Dutch Justice Minister Resigns in Blow to Rutte

A twenty-year-old deal with a drug lord claims the career of the Netherlands’ second justice minister in a row.

The Netherlands' Ard van der Steur chairs a meeting of European justice ministers in Amsterdam, June 1, 2016
The Netherlands’ Ard van der Steur chairs a meeting of European justice ministers in Amsterdam, June 1, 2016 (Rijksoverheid/Valerie Kuypers)

Dutch justice minister Ard van der Steur has stepped down, saying he no longer felt he enjoyed the confidence of parliament.

Van der Steur is the second justice minister from Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal party to resign during this parliament. His predecessor, Ivo Opstelten, was caught up in the same scandal that claimed Van der Steur’s ministership on Thursday.

Opposition lawmakers accused Van der Steur of withholding information about the role he had played in Opstelten’s downfall.

Opstelten resigned in 2015 when it emerged that his undersecretary had paid close to €2.1 million as a public prosecutor in the 1990s to a drug lord in return for testimony — twice the amount officials had previously disclosed.

This year it came to light that Van der Steur, as a parliamentarian in 2015, had helped Opstelten draft his statements to the house and not disclosed this before taking his place.

Election fever

Neither man was personally involved in the €2.1 million deal and Van der Steur’s transgressions might have been survivable had opposition parties not been so keen to throw doubt on his liberal party’s law-and-order profile.

With elections due in March, Rutte is positioning the liberals as defenders of Dutch freedoms and values.

Other parties see this as a naked attempt to draw voters away from the nationalist Freedom Party.

Parliament can force any minister to resign. By stepping down, Van der Steur spares himself and the liberal party the embarrassment of being pushed out.

Party before parliament

Christian Democrat leader Sybrand van Haersma Buma accused Van der Steur on Thursday of putting his party before his responsibilities as a parliamentarian.

“The liberal party wasn’t there for the Ministry of Security and Justice,” he alleged; “the ministry was there for the liberal party.”

If that perception sticks, it could hurt Rutte’s chances with conservative voters in two months from now.