Forming a government


Or why, weeks after the election, the losers are still in power

Coalition-forming proceeds according to fairly clear rules, even if these are often unwritten.

The Queen invites each party leader in turn to give his or her advice, beginning with the largest - this time current premier (known as the 'Minister-President') Jan Peter Balkenende, and ending with the smallest.

She then invites a generally respected former politician to act as 'informateur'.

The informateur then talks to leaders of the parties which he feels might play a role in a new government and invites them to talk to each other.

He is more-or-less obliged to include the biggest parties, and any which did spectacularly well, and they in turn are more-or-less obliged to have a fair shot at ironing out their differences.

This is why, though it may seem bizarre to British readers, SP leader Jan Marijnissen, whose party has spent the last four years solidly campaigning against almost every one of Mr Balkenende's government's policies, had to sit down with the premier and see whether they might nevertheless be able to pull off a Dutch version of the 'historic compromise'.

Not surprisingly, this proved impossible, though in the Netherlands nothing is ruled out until a new set of ministers is sitting around a table in The Hague and getting down to business.

CDA and Labour are now in talks with the Christian Union, and although a number of obstacles remain, the signs are that these could well end in success, leaving the SP as the biggest opposition party.