- + Rutte becomes forerunner for the mid-March elections.
- + Thousands of families have been falsely accused of fraud.
- + The whole Dutch government has resigned over the scandal.
Why is Mark Rutte’s heat level blazing?
Answer: He’s accepting political responsibility without barely any political cost.
On Friday the 15th of January 2021 the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, announced the resignation of the government to King Willem-Alexander, making it official.
Mark Rutte has been Prime Minister of The Netherlands since 2010. Having headed three different coalition governments, this is not the only time they have been forced to resign. The first time was due to the coalition’s inability to approve the annual budget, this one however, is more serious.
The Cabinet as a whole decided to step down because of an escalating scandal over child benefits. Apparently, over the years, Dutch tax officials have been wrongly accusing families of fraud, therefore taking away their financial assistance and forcing them to hand back the amount that was already given to them. This led numerous families into bankruptcy.
It seems that this scandal would have a huge impact in all the parties forming the coalition but specially in Rutte’s party, the Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD). The VVD is characterized by being conservative-liberal but committed to the idea of the welfare state. Therefore, the fact that the scandal involves economic aid, mostly given to immigrants, should negatively affect, not only the party itself but also the government, as they committed to work towards a greater integration.Yet, this doesn’t appear to be the case.
Former State Secretary of Finance, in charge of the child benefits scheme, Eric Wiebes decided not to continue in the government and chose to resign from his position as Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy with immediate effect. Alongside with Wiebes, Lodewijk Assher, leader of the Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA), has also resigned as he was Minister of Social Affairs in the previous government.
Having two members of the opposition resign, effect immediately, over the scandal might improve Rutte’s public image as he is not directly linked to it, at least for the moment. Rutte might have been head of the government and the coalition however, the direct responsibility was in hands of the heads of the respective departments who are now in the opposition for the upcoming elections might incline the public’s opinion towards Rutte’s side.
It is also important to consider that, even though the whole Cabinet has resigned, they will stay as acting government till the mid-March elections, as leaving in midst of the third wave of the pandemic would be highly irresponsible and, as Rutte stated, “people are entitled to expect us to do what is necessary in the interests of the country”.In the same way it did when Rutte resigned due to his inability to keep cohesion within the coalition, what this reflects is his profound sense of duty and responsibility, something highly valued by the northern European cultures.
So, Rutte has resigned, but he will continue to be acting Prime Minister until the elections in which he will run for his fourth reelection as head of the VVD. With the public opinion largely backing him and his party as first in the polls with 30% of the vote, it seems like the scandal hasn’t damaged him much.
The scandal might have put him in a delicate position in his relations with Parliament. However, if he plays his cards well in the next two months, he will get the support he needs in the elections and this issue with Parliament won’t be a problem in the medium to long term.
Who’s changing Rutte’s temperature?
Answer: The MPs are forcing the Cabinet’s resignation by threatening them with a vote of no confidence.
The scandal isn’t new, it has been hanging over the head of the Dutch government since 2014 when Eva González Pérez, a Spanish lawyer living in the Netherlands, started investigating the issue.
Around 26.000 families were accused by the Dutch authorities of fraud and of those families, 10.000 were forced to pay back. These authorities admitted that at least half of the families were put under scrutiny because of their ethnic origin or nationality, encouraging the accusations of systemic racism in the country.
The authorities tried to partially justify their actions as they were based in the stricter anti-fraud laws promoted by Rutte’s government. However, since 2015 the law prohibits public administrations from including information on citizen’s dual nationality, a law that the tax authorities failed to comply with by continuing to use old data.
By arguing that the scandal had nothing to do with him or his Cabinet straight away, Rutte had firstly opposed to dissolving government, due to the need of stability during the pandemic. However, other parties and members of parliament established that the consequences were unavoidable. In fact, Jesse Klaver, leader of the GroenLinks, even threatened Rutte with a motion of no confidence if they didn’t resign.
Therefore, it can be seen that there is a clear difference on how the scandal has affected Rutte and his government on the public and the parliamentary sides. In terms of the public, Rutte’s image seems to still be quite positive. On the other side, Parliament is being quite critical, not only with the Prime Minister but also with other members of the coalition such as Wopke Hoekstra, Minister of Finance and leader of the Christian Democrat Party.
In the face of these events, Rutte was forced to change his mind and to move on with the government’s resignation. Nevertheless, even though this wasn’t his original plan of action, it will prove to be the best decision to take as, this might prove to be the best decision to make as accepting responsibility and showing that the government as a whole will provide accountability to both; parliament and the Dutch citizens seems to be helping with their public image.
What is driving Rutte?
Answer: The next Dutch elections will take place on March 17th.
According to the political analysts, the government’s resignation was the easy way to take, as this avoids a parliamentary debate and a vote of no confidence that the government was set to lose. By preventing this, the members of Cabinet that haven’t resigned because of their direct links to the scandal, are free to run again in the next elections.
As we can see from the latest polls, the Dutch population approves the government’s decision and backs Rutte, even more than before. Rutte’s VVD would win 43 seats out of the 150-seat lower house, a better result than the one in the last elections in which they obtained 32 seats. Nevertheless, while being seen as the responsible and honorable path to take, by renouncing power and admitting the government’s failure, this block resignation can also be seen as a way of Rutte self-preserving himself.
As good as the poll result might be, it doesn’t allow Rutte to govern on its own. Again, he would need to team up with other parties and this is where this whole situation can be damaging for him as he is not in great terms with other parties.
It can’t be denied that Rutte plans to stay in government and that he will try to win the upcoming elections. But now, it is up to the Dutch population to decide, to decide whether Rutte resigned out of his good heart or if it was just a political manoeuvre to avoid being held completely responsible, to decide whether he deserves another term in government or if it is time for him to go away.
What does this mean for you?
Answer: Rutte has been a thorn on the side of the EU for nearly all the pandemic, however, the second-biggest party can prove to be way worse.
If the upcoming elections reflect the results of the polls at the moment things will continue as they are at the moment. Rutte will win, but his party won’t have enough votes to rule on its own, so they will have to form another coalition with some other parties. Even though in the current situation this might seem difficult, over the years we have seen that Rutte is an expert in managing this type of government.
As we have seen over the years, this will be no issue as Rutte is an expert in managing this type of government. From the European perspective, he will probably continue with his hard line when it comes to European aid. As one of the so-called “Hawks”, he has been at the forefront of several blockades within the EU, the latest one, trying to link any aid to Italy or Spain to a conditionality agreement.
On the other hand, although it is a small one, there is still a chance that Rutte might lose, something that will have a huge impact, both at the Dutch and European levels. The second running party in the polls is Geert Wilders’ Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV), the anti-Islam Freedom party. With the Netherlands already having issues with systemic racism, electing a government that is clearly against the integration of immigrants into the Dutch society will only add more fuel to the fire.
Furthermore, at the European level it is more of the same issue, the PVV was against the entry of Turkey into the EU and they even promoted a vote against the European Constitution. With the issues that the EU is facing at the moment, having a government that is against the main objectives of the Union won’t help to solve them.