The Hague (dpa) – Ultimately, the pressure was too great. After an unprecedented affair with tens of thousands of disadvantaged parents, the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte had no choice: she performed two months before the general elections on Friday.
“Stepping down is inevitable,” said Rutte in The Hague. The rule of law had failed across the board and “did not protect citizens from a powerful state”.
The government crisis comes at an inopportune time – in the midst of the serious Corona crisis. Rutte assured that the fight against the pandemic would continue unabated. He was commissioned by King Willem-Alexander to continue the official business.
Opposition politicians and injured parents welcomed the decision. But in many cases it is also seen as an empty symbol.
The left-liberal Minister of Foreign Trade, Sigrid Kaag, disagreed. It is an important symbol: “A break” with the past is necessary to restore trust in the state in a credible way. “But how strong is the break?
In a few weeks, on March 17, a new parliament will be elected. But the affair and resignation probably won’t leave any marks on Rutte’s Teflon armor. In the polls, his VVD is the undisputed leader. The citizens give him the highest marks for dealing with the Corona crisis. Everything indicates that he will emerge victorious and that he can form a government again.
The top representatives of his previous coalition partners, two Christian parties and the left-liberal D66, are also back in power. Right-wing populist Geert Wilders called it “unbelievable that the main people responsible for this affair continue after the election as if nothing had happened.”
The so-called subsidy issue has deeply shaken citizens’ confidence in the state and has dealt a blow to democratic structures. The injustice could take place for years from 2013 to 2019 without the intervention of parliament, officials, judiciary and government – on the contrary, calls for help from parents were largely ignored.
In the fight against alleged fraud, the tax authorities had recovered tens of thousands of euros in childcare subsidies from the more than 20,000 parents. But the parents were not guilty of anything. Some had made a formal mistake or had the last name wrong. It was striking that many of the injured had dual nationality and a foreign-sounding name – their names were not Visser or de Boer.
Suddenly they had to pay back large sums of money. Installment payments were declined because they were considered fraudulent. As a result, families went into heavy debts and difficulties, financially and personally. They lost their homes and jobs and marriages disintegrated under stress. Rutte was head of government all years.
The scale of the scandal only became apparent last summer. Officials and ministers had testified before the parliamentary committee of inquiry. “I often had a stomach ache,” said top tax officials on behalf of many when faced with the stories of suffering. But there was nothing he could do.
The Commission of Inquiry issued a damning verdict on authorities, politicians and judges in December: “The basic principles of the rule of law have been violated.” For years the parents had done “unprecedented injustice”. Rutte underlined: “It went terribly wrong.” 500 million euros has already been set aside for compensation.
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.” For years, the tax authorities considered her a fraud. She still owes tens of thousands of euros. Resigning can only be the first step for them. Like many parents, she also wants those responsible to be prosecuted. “I think they should go to jail.”