisory body. In September he was finally allowed to return to the justice ministry after his predecessor Piet Hein Donner resigned in the wake of a fire at the Schiphol detention centre in which 11 illegal immigrants were killed.

Interior Minister (PvdA): Guusje ter Horst (54) was a council member and alderman on the Amsterdam Council before being appointed mayor of Nijmegen. Ms Ter Horst stood out because of her ‘refreshing’ ideas. As Nijmegen mayor she repeatedly moved house, each time to a different part of Nijmegen, to get to know the city better. On one occasion she came in for fierce criticism from her local fellow politicians after lashing out at cronyism in a New Year’s speech.

Education Minister (PvdA): Ronald Plasterk’s appointment came as a surprise. Mr Plasterk (49) is a molecular genetic biologist, who is mainly known as a commentator for the national newspaper De Volkskrant and on a current affairs programme. He is an outspoken atheist, which could lead to clashes with his religious colleagues from the CDA and the Christian Union. Ronald Plasterk, who in the past made fiercely critical statements about the quality of education, is now given a chance to carry out reforms in this field.

Integration and Public Housing Minister (PvdA): After resigning as deputy chair of the trade union federation FNV  Ella Vogelaar (57) made a bold career move and joined the business sector. She gained much experience as an independent consultant and interim manager. In 2003 she became the first woman chair of the board of commissioners at Unilever Netherlands. As minister, she will have an opportunity to test her skills at a new job. Between 2000 and 2002 she gained experience as project leader of ‘Taskforce Integration’ in which capacity she fiercely criticised former conservative Integration Minister Rita Verdonk.

Defence Minister (Christian Union): Eimert van Middelkoop (57) began his political career in 1973 as a parliamentary party worker. In 1989 he was elected to parliament. In 1997 his colleagues voted him one of the best MPs (after Frits Bolkestein and Paul Rosenmöller). They said he was able, an original thinker and a clever debater. In 2003, he sought the relative calm of the upper house of parliament. In both houses, Mr Van Middelkoop was his party’s spokesperson on defence and foreign affairs issues.

Public Heath, Welfare and Sports Minister (CDA): The appointment of Abraham (Ab) Klink (48) means the fourth Balkenende cabinet will be joined by the main party ideologist. In the past few years in the upper house, he was mainly concerned with education and development cooperation. Mr Klink was appointed director of the CDA scientific institute in 1999. He is a good friend of Jan Peter Balkenende and the author of the CDA election programme. He was part of the 1993 CDA commission that argued for abolishing the Welfare, Public Health and Culture ministry. Things can change in The Hague politics. Mr Klink is now going to lead the Public Health, Welfare and Sport ministry.

Development Cooperation Minister (PvdA): Bert Koenders (48) has the perfect CV for this post. After studying economics and international relations, he became a political advisor to the United Nations and an assistant to European Commissioner Hans van den Broek. He also served as a member of the parliamentary inquiry into the Srebrenica affaire. For a long period, Mr Koenders was the Labour foreign affairs spokesperson, in which capacity he argued for a parliamentary inquiry into how the Netherlands became involved in the Iraq war. He must be disappointed that the coalition agreement explicitly rules out such an inquiry.

Transport and Water Management Minister (CDA): Camiel Eurlings (33) was an MP between 1998 and  2004, followed by a two-and-a-half year stint at the European Parliament. He reported on Turkey’s EU candidacy, was chair of the Russia delegation and deputy chair of the European Christian Democratic Party. As one of the Netherlands youngest ministers ever, Mr Eurlings will be responsible for several major, but highly controversial, infrastructural  projects, including a high speed rail link and a freight railway line connecting the port of Rotterdam to its German hinterland. Mr Eurlings has also been tasked with introducing an unpopular charge to help fight traffic congestion.

Environment and Environmental Planning Minister (PvdA): Jacqueline Cramer (55), a one-time activist protesting against nuclear power plants can hardly be labelled a true rebel. She now is a member of the board of commissioners at the oil company Shell, and a Crown-appointed member of the Social and Economic Council. Around 20 years ago, Ms Cramer was the chair of an environmental organisation. At the end of the 1980s, she worked at a major research institute, advising the government and the business sector on durable development and environmentally responsible production methods. In 1999, Ms Cramer started working as an independent consultant in addition to her work as environmental management professor.

Social Affairs Minister (CDA): As Justice Minister, Piet Hein Donner (58) survived many crises and emergency debates. He resigned after a damning report on a fire at the Schiphol detention centre. Mr Donner is known as a workaholic who prefers writing his own speeches.  He is seen as intelligent, albeit slightly dogmatic, but also as possessing a dry sense of humour. ‘The Don’, as he is sometimes called,  became the centre of media attention by rapping a text against the legalisation of soft drugs. Between 1997 en 2002 he served as a member of Council of State. As justice minister he was responsible for tightening anti-terror laws, and in doing so, took ownership of anti-terror policies minister (instead of his colleague Interior Minister Johan Remkes).

Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality Minister (CDA): As an MP, Gerda Verburg (49) was mainly concerned with social issues. Ms Verburg was a member of the executive of the Christian trade union federation for several years before going into politics. She will be the first woman ever to be appointed to this post. Ms Verburg has roots in the Dutch farming community. Her parents owned a dairy farm, and both her maternal and paternal grandparents were also farmers. She became known to the general public when she became deputy party leader when Mr Balkenende formed his first cabinet. Ms Verburg made no secret of her homosexuality; in 2002 she was among but a few CDA MPs who voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriages.

Economic Affairs (CDA): Maria van der Hoeven (57), a former teacher and director of educational institutions. For nearly five years, she was the CDA Education, Culture and Science minister. Her creed was ‘ less rules, more room for education’. Her main goal was to remove the sharp edges of educational reforms introduced by her Social Democratic predecessors. But she failed to silence the call for better education in the Netherlands. In parliament, she came under fire when a report from the Dutch Audit Office showed that senior officials at her department had wrongly been awarded huge bonuses.

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New Balkenende cabinet
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