Rutte confirms Cabinet resignation; Says covid crisis management won’t change
Prime Minister Mark Rutte confirmed on Friday that his third consecutive Cabinet overseeing governance in the Netherlands offered its resignation to King Willem-Alexander. The Cabinet, which suffered several setbacks over the past 18 months, collapsed as a result of a child benefits scandal where parents were unjustly stripped of childcare subsidies and were ordered to pay back thousands of euros to the government.
During a contentious 40 minute press briefing, Rutte called the benefits scandal a failure of the entire political system, and argued that everyone in the Cabinet was responsible. Thus, he will not step down from his role overseeing the caretaker government, since the issue was "Cabinet-wide."
"There is no doubt that it is always my ultimate responsibility", Rutte said. "But it is up to the voter on March 17 to make up their minds," he added, referring to the date of the next general election.
He said that the entire Cabinet voted unanimously to offer their resignation in the wake of the scandal which occurred during both the current and previous Cabinets. This was because of the "extreme seriousness of the report by the Parliamentary committee." He said that they Cabinet will remain in a caretaker position handling only immediate issues and non-controversial issues until the next coalition is formed after the elections in mid-March. The exception, he said, is for issues related to the coronavirus pandemic and handling repayments to the parents who were unfairly profiled and targeted, in which case the Cabinet will continue in its current role.
"I want to say to the Netherlands: our fight against the coronavirus continues," Rutte said earlier in Dutch. "I want to say this to the affected parents: we will continue to work on rapid compensation and on improvements that are necessary for the future. With this decision, the Cabinet wants to do justice to parents who were extraordinarily wronged."
Towards the end of the news conference, he said in English, "It was unavoidable that we step down. And at the same, we think with full support of Parliament ... to be effective in fighting the corona crisis."
Eric Wiebes, who oversees the Ministry of Economic Affairs in the current Cabinet and was the State Secretary of Finance in the last Cabinet, stepped down with immediate effect. His resignation was accepted by Willem-Alexander. His duties were temporarily handed over to Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, the Minister of Infrastructure, and another politician will be appointed to take over the role until the next Cabinet takes over. Rutte said it was not possible for someone to run both ministries.
In the childcare allowance scandal, thousands of parents were wrongly accused of fraud and ordered by the government to repay their childcare allowance. In some cases, citizens were ordered to repay tens of thousands of euros, sending many households into a downward financial spiral. The tax office is accused of ethnically profiling victims and specifically targeting people with a foreign last name or dual citizenship.
A report released in December from a parliamentary committee of inquiry determined that parents faced an “unprecedented level of injustice”. It was also stated that fundamental principles of the rule of law had been violated, and members of both the Rutte II and the Rutte III cabinets were partly liable. Former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Social Affairs and Employment in the second Rutte cabinet, Lodewijk Asscher, announced on Thursday that he is stepping down from his position as leader of the PvdA.
By stepping down on Friday, Rutte III became an “outgoing cabinet.” Even after the resignation is official the cabinet will remain in power to handle current cases, such as the coronavirus pandemic. Topics that are classed as controversial or sensitive by the parliament and Senate will be left to the new cabinet in spring.
An "outgoing cabinet” is a Dutch political term used to describe the transition period between the parliamentary election and the formation of a new cabinet. On March 17, the Netherlands will decide which parties get to run the country. Some polling stations are opening earlier this year to ensure proper social distancing.