Given the nature of Dutch politics, which features a strong departmental culture and fragile coalition governments, the Ministry of General Affairs has little more to rely upon in carrying out its gatekeeping functions than the government policy accord (regeerakkoord).
Ministerial departments have considerable power in influencing the negotiations that take place during the elaborate process of preparing cabinet decisions. Each line ministry – that is, its minister or deputy minister – has a secretariat that serves as the administrative “front gate.” By the time an issue has been brought to the cabinet level, it has been thoroughly debated, framed and reframed as a consequence of the bureaucracy between the involved ministries. Gatekeeping in the Dutch system is one-directional; policy documents are moved from lower to higher administrative levels, and (almost) never the other way around, which results in a strong tendency toward interest stratification (Korsten et al., 2010, 62). In theory, the prime minister, through his representatives, could play a prominent role in coordinating this process. But given the limited scope of his monitoring capacities and staff, he can steer the course of events for only a fairly small number of issues, even when highly ambitious.
Nevertheless, the Balkenende IV government earnestly pursued new modes of interministerial coordination through its pilot projects, Governing with Programs (Regeren met programma’s). These projects were conceived as part of a larger program for National Government Renewal. The Balkenende IV government had two program ministers for urgent problems that reach across ministerial task areas: the first for Youth and Family Affairs; the second for Affairs of Housing, Residential Areas, and Integration.
A.F.A. Korsten, P. de Jong, and C.J.M. Breed, Regeren met programma’s. Interdepartmentale kabinetsprogramma’s van het kabinet-Balkenende IV: voortgang en samenwerking, The Hague, February 2010.
R. Bekke, Liaisons dangereuses. Thoughts on employment relations in government, specifically between politicians and civil servants, Inaugural Address, Leiden, 2009.