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Expertise more important than political experience in the success of the council of ministers

2 February 2022

299 days after the elections, the Rutte IV cabinet stood on the steps of Paleis Noordeinde. This is the moment that new ministers officially start their new role, helping the Netherlands get through all the societal challenges that are a part of their responsibilities. A diverse council of ministers is essential to achieve this.

One look at the traditional steps photo shows that we’re not there yet when it comes to diversity. Granted, the man/woman division is equal (if we count Sigrid Kaag who could not make it due to testing positive for corona) and in every formation we see an increasing amount of young faces.

Old wine in a new bottle

We can also see a lot of examples of old wine in a new bottle. Most ministers are appointed based on political experience but hardly any substantive knowledge. Some even just hop from one file to the next. “The content can be brushed up on” is a common argument. Knowing how things go in The Hague is the deciding factor.

We should know better after the resignation of the previous cabinet and the rapid societal developments. The time of choosing political experience as a ‘safe bet’ over specific subject knowledge is over. That should at the very least be one of the lessons of the ‘toeslagen affaire’ that caused the previous cabinet to resign.

Nevertheless, political experience is still the biggest criterion if we look at the CVs of the brand new ministers. They will presumably learn quickly and surround themselves with good people but leadership in 2022 demands more than simply quick adoption and a strong team of civil servants.

A new type of leadership

Current societal problems and developments are so urgent that they demand a new type of leadership. Appointing ministers and secretaries of state to these specific societal issues (examples being problems related to climate, energy and nitrogen) means there is more attention for the specific challenge, but this is not enough. Leadership is about daring to think differently and choosing for renewal.

There are two positive exceptions. Ernst Kuipers is taking over the position of minister of Health, Wellbeing and Sport whilst Robbert Dijkgraaf is taking over the position of minister of Education, Culture and Science. Aforementioned are the biggest wins of the recent cabinet formation.

They have a lot of knowledge and experience in their respective fields, know the biggest challenges and because of this know what’s going on among citizens. These ministers have had hands-on experience and based on that, make a long-term plan. This could be a coincidence, but they are amongst the first ministers to explicitly share their vision for the next few years.

New spirit in the council of ministers

It is exactly the addition of this kind of substantive expertise that brings the indispensable and oft-discussed new spirit to the council of ministers. Leaders that are extremely experienced when it comes to content. Political experience is not to be underestimated but this can be gained by, for example, coaching by experienced political administrators.

The modern age demands a new type of leadership. Transparency, flexibility and substantive knowledge to ensure credible decisions. We need more ministers like Kuipers and Dijkgraaf that have so much substantive knowledge that debates will be successful.


Hanneke Rinkes, Managing Director Newpeople

Publication Executive-People


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