Emotional Justice Min. again apologizes for social distancing blunder; survives debate
A visibly emotional Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus of Justice and Security again apologized for not adhering to coronavirus rules at his wedding during a parliamentary debate on the matter on Wednesday. Despite the criticism against him, he finds he has enough credibility to enforce the coronavirus policy. He did say that he would look into whether coronavirus fines could be kept off of people's criminal records in some cases.
Photos from the Grapperhaus' wedding show him not only standing too close to his guests, but also shaking hands and hugging people. "During my wedding, compliance with the coronavirus measures went wrong. I have expressed my regret about this and I am doing that again today to the parliamentarians," Grapperhaus said. "I didn't do it right myself. I got caught up in the events of that day." The Minister was visibly overcome with emotions and had to pause. "We talked about it at home. We said to each other: if only we had done it just the two of us together."
Parliamentarians from the entire political spectrum raised doubts about whether Grapperhaus could still credibly enforce the coronavirus policy. He believes that he can. "Let one thing be clear: I fully support the corona policy that we have agreed on and implemented with the cabinet and I will continue to propagate that in the future."
MPs also asked him how citizens should accept fines that go onto their criminal records for breaking the same rules he did. Grapperhaus said that he would look into whether these fines can be kept off of people's criminal records in some cases. But he wants to keep that note on the criminal record for people who spit in the face of others, are aggressive, and deliberately flout the corona rules, he said.
When asked about waiving the fines, Grapperhaus said that was absolutely impossible. The decision of whether a fine was justified or not lies with the Public Prosecution Service and the courts, and the Minister has no businesses interfering with that, he said.
As Minister of Justice and Security, Grapperhaus was responsible for enforcing the coronavirus rules. Opposition parties called it scandalous that he then broke the two most basic rules in place to curb the spread of this virus - staying 1.5 meters apart, and not shaking hands. "Making a mistake and standing too close to someone else can happen to us all," GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver said before the debate started. "But shaking hands, you just don't do it, especially as Minister of Justice. It was the first agreement we made in March."
The first photo, showing Grapperhaus standing in a group of people, surfaced last week and caused an uproar in the media. A big part of the criticism against Grapperhaus was that he broke the rules, despite the fact that he always stressed the importance of adhering to them and even lashed out at Netherlands residents who did not do so, calling them "anti-social" among other things.
The union for enforcement officers NBB, whose job it is to fine citizens for breaking the same rules Grapperhaus did, raised this same issue. "The understanding for the corona fine is getting smaller. And the enforcer is noticing this. It is complicated to explain why people can get a corona fine if the responsible Minister himself does not comply with the rules," NBB chairman Richard Gerrits said to NOS earlier this week.
Grapperhaus eventually apologized, saying that he feels especially bad given he has to set an example as a Minister. He paid 780 euros - twice the amount of the fine for not adhering to the coronavirus rules - to the Red Cross, but was not officially fined. Then on Tuesday, more photos surfaced, showing Grapperhaus shaking hands with people and embracing his mother-in-law.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte expressed support for Grapperhaus on Friday, saying that him violating the coronavirus rules at his wedding does not affect his credibility as far as the Prime Minister is concerned. "Credibility is related to facing up when something is not going well. He is doing that," the Prime Minister said.
During a press conference on Tuesday, Rutte did not specifically mention Grapperhaus, but he did talk about social distancing and fines for not adhering to the rules. "The 1.5 meters is always necessary everywhere," Rutte said about social distancing. "Sometimes difficult to maintain. Sometimes you'll bump into someone on the street. I really get it. And again, we're not all perfect. And it is not the case that the police immediately impose fines, it does not work that way. Relatively few fines are imposed."