First Balkenende cabinet

First Balkenende cabinet

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The first cabinet of Jan Peter Balkenende was in office in the Netherlands from 22 July 2002 until 16 October of the same year. The term of 87 days (counting the first and last days in full and excluding its "caretaker" function that continued for months afterwards) was the shortest since the fifth cabinet of Hendrikus Colijn (25 July 1939 - 10 August 1939).

Following the 15 May 2002 elections, the division of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives (lower house) was:

Christen Democratisch Appèl (CDA) 43
Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF) 26
Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD) 24
Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA) 23
GroenLinks (GL) 10
Socialistische Partij (SP) 9
Democraten 66 (D66) 7
ChristenUnie (CU) 4
Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij (SGP) 2
Leefbaar Nederland (LN) 2

On 17 May Queen Beatrix appointed Piet Hein Donner, a CDA member of the Raad van State as "informer", to investigate the possibilities for a new government. A coalition between CDA, LPF and VVD was established relatively quickly, despite some initial resistance by the VVD. By 4 July a detailed coalition agreement had been drawn up and the Queen appointed Jan Peter Balkenende, the lijsttrekker for the CDA, to form a new cabinet. The cabinet was named on 16 July and was sworn in on 22 July. The first Balkenende cabinet comprised 14 ministers and 14 state secretaries, with each post allocated to one of the coalition parties. Each of the ministers headed a department, with the exception of one "minister without a portfolio" to deal with "foreigners policy and integration", accommodated by the Ministry of Justice.


Incidents and Scandals

The first Balkenende cabinet was very unstable from the beginning. Elections had been held in the very recent aftermath of the assassination of Pim Fortuyn, the leader of the newly established LPF. Emotions in the Netherlands, a country where the last political assassination had taken place in 1584 with the murder of Prince William of Orange, had run very high. The LPF was catapulted into enormous wins, but was unprepared for cabinet participation.

Only three of the 27 cabinet members had previous experience in government, leading to speculation that it wouldn't last long. As it turned out, personality conflicts and the general inexperience of LPF cabinet members led to the rapid implosion of the cabinet after a little more than two months.

Resignation of Undersecretary Bijlhout

The first scandal in the new government came only nine hours after it took office. Philomena Bijlhout, the staatssecretaris (Undersecretary, or junior minister) for Social Affairs and Work Opportunity and a member of the LPF, resigned after RTL 4 reported that she had been a member of a militia of Surinamese military dictator Dési Bouterse in 1982 and 1983. This was during the period when the militia had committed the political murders known as the "December Murders". Bijlhout, who was born in Suriname, had never denied being part of the militia, but claimed she'd left prior to the December Murders. [1]

Power Struggles within the LPF and the Resignation of the Cabinet

In the months following the election, the LPF was beset by power struggles between various factions. A big incident was when Immigration and Integration Minister Hilbrand Nawijn declared to be in favour of the death penalty. The cabinet was officially opposed to the death penalty. Nawijn responded that he made his remark as leader of the LPF. The party in its turn declared that it was opposed to the death penalty. Nawijn was highly criticised when he declared that it was a personal remark, because it was normal that a minister in a coalition cabinet could make remarks as a party member outside his ministerial responsibility.

In September and October Herman Heinsbroek speculated in public about leading a new party and resigning from the government. This led to tension between him and his supporter Steven van Eyck and Bomhoff. VVD-leader Zalm tried to convince the LPF ministers to replace both Bomhoff and Heinsbroek but his real aim was to use these resignations to call for new elections and to repair the huge losses of his VVD party in the election after the murder of Fortuyn. Disregarding Bomhoff's warnings, the other LPF ministers took the bait and told Bomhoff and Heinsbroek to resign, which they did on october 16. Immediately, Zalm broke his commitment to the remaining LPF ministers to accept replacements for Bomhoff and Heinsbroek and called for fresh elections. Meetings with the Queen did not take place until the week after the resignation, since she had travelled to Italy immediately after the funeral. On 21 October she accepted the resignation and new elections were called for 22 January 2003. The cabinet remained in place as a demissionary cabinet, without Bomhoff and Heinsbroek, until the elections and formation of the second Balkenende cabinet.

On 12 December 2002, Benk Korthals resigned as caretaker Minister of Defence after a commission of inquiry into building industry fraud accused him of giving false information to the Lower House during the previous cabinet. After resigning he said he still denied the allegations.

After the ensuing new elections, the LPF lost two-thirds of its seats in the House of Representatives. The party was never a significant force in Dutch politics again, and dissolved in 2008.

Cabinet actions

  • Revoked a planned ban on mink farming initiated by the previous cabinet[2]
  • Approved an expansion of the European Union.
  • Support for the United States in its plan to invade Iraq.
  • Cuts to a subsidised jobs scheme of Ad Melkert, the Melkertbanen.
  • Removed price controls on some popular medical interventions (knee and hip operations, cataract operations), so that painful waiting lists begun to disappear
  • Reorganisation of defence (and budget cuts?) involving 4800 job losses [3]
  • Reduction of spending on public transport of 39 million euros in 2003 (originally to be 60 million) [4]
  • Cuts to the budgets of most government departments, but with increased spending on health and some other areas.


Prime Minister, General Affairs (CDA) Jan Peter Balkenende
Vice Prime Minister, Health and Sport (LPF) Eduard Bomhoff (resigned 16 October 2002, after which Aart Jan de Geus added this portfolio).
Vice Prime Minister, Interior and Kingdom Relations (VVD) Johan Remkes
Foreign Affairs (CDA) Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
Justice (CDA) Piet Hein Donner
Education, Culture and Sciences (CDA) Maria van der Hoeven
Finances (VVD) Hans Hoogervorst
Defence (VVD) Benk Korthals (resigned 12 December 2002, after which Henk Kamp added this portfolio)
Housing, Spatial Planning and Environment (VVD) Henk Kamp
Transport and Water (LPF) Roelf de Boer
Economic Affairs, External Trade (*) (LPF) Herman Heinsbroek (resigned 16 October 2002, after which Hans Hoogervorst added this portfolio).
Agriculture, Nature Management and Fishery (CDA) Cees Veerman
Social Affairs and Work Opportunity (CDA) Aart Jan de Geus
Integration & Immigration (LPF) Hilbrand Nawijn


Foreign Affairs (Development Cooperation), Minister of Development Cooperation (*) (CDA) Agnes van Ardenne
Foreign Affairs (European Affairs) (VVD) Atzo Nicolaï
Interior and Kingdom Relations (LPF) Rob Hessing
Education, Culture and Sciences (Science and Higher Education) (VVD) Annette Nijs
Education, Culture and Sciences (Culture and Media) (LPF) Cees van Leeuwen
Finances (LPF) Steven van Eijck
Defence (CDA) Cees van der Knaap
Housing, Spacial Planning and Environment (CDA) Pieter van Geel
Transport and Water (VVD) Melanie Schultz van Haegen
Economic Affairs (CDA), Minister of Foreign Trade (*) Joop Wijn
Agriculture, Nature Management and Fishery (LPF) Jan Odink
Social Affairs and Work Opportunity (VVD) Mark Rutte
Social Affairs and Work Opportunity (Emancipation and Family Affairs) (LPF) Philomena Bijlhout (resigned 22 July 2002), Khee Liang Phoa (from 9 September 2002)
Health and Sport (CDA) Clemence Ross-Van Dorp

(*) Alternative title that can be used outside the Netherlands.


See also


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