The Hague (AP) – A few weeks before the parliamentary elections in March, the Dutch government resigned and withdrew the fallout from an unprecedented affair about child benefits.
“The resignation is inevitable,” said Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague on Friday. The rule of law had failed across the board and “did not protect citizens from a powerful state”. Damaged parents were very relieved. Over the course of the affair, thousands of parents were in need. The resignation is seen primarily as a symbolic step and is unlikely to affect the outcome of the mid-March elections.
In the fight against alleged fraud, the Tax and Customs Administration recovered tens of thousands of euros in childcare subsidies from parents from around 2013 to 2019. As a result, families got into debt and got into trouble. The right-wing liberal Rutte was head of government in all years. Most recently, his right-wing liberal VVD ruled together with the Christian CDA, the ChristenUnion and the left-wing liberal D66.
Rutte assured that the fight against the corona pandemic would continue unabated. Under his leadership, official business continues until a new government is formed after the elections on March 17.
The resignation is unlikely to have a major impact on the elections. Rutte’s VVD is far ahead in the studies. Then he could form a government again. Rutte will also be the top candidate of his party and said he had not considered retiring. “The decision is up to the voter,” he said. The top politicians of his previous coalition partners are also running in the elections. Only Minister of Economy Eric Wiebes will not return. At the time he was jointly responsible as State Secretary.
The affair had become acute after the damning verdict of a parliamentary committee of inquiry in December on the actions of politicians, authorities and the judiciary. “The basic principles of the rule of law were violated.” The government has already promised compensation of EUR 30,000 per family. EUR 500 million had already been set aside in the budget for compensation payments.
“It went terribly wrong,” said Rutte. “Innocent people have been criminalized, their lives have been destroyed and Parliament has received incorrect and incomplete information.”
Opposition politicians and injured parents welcomed the decision. Right-wing populist Geert Wilders spoke of an “inevitable step”. However, he called it “incredible that those who were primarily responsible for this affair continue after the election as if nothing had happened.” The group leader of the Green Party Green Left, Jesse Klaver, spoke of “a moment of justice”.
Many parents responded with relief. “This is completely correct”, says Kristie Rongen of the NOS. “I’ve been through twelve years of misery, the worst part was my daughter nearly broke it.” The legal representative of several hundred parents, Sébas Diekstra, said this could only be the political consequence. He now also called for criminal consequences.
The pressure on the government had increased after the leader of the Social Democratic opposition party, Lodewijk Asscher, surprisingly announced on Thursday that he was withdrawing from politics over the same affair. Asscher was Minister of Social Affairs until 2017.