It’s 17 March 2021 tomorrow!

Jacques Bettelheim | Partner

August 29, 2019

"Voting location sign for the Dutch elections in 2017" by Sebastiaan ter Brug is licensed under CC BY 2.0

For decades, the Binnenhof has been positive about the business world. However, this image is changing rapidly. How can businesses deal with this change? They have to focus on the future, especially on the 2021 elections. Here are five practical tips for businesses that want to start a dialogue with members of political parties.   

There are only a few days left until the House of Representatives starts working again. The Hague is preparing for a new political year, which is going to be an interesting one. The Rutte-III Cabinet, which started 2 years ago, is preparing for its final year. Because, after all, we can vote again within a year and a half. The next elections take place on 17 March 2021, unless the current Cabinet stops earlier, but no one is expecting that.

After a rough start with a lot of fuss, including Halbe Zijlstra resigning as Minister of Foreign Affairs, some controversial statements about his successor Stef Blok, and the withdrawal of the intended abolition of the dividend tax, Rutte-III is at full speed. Currently, there are several agreements about retirement and the climate. Despite the fact that these agreements need to be checked, society appreciates the fact that the Cabinet has drawn up these hard, but very important agreements. Moreover, there is the recent announcement about a fund for investments in education, housing, and infrastructure.

2020 is not only going to be a year with guaranteed growth, but also a year in which the Netherlands is preparing for the parliamentary elections. Therefore, one can pose some interesting leadership questions. Is Mark Rutte going to be VVD’s leader again? Or is Klaas Dijkhoff taking over his position? Will Hugo de Jonge or Wopke Hoekstra (or perhaps Mona Keijzer) become the leader of CDA? And who will be the leader of D66: Sigrid Kaag, Kajsa Ollongren or Rob Jetten?

However, it is also – and hopefully mainly – about content. What will be the big issues – and thus the election issues – for the next 10 years? More Europe or less Europe? More or less refugees? Investing in climate policies or not? Investing in healthcare, education, defense and housing, or saving money instead? All of the above? All these issues will play an important role in the future campaign, in a greater or lesser extent. Yet, I dare add an issue that will become more important than before. I am talking about the position of global business.  

Everyone who is analyzing the news, politics and society, has probably noticed a change in the social debate. Since the 80s, several Cabinets (led by Lubbers, Kok, Balkenende and Rutte) have given a lot of space to communities. These Cabinets realized less charges, the abolition of several regulations, more market force and a fiscal climate: the latest aspect has created the image that the Netherlands is a ‘tax heaven’.  

It is not a new phenomenon that left-wing parties protest against business-friendly regulations. On the contrary, it is interesting to see that parties such as CDA, and even VVD, do not support the business world as much as before. A quote: “The profits are extremely high, but only the salaries of the people at the top are rising. The salaries of employees do not rise enough, which is unacceptable.” Is this a statement made by the leader of a trade union, or a statement of the last Dutch communist? No. This is a quote of the Dutch Prime Minister and VVD’s leader Rutte. During a political convention, that took place just before the summer, Rutte threatened to reintroduce charges for businesses if the payments of their employees do not rise (fast) enough.

If the leader of a business-supporting party like VVD is saying this, then you know that something is going on. We are dealing with a serious paradigm shift. Do businesses have to defend themselves against this shift? This could be useful and wise. However, it is more effective if businesses are going to prepare themselves for the future. 2020 – the pre-election year – is the perfect moment to do so.

After all, the political parties have to prepare themselves for the 2021 elections by setting up program committees. These committees are responsible for the contents and the formulation of the election programs. Although the approach and working methods differ per party, they have one thing in common: the committees are searching for relevant input from citizens, NGOs and businesses.

Interests groups also have the task to provide political parties with their input. For example, VNO-NCW– as a representative of the common interests within the business world – and trade associations, play an important role. However, according to my experience, it does not make sense if individual businesses are going to do the same. Politicians and members of the program committees do not only want to hear general and factual stories, but also ‘real’ stories from real people. These stories usually come from individuals, and – what a surprise – individual businesses.

The spring of 2021 seems far away, but it is smart to anticipate the election proactively, since political parties are slowly but surely preparing for the elections as well. From this point of view, it is already 17 March 2021 tomorrow. Therefore I want to give five practical tips to businesses to start the conversation with the committees what will focus on the electoral programs:

1. Write your message clearly. What do you think political parties should do (or not) after the 2021 elections? Should there be more, different, or less regulations and laws?

2. Consider what you can contribute as a business, regarding the improvement or solution of social bottlenecks (climate policy and healthcare costs, to name a few examples). Include this in your message, or keep this in mind when political parties ask questions about is.

3. Check the websites of political parties, the composition of their program committees and when the committees will start.

4. Approach the committees on time. Sometimes there are subcommittees per theme or sector. In this case, you should contact that specific committee.

5. Offer to start a conversation with the committee. This is the most effective way to make your message clear. If the political party – or the committee – is not interested (there is a certain change that this will happen, taking into account the number of requests they receive on a daily basis), then summarize your message in an A4 sheet and send it to them.