New cabinet, new direction? ‘Building blocks’ for new Dutch minister Sigrid Kaag by Linda Johnson

About the author:

DSC01062 (1)Linda Johnson is currently the Executive Secretary at ISS. She has been involved in international relations in higher education since 1988, holding a variety of posts in the field, including Head of International Office, Head of Educational Affairs, Director of an American Study Abroad Programme and Head of International Relations. She speaks and writes regularly on topics pertaining to the internationalisation of higher education and research and on diversity.

Partos* and SAIL**, two umbrella organisations for development knowledge in the Netherlands, presented a number of urgent recommendations to incoming Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag in December 2017. The two organisations hope to inform the minister’s new policy by means of a number of policy recommendations framed as ‘building blocks’. ISS, as a member of SAIL, co-created the building blocks in line with its vision of ensuring the societal impact of its research and of deepening collaboration with partners in the development sector.

A New Cabinet – and New Opportunities

The Dutch elections of March 2017 resulted in a protacted period of negotiation between Dutch political parties before sufficient agreement was reached for a new coalition government to be formed in October 2017. Incoming Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Aid, Sigrid Kaag1, an experienced diplomat and a member of the political party D66, now faces a number of challenges in deciding which direction the Dutch developmental policy will take over the next five years.

Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag.

The new policy is expected to be revealed in the coming months. For this reason, SAIL and Partos as platforms representing expertise in the development field, worked together on formulating a document for Minister Kaag that could help shape her new policy. The document highlights six key areas of the Dutch development policy requiring attention: Development Cooperation and Forced Migration; Humanitarian Action; Trade; Shrinking Civic Space and Human Rights; Partner Countries; and Climate Support to Developing Countries.

Development Cooperation and Forced Migration

The new cabinet’s goal is to focus on the prevention of migration and the return of migrants and refugees to their countries of origin. One strategy for doing this is to address the root causes of migration to reduce the number of people seeking refuge in Europe. SAIL and Partos recommend that the government focuses on tackling the root causes of forced migration (as opposed to voluntary migration), such as climate change, exclusion and violence, and argue that the positive aspects of migration should also be acknowledged.

SAIL and Partos recommend the avoidance of conditional aid, which has proven to be ineffective, and underline the fact that the purpose of development cooperation and development aid is to further social and economic development. They also warn that the ‘ring around Europe’, which currently receives most attention, should not prevent a focus on other regions where help is desperately needed.

Humanitarian Action

Partos and SAIL praise the Netherlands for its leadership in taking humanitarian action, but recommended that its aid financing mechanisms should be flexible, independent, unconditional and multi-year in order to better handle the increasing complexity and extent of humanitarian disasters and conflicts. They furthermore stress the importance of ‘localisation’, and stated that the Netherlands’ extensive experience of network governance and localisation should be put to good use. They also reflect on the importance of focusing on gender through providing increased protection to women and children, and the need for attention to be paid to the conditions in camps housing Libyan refugees.


The coalition agreement highlights the government’s desire to further combine trade and aid. SAIL and Partos warn that trade should be an instrument serving development and should not be an aim in itself. They also call for the creation of a good investment climate based on a ‘do-no-harm’ principle in developing countries and for support of local SMEs in developing countries.

Shrinking Civic Space and Human Rights

The coalition agreement emphasises the Netherlands’ support for human rights and its pledge to increase the budget for its human rights fund. Partos and SAIL call for steps to be taken to strengthen civil society to help create the conditions for a well-functioning, free and democratic society in which a sustainable and inclusive economy can flourish.

Partner Countries

The two organisations argue that migration issues should not inform the Netherlands’ choice of its partner countries. Partner relationships should be based on long term cooperation, and on enduring global challenges such as climate change, poverty and population growth.

Climate Support to Developing Countries

The coalition agreement reveals the importance assigned to sustainable development. The new cabinet announced its intention to start a national climate fund, but no concrete financial commitments to this fund have been made as yet. Could this point to lack of commitment?

SAIL and Partos call for a concrete financial commitment to be made in line with the Climate Law for the periods 2020-2025 and 2026-2030, and for financial flows to be targeted towards lower income countries and used for the support of vulnerable groups. Moreover, they recommend that the Netherlands should commit itself to making international funds such as the Green Climate Fund and the Adaptation Fund2 more accessible for developing countries and the organisations combating climate change within them.

Concluding remark

The collaboration between Partos and SAIL was an interesting and highly rewarding learning experience. Scientists, policy-makers and practitioners work together less frequently than they should. Our experience of co-creating the ‘building blocks’ for Minister Kaag made it eminently clear to us that creating spaces in which the worlds of evidence and practice can meet and debate things that matter is very worthwhile indeed. We plan to continue the collaboration and hope that the ‘building blocks’ will be the start of a good conversation with Minister Kaag.


*Partos is the association for development cooperation, with more than 100 Dutch organisations active in the field holding membership to this association.
**SAIL is the platform for international knowledge institutes in The Netherlands, with the ISS as one of the six members.
1Dr. Sylvia Bergh, Associate Professor in Development Management and Governance at the ISS, in 2016 interviewed Minister Sigrid Kaag regarding her work at that time in Syria, where she was a United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon (watch the video here).
2The Green Climate Fund is a global fund created to support the efforts of developing countries to respond to the challenge of climate change. The Adaptation Fund is intended to help developing countries to adapt to climate change.

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No Comments Yet.