Politicians, parents respond to Dutch Cabinet collapse
Political parties and parents affected by the Dutch government's childcare subsidy scandal were largely pleased by the resignation of the ruling Dutch coalition, the third Cabinet of Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Many went further, calling for more of the politicians involved, like Rutte, to step down as leaders of their own parties and refuse to run for re-election.
Rutte announced his Cabinet's departure at a press conference on Friday afternoon. He then cycled the three kilometers to to the residence of King Willem-Alexander to explain the decision.
The full Cabinet voted to quit in response to a damning report about the government's use of profiling based on ethnicity and nationality to attempt to find parents who were cheating the tax authorities out of undue childcare subsidy payments. The result was the government unjustly stripping thousands of parents of benefits, sending many into a financial tailspin. To make matters worse, the parents were often unjustly ordered to pay back benefits received, a demand which totaled tens of thousands of euros in some cases and included authorizations to seize cars or force the sale of homes.
With elections in the Netherlands scheduled to take place two months from Sunday, Labour parliamentarian Lilianne Ploumen said, "Just before the finish line, the Cabinet symbolically resigns, but the parents are still left out in the cold." Thus far, few, if any, of the affected families have been paid the money they are owed, which the government said would be a minimum of 30 thousand euros each. "This Cabinet has allowed the unprecedented injustice to continue for years," she said. The scandal stretches back to involve both Rutte's second and third coalition governments.
Ploumen's party partnered with Rutte's VVD for the second government. This led former Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher to step down as leader of Labour earlier this week. Ploumen is one of several politicians rumored to be under consideration for the job.
Cabinet minister Sigrid Kaag, the new leader of D66, agreed with Ploumen, then added, "But symbols have value." She said the public must be able to trust and rely on politics, especially during the coronavirus crisis and associated economic troubles. "It's really important to work on a different Netherlands in which this kind of abuse simply cannot take place anymore".
"Rightly so that the cabinet resigns. Innocent people have been criminalized, their lives destroyed and parliament was incorrectly and incompletely informed about this," PVV leader Geert Wilders tweeted. "But unbelievable that those responsible will soon continue as party leaders."
Wopke Hoekstra, the outgoing finance minister from CDA, justified his decision to remain at the top of his party. He argued that after the resignation of State Secretary Menno Snel over a year ago, Hoekstra openly lobbied to quickly compensate the parents, clean up the tax authority, and resolve the issue. "I think I can continue as party leader."
MP Pieter Omtzigt, of coalition party CDA, was angry that so much effort went for years to sweep the issue under the rug. "And the government provided incomplete and inaccurate information to the [Tweede Kamer], the press and even the courts. This made it take much longer for the truth to emerge."
Political party DENK stated that it was "institutional racism" that was the death of the Rutte III cabinet.
Opposition party GroenLinks said that the Rutte III cabinet made the "only right choice" in stepping down. "At the same time, let this be a new beginning. A turning point. The moment when we rebuild our welfare state. And on which the government trusts its own citizens again," party leader Jesse Klaver said on Twitter.
SP leader Lilian Marijnissen also called stepping down the only correct decision. "The rule of law has been violated. This is not the final piece, but the beginning. The parents must now receive their compensation. And this VVD policy must stop. It is time for a fair government."
Omtzigt said he thought this "finally opened the eyes of politicians, where the misery of thousands of parents and their children was a big blind spot for years."
What parents say about the developments
"I am crying behind the wheel," Kristie Rongen, one of the victims of the childcare allowance scandal, said to NOS. She was elated that the Cabinet stepped down. "This is so justified, it could not have been different."
Rongen was made to pay over 90 thousand euros which caused her to struggle for years. Sometimes she kept her children home from school because she could not afford food for their lunches. "I was ashamed of it and was afraid that my children would be taken away," she said. "The worst for me was that my daughter also struggled. She did not want to live anymore."
"The next step is that Rutte steps down, and does not run again for election again. That he is running again is a slap in the face against the parents. It cannot and must not happen."
"Rutte took responsibility for the Cabinet, but not for his role," said Roger Derikx. The cook was forced to pay about 60 thousand euros to the tax office after he was accused of fraud.
The lawyer who first raised the issue called Friday's political upheaval a "beginning step in the right direction." Speaking to NOS, Eva González Pérez said, "The realization that this is serious is there. I see that now. But we are not there yet."
The Cabinet's collapse "is about political responsibility. Now it's time for criminal liability," said Vasco Groeneveld. The lawyer is representing a group of twenty victims involved in the case, and has filed criminal accusations on their behalf against Medical Care Minister Tamara van Ark, Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra, and Eric Wiebes, who resigned as a minister on Friday refusing to continue as part of the caretaker government. He also accused former State Secretary of Finance, Menno Snel, and Asscher, who was the Minister of Social Affairs in the second Rutte Cabinet.
"The violation of law and order is too great to leave it at that," Groeneveld said of the Cabinet resignation.
"Victims have expressed great difficulty with the fact that the starring players in this bizarre issue will soon be able to happily continue their political careers," said attorney Sebas Diekstra, an attorney representing another parent. "Mainly because they have failed so badly in protecting innocent civilians."
Former National Ombudsman Alex Brenninkmeijer wonders whether the Cabinet stepping down will really help the affected parents. "When the victims say they see it as a form of recognition, that's great, but there is still a lot left," he said to NPO Radio 1, referring to the conclusion of the parliamentary committee that the fundamental principles of the rule of law were violated in the Tax Authority's fraud witch hunt. "Cracks have appeared in the walls of the rule of law, which cannot be closed with the fall of the cabinet. We have to look at the cause of those cracks."