Politicians call Justice Min. Ard van der Steur's resignation "inevitable"
Almost all the leaders of political parties feel that Ard van der Steur's decision to resign after accusations of him withholding information from MPs was inevitable. Most Dutch newspapers also seem to respect his decision to step down, but point out that there are still unanswered questions and that the VVD's position is more fragile than ever.
Van der Steur is the fourth politician to resign over a deal the Justice Ministry made with a drug criminal in 2001 - then prosecutor Fred Teeven approved returning almost 5 million guilders to criminal Cees H. in return for him paying a fine of 750 thousand guilders. Fred Teeven was the first to resign as State Secretary of Security and Justice when the full details of the deal was revealed in 2015. Ivo Opstelten resigned as Minister of Security and Justice the same day and leader of the lower house of parliament Anouchka van Miltenburg quit later that year when it was revealed that she ordered letters from a whistleblower about the deal shredded. All four are members of the leading party VVD.
"I thought and think that Ard van der Steur defended himself very well, but this struggle was not going to be won", Prime Minister Mark Rutte, also VVD, said after Van der Steur announced his resignation, according to newspaper AD. "There he decided, earlier today already, to offer his resignation to the king after the first period. I respect that."
"In this time, a minister of justice must have trust", PVV leader Geert Wilders commented. "Unpleasant for him as a person, but politically the only right decision he could make."
SP leader Emile Roemer is not "entirely surprised" by the resignation, he said, according to the newspaper. "He was very relaxed. It was also his sixth appraisal and you just saw that a very large part of the Kamer [the lower house of parliament] did not believe him anymore. It was inevitable, and therefore not really surprising. But I have to say I have deep respect for a minister who comes to the Kamer to take responsibility before announcing his decision."
VVD leader Halbe Zijlstra expressed similar sentiments. "I have a lot of respect for him first starting the debate with the Kamer and wanting to make clear that the allegations are false, then still coming to this conclusion. I hoped seven months ago that the poisoned cup was empty once and for all, but there were still a few drops left. I am completely done with this file."
"It was a difficult debate", PvdA faction leader Attje Kuiken said. "He behaved with dignity. We had a lot of critical questions and the manner in which the minister drew his conclusion I can only respect. We were given no signal that he would do this."
According to CDA leader Sybrand Buma, it is "very clear" that Van der Steur as parliamentarian did everything to save his minister. "Later as a minister, he continually said: for me it's all about the truth. Nobody believed him anymore. It was so obvious that here was someone who had to save the plans of the VVD. And he should have been honest about it. To keep saying that the the truth and national interest was paramount, that is something I was fed up with. The Minister quite easily brushed the criticism everyone had from the table. It is up to the Prime Minister to continue with the statement", he said. "The Prime Minister is responsible for the VVD running the Ministry of Security and Justice as a party office. He did nothing to prevent it. The Minster of Security and Justice drew his conclusion, but the Prime Minister is also to blame for letting this all happen under his nose."
"Van der Steur could not convince the Kamer that he performed his role as parliamentarian cleanly." D66 leader Alexander Pechtold said. "His departure was inevitable. I still feel the need to question the minister and Prime Minister further, and of course its crazy if a minister in his departure still just says that it's all unfounded. But stepping down is an emotional moment and you have to gie someone that moment. And the signal from the opposition was very clear."
"I did not see it coming, that he would do it at that moment", ChristenUnie leader Gert-Jan Segers said. "What I have a lot of respect for is that he first defended himself, he simply started the debate with the Kamer. There are ministers who said before the debate: 'I feel it coming, I'm leaving'. He entered the debate, I have a lot of respect for that. But this was a conclusion that was difficult to aviod."
"The question was weather his role as parliamentarian was even more far reaching than we were already aware." SGP leader Kees van der Staaij said. "Our judgment was not clear, but we noticed that the dynamics of the debate did not lead to more support. It is praiseworthy that he wanted to defend himself."
This morning Van der Steur is obviously front and center in most Dutch newspapers. AD, Trouw and the Volkskrant all have a photo of Prime Minister Rutte embracing Van der Steur after his announcement on the front page. Only the Telegraaf's front page is not solely dedicated to the resigned Justice Minister.
AD thinks that despite Van der Steur's departure, the VVD still has to defend itself against attacks on its credibility until the elections. According to the newspaper, the VVD is "more vulnerable than ever". "The image that made lasting impression - rightly or wrongly - is that information was withheld, concealed or not shared with parliament in a timely manner. Every word Rutte says in the field of morality and integrity, will therefore be received with derision", AD writes.
Trouw thinks that Van der Steur's decision to resign deserves respect, but wonders why it happened only now. "Earlier, in the now substantial series of debates over the deal by Fred Teeven, there were more logical moments to spare his honor", the newspaper writes.
The Volkskrant quoted British politician Enoch Powell: "All political lives end in tears". "Van der Steur previously felt the end of his political career approaching. It's not for nothing that last week he personally called Nieuwsuur journalist Bas Haan, who was about to publish his book." Haan's book extensively discusses Van der Steur's role in the so-called "Teeven deal".
The Telegraaf called the opposition parties "vultures, who in turn circled around the interruption microphone". "Politics is about power. And because other parties want to take this away from the VVD, they are in election time hard on each other."