However, observers and local newspapers agree that Rutte’s credibility has been questioned and that the outgoing prime minister has suffered serious political damage.
The no-confidence motion was requested by the PVV, Geert Wilders’ far-right party, and was also supported by all the other opposition parties. The motion of censure was instead presented by Sigrid Kaag, leader of the centrist party D66, by Wopke Bastiaan Hoekstra, of Appello Cristiano Democratico, and by the Christian Union, that is, by the three parties that were part of the coalition that supported the previous Rutte government. It was voted on by the whole parliament, with the exception of the deputies of the VVD. Kaag was particularly critical of Rutte during the debate: “My trust in Rutte has been severely damaged,” he said.
The general elections in mid-March had been won by Rutte’s center-right party, which has ruled the country since 2010. Rutte then began negotiations for the formation of a new governing coalition. A week ago, however, the negotiations were interrupted due to the publication in the newspapers of a photograph, which had caused much discussion.
Pictured was MP Kajsa Ollongren leaving the Dutch parliament building after learning she tested positive for coronavirus. The image showed Ollongren, who was leading the talks for the new government, holding documents containing details of the ongoing negotiations. On one of these sheets was written: “Omtzigt position, assignment elsewhere.”
Peter Omtzigt is a member of parliament of the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) party, very critical of Rutte and well known because it is also thanks to him that the scandal related to family benefits that last January led to the resignation of the previous government was made public. Rutte.
The third Rutte government, in office since 2017, resigned following a parliamentary report which revealed the very aggressive approach used by the state, starting from 2012, to ask about 20 thousand families to return the monthly subsidies received as contribution to child rearing: families were also accused of fraud and taken to court. Due to a strict mechanism of the law, many of them were then prevented from appealing the decision. After many years it was discovered that the families in question – half of which were made up of people with dual citizenship, therefore of foreign origin – had been prosecuted for a bureaucratic error. In the meantime, however, some of them had gone into debt to compensate the government, and in general they had handled the allegations with great difficulty.
Last week, after the publication of the photo with the documents held in the hand by the negotiator Kajsa Ollongren, Rutte told reporters that he never discussed Omtzigt’s political appointment during his talks, continuing to support this position in the following days. Ollongren and the other negotiator had also sent a letter to the House stating that Omtzigt had never been mentioned.
On Thursday 1 April, the minutes of the talks were made public, from which it emerges instead that Rutte had not told the truth. Rutte actually talked about Omtzigt assuming that he could get “an important role”. And this, her accusers suspect, to silence a figure particularly critical of her by removing her from the Chamber and assigning her a ministerial post.
After the publication of the minutes, Rutte claimed that he had not lied, but only that he had not remembered that part of the discussion: he therefore explained that he had answered the questions of the journalists “in good faith”: “I’m telling the truth.” And he also added that he only remembered the passage on Omtzigt when he received a phone call on Thursday morning: however, he refused to say from whom and for this he was also heavily criticized during the debate.
On Thursday 1 April, the parliamentary discussion was very long and very hard against Rutte. “Don’t you realize your time is up?” Wilders said. “How can you, in the greatest crisis we face, restore a trust that has been damaged again?” Asked Sigrid Kaag. Ollongren also spoke. She apologized, and citing the letter stating that no reference had been made to MP Omtzigt during the talks, acknowledged that it was incorrect: “The Chamber was informed incorrectly.” However, she explained that in her notes she had not written anything about this comment because she had not considered it relevant: the complete minutes then made public were not drawn up by her, but by other staff members present at the interviews who, however, admitted, they were his responsibility.
The deputy involved, who was sworn in as a member of parliament on Wednesday, was not present at the debate. After the publication of the photo, he declared that his “removal” from parliament was “an affront to the country’s electorate”.
After the broad approval of the motion of censure, also by all possible future coalition partners of Rutte, the outgoing prime minister said that he still intends to continue negotiations to try to form a new government: “Parliament has given me a serious message and I will do my best to regain trust ».
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