The European Parliament election campaign is well underway in the Netherlands, with several parties having held public debates between candidates for the right to head the list for the 2014 poll.
However, there has been remarkably little discussion about who the Dutch government will nominate to the European Commission next year. We have read the tea leaves to see who may emerge to take this key role.
Historically, all Dutch nominees to the Commission have been government ministers whose political party was a partner in the coalition government that put their name forward.
Experience has traditionally been a key factor: all commissioners from the Netherlands have been appointed when at least 50 years old. Both the current Vice-President of the Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, and her predecessor as commissioner from the Netherlands, Frits Bolkestein, were well into their sixties when they started. Kroes – the first female commissioner from the Netherlands – is currently the doyenne of the Commission, at 72 years.
Dutch members of the European Commission have usually held important portfolios, including agriculture, competition, internal market, and foreign affairs, and the current Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, is likely to want to secure a strong portfolio for his nominee. So who are the potential candidates?
Neelie Kroes has not excluded the possibility of a third term as commissioner. She is well known and well respected in Brussels, but will she really want to start a third term in Brussels when she is 73?
Another VVD candidate who could take a senior position in the new Commission is Gerrit Zalm. He holds the record as the longest-serving finance minister in Dutch history and, like Kroes, has business experience too (he is currently Chief Executive Officer of ABN AMRO, a Dutch bank).
For both Kroes and Zalm one of the main obstacles will be that the VVD has supplied the commissioner for the past 15 years (Bolkestein, then Kroes). It is therefore more likely that the next commissioner from the Netherlands will come from the Labour Party (PvdA). Sicco Mansholt, who served for 15 years in the Commission from 1958, including a brief spell as President, and Henk Vredeling, who was a commissioner in the 1970s, are the only two PvdA members ever to have been a commissioner.
Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem currently heads the Eurogroup but is a relatively youthful candidate, at 47. As is the case for Timmermans, a block on his candidacy could be the destabilising effect his departure may have on both the government and the influence of the PvdA within it.
Former party leader and former finance minister Wouter Bos left politics in 2010 and joined consultancy KPMG before becoming, in August 2013, Chairman of the Board of the Medical Centre of the Free University (VUMC) in Amsterdam. His relative euroscepticism may make him acceptable to the increasingly cautious VVD.
Bos’ predecessor, Ad Melkert, has international experience at the World Bank and the United Nations, while a third candidate, Bert Koenders, is a former state secretary for development cooperation who also has an international profile, as current head of the UN mission in Mali. However, there is no obvious female candidate from the PvdA.
Note: the profile of Wouter Bos has been subsequently amended following comments received on this post.
Other potential candidates
With the exception of Kroes, there is no obvious female candidate from the Netherlands – something that may open the way to a nomination from the social liberal party, Democrats 66 (D66). Given the fact that the VVD-PvdA government requires support from opposition parties to pass legislation in the Senate, several agreements have been concluded recently. Although there is no official mention of a deal involving the nominee to the European Commission, this post may be a reward for D66.
Potential female candidates include current MEP Sophie in ’t Veld, who is leading the D66 list for the European Parliament elections and is a strong voice on civil liberties and privacy.
Former MEP and former party leader Lousewies van der Laan is also well-known on the Brussels scene, and is currently Vice-President of the ALDE Party. While a nominee from the pro-European D66 may upset some in the VVD, it may help ensure the stability of the Dutch government.