Plasterk survives vote of censure

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After a debate lasting nearly eleven hours, in which Ronald Plasterk came under fire due to the 1.8 million telephone details his intelligence services shared with the NSA. 

Plasterk narrowly escaped a vote of censure at close to 3 a.m. this morning.

Minister Plasterk (PvdA, Internal Affairs) was joined with his colleague Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert (VVD, Defense). Both were asked to justify themselves and the issue.

Hennis appeared to sail through the debate more smoothly. All fingers were pointed at Plasterk, the minister who was "too silent when it became his turn to speak, and too talkative when it was his turn to be silent", as Roelof Bisschop (SGP) put it.

In October of last year, it emerged that the NSA had taken 1.8 telephone details from the Netherlands. Plasterk himself, as he told first the media and then Parliament, said that this data could not have been transmitted to the NSA by his own intelligence services. This laid the blame squarely on the NSA.

On 22 November, however, the penny dropped as Hennis and Plasterk wrote, in a letter to Parliament, that their own intelligence service the NSO collected information abroad, and shared this with America.

The fact that Plasterk spoke prematurely and out of turn concerning the issue was forgiven him by Parliament, after a show of groveling and his own confession that a minister should not speculate.

The debate focused more directly on the decision of moth ministers not to share the new information with Parliament. Their actions were revealed by outside parties. It is standing policy not to reveal anything about the  methods of the intelligence services, Plasterk stressed several times. The interest of the State becomes more important, in this case, than the duty to inform Parliament.

A sizable proportion of Parliament was not in agreement with this. The duty to inform Parliament is a constitutionally founded, so it deserves priority, many fractions thought. Moreover, Plasterk dealt confusing information, so it was up to him to clarify misunderstandings. Hennis, who did not speak out of turn, largely remained out of the line of fire.

The fact that Plasterk had fervently blamed America for taking the information was questioned as well. In the debate, PvdA MP Jeroen Recourt pressed that he should not present this as certainty.

Parliament was not convinced that the information was truly very sensitive, however. The ministers informed Parliament of the situation on February 4th, because the information was threatening to become public anyway, due to a court case. "And in that letter, it only states that there is collaboration with the American secret services. Something this obvious isn't a state secret is it?", a doubtful Ronald van Raak (SP) asks himself.

Plasterk persisted with the opinion that all the information about intelligence services is sensitive information. Only later did he add the promise: if a minister provides wrong information, he has to automatically rectify it. Even if it is about intelligence services.

For many MPs this was too little too late. Alexander Pechtold (D66), submitted a vote of censure. "The minister consciously decided not to share information with Parliament, and still stands behind that decision", he said. "The core of our democratic establishment is the faith that Parliament will be correctly informed, and that faith is damaged."

Buma from the CDA also presses that "the trust is gone" because the responsibility for the security services requires reservation.

Geert Wilders from the PVV, thought Plasterk should pack his bags. "He has concealed the truth from Parliament for months at least."

But the Christian Union and SGP cited Plasterk's promise with their decision to, as the only opposition parties, not to vote along with the motion. The motion was "just one bridge too far" Arie Slob from the Christian Union said.

It was just enough for Plasterk. He received support from coalition parties the VVD and PvdA, and others, and saw a basis from which to keep working. "I will do my very best to regain trust from the signatories of this motion", he said at conclusion.