Carla van Baalen
Carla van Baalen

Carla van Baalen on the (in)compatibility of being a member of parliament and cabinet

Can an MP who becomes minister or secretary of state in an outgoing government continue to combine these functions of minister and MP? In other words, how should Article 57.3 of the Constitution be read? That was one of the questions a committee headed by former politician and legal scholar Professor Hans Engels had to consider. Emerita Professor of Parliamentary History Carla van Baalen was one of the members of the committee. We asked her to explain the reason for the enquiry and the main findings.

What prompted the enquiry?

In August 2021, two new state secretaries were appointed in the outgoing Rutte III cabinet: Steven van Weyenberg and Dennis Wiersma. Both were and remained members of the House of Representatives at the time, based on Article 57.3 of the Constitution. That article states that there is an exception to the main rule (described in Article 57.2) that one cannot be a member of parliament and minister or state secretary at the same time. However, this caused a huge debate. Wasn't that constitutional article only meant for members of an (outgoing) cabinet who were elected to the House of Representatives and not the other way around?

This issue was written about all over the media, even causing emergency advice from the Council of State and a parliamentary debate. The outcome of the parliamentary debate was that it was not considered desirable after all that MPs who became ministers in an outgoing cabinet also remained members of parliament. In addition, the House also wanted things to be investigated further by an independent committee. That committee, officially called the 'Advisory Committee on the Operation of Article 57 of the Constitution', started work in May last year.

What are the most notable things that emerged during your investigation?

One of the most notable things was that the exception clause in Article 57.3 was once created to prevent defection from the cabinet to the House of Representatives after elections because cabinet members would prefer a House seat to membership of an outgoing cabinet. Due to such a vacancy, the continuity of the national government would be at risk, especially since there is no new cabinet immediately after an election in the Netherlands. Based on this reason, it is therefore not obvious that the exception should also apply 'the other way round', i.e. to people who are in the House of Representatives and only afterwards become members of an outgoing cabinet. After all, then there is no threat to continuity of governance.

In addition, it became clear that this temporary combination of functions was a rather heavy burden for some groups. This is because, in practice, ministers elected to the House of Representatives remain primary cabinet members. They do not participate in the ordinary work of the House but really only take part in the votes, which is a significant burden, especially for small groups, as all the work then falls on the other members. This would not be such a problem if cabinet formations did not last long, but we all know that they do not. The current formation has also been going on for almost seven months. This finding became especially clear in the interviews we conducted, with a total of seven (former) politicians who once combined the positions of MP and cabinet member for a while.

Finally, it is also noteworthy that someone who becomes a member of the government in an outgoing cabinet at the same time as being appointed has also already offered his/her resignation (after all, one becomes a member of a cabinet that has offered its full resignation to the King), but this is not explicitly stated. There is a tacit assumption that this is a logical course of action when really there is room for questioning.

What are the committee's main recommendations?

  • Make an optional replacement arrangement for ministers elected to the House of Representatives: not the minister themselves, but a substitute would then become a (temporary) MP. Currently, there is only a replacement arrangement for members of the States General in case of pregnancy, birth and illness. We therefore advocate extending that arrangement.
  • Explicitly point out that if someone becomes a member of government in an outgoing cabinet, this member of government is deemed, like all other members of that cabinet, to have immediately resumed his/her office as well.
  • Keep the meaning of Article 57.3 as it has been interpreted so far. So the 'other way round route' (see above) is not recommended.

The report Demissionaire dubbelrol? De (on)verenigbaarheid van het lidmaatschap van Kamer en kabinet (Resigned dual role? The (in)compatibility of membership of Parliament and Cabinet) can be read here (in Dutch).

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Organizational unit
Centre for Parliamentary History
History, Politics