Revelations in Benefits Scandal Make Rutte’s Job Even Harder

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte enters a meeting with other European leaders in Brussels, July 21, 2020 (European Council)

Revelations that his outgoing government deliberately withheld information from parliament have made it even harder for Prime Minister Mark Rutte, in power since 2010, to form a new government in the Netherlands.

Cabinet minutes, normally kept secret for 25 years but released after they had leaked to RTL Nieuws, reveal that ministers agreed not to share all relevant files in the so-called child benefits scandal, which caused Rutte’s four-party government to resign in January.

Between 2013 and 2019, some 26,000 parents were wrongly accused of benefit fraud. Many were financially ruined by demands to pay back tens of thousands of euros in child support.

Pieter Omtzigt, at the time a backbencher for the ruling Christian Democrats, had requested internal documents from the tax agency that would disclose when civil servants had first advised ministers of the mistakes.

Withholding information from parliament is a capital offensive in Dutch politics, but Omtzigt’s request was unusual. Ministers are politically responsible for their departments. Parliamentarians have long accepted that civil servants need to be able to make their recommendations in confidence.

Omtzigt argued for an exception. The minutes reveal Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra, the Christian Democratic party leader, tried to “talk sense” into Omtzigt, who would not relent.

In the election in March, Omtzigt won a third of all votes for the Christian Democrats. His persistence in bringing the child benefits scandal to light has made him one of the most popular politicians in the country — but not necessarily in The Hague, where even some in his own party consider him a loose cannon. Read more “Revelations in Benefits Scandal Make Rutte’s Job Even Harder”

Rutte’s Opponents Smell Blood in the Water

Mark Rutte
Dutch lawmakers debate Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague, September 17, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

After eleven years in power, Mark Rutte is suddenly vulnerable.

The long-ruling Dutch prime minister won his fourth election in a row in March, but botched coalition talks have thrown his future into doubt.

What started with suspicions Rutte had tried to get rid of a critical lawmaker turned into a wider question about his credibility.

But discontent in other parties about Rutte’s longevity also plays a role.

Before I dive in, let me remind you I’m a member of Rutte’s political party and voted for him in March. So this is not going to be an unbiased analysis, and the reason I’m publishing it as an opinion story. Read more “Rutte’s Opponents Smell Blood in the Water”

Rutte’s Future in Doubt After Botched Coalition Talks

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte meets with other European leaders in Brussels, March 16, 2016 (European Council)

Two weeks after parliamentary elections in the Netherlands, attempts to form a coalition government have broken down amid incriminations that could put Mark Rutte’s prime ministership at risk.

Rutte won the election, but a botched start to the negotiations to form his fourth government has thrown doubt on his political survival.

The liberal has been in power since 2010. Read more “Rutte’s Future in Doubt After Botched Coalition Talks”

Fragmented Dutch Parliament Lacks Experience

Dutch parliament The Hague
Dutch lawmakers listen to a debate in parliament in The Hague, September 29, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

Regular readers know I’m not a fan of two-party democracy. It reduces politics to simplistic either-or choices. It encourages parties to radicalize their supporters and appeal to the extremes rather than the center. Multiparty democracy, by contrast, engenders moderation and compromise.

Multiparty democracies are superior on almost every metric: their voters show higher trust in government and each other; their electoral systems are more responsive to changes in public opinion; their economies are more competitive and their societies less divisive.

But there is a tradeoff. When voters aren’t loyal — which is itself a good thing; they should judge parties on their performance — turnover in parliament can be high, which robs it of experience and expertise. Read more “Fragmented Dutch Parliament Lacks Experience”

Dutch and Spanish Leaders Share Vision for EU

Mark Rutte Pedro Sánchez Charles Michel
Prime Ministers Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and Pedro Sánchez of Spain speak with European Council president Charles Michel in Brussels, July 20, 2020 (European Council)

Less than a year ago, Mark Rutte and Pedro Sánchez were on opposite ends of the debate about the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund. Sánchez and other Southern European leaders called for grants financed by EU-issued bonds. Rutte and his allies preferred loans. The two sides eventually split the difference.

Now the two prime ministers, one center-right, the other center-left, have made common cause for a version of European “strategic autonomy” that is more liberal than Emmanuel Macron’s.

In a joint “non-paper“, the Dutch and Spanish leaders endorse strategic economy as a means to an end — growth and security — but not an end in itself. They caution it mustn’t become an excuse for isolation and protectionism. Read more “Dutch and Spanish Leaders Share Vision for EU”

Liberal Parties Look for Allies in Netherlands

Giuseppe Conte Mark Rutte
Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte is received by his Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, in The Hague, July 10, 2020 (Palazzo Chigi)

Talks to form a coalition government are underway in the Netherlands, where Prime Minister Mark Rutte won the election on Wednesday but fell short of an overall majority.

Four parties will be needed to form a government. Rutte’s right-liberal VVD (of which I am a member) and Trade Minister Sigrid Kaag’s left-liberal D66 would be needed in almost any combination. The two have 58 seats. 76 are needed for majority. Read more “Liberal Parties Look for Allies in Netherlands”

Curaçao Election Result Will Set Off Alarm Bells in Netherlands

Willemstad Curaçao
Flag of Curaçao in Willemstad (iStock/Flavio Vallenari)

Two days after parliamentary elections in the European Netherlands, voters on Curaçao, one of the three autonomous Dutch islands in the Caribbean, went to the polls on Friday.

The result was a resounding victory for the populist Movement for the Future of Curaçao (MFK), led by Gilmar Pisas, which won nine out of 21 seats in the island Estates. Read more “Curaçao Election Result Will Set Off Alarm Bells in Netherlands”

Dutch Election: Takeaways and What Happens Next

Dutch parliament The Hague
Dutch lawmakers debate Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague, September 17, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte is on track to win reelection with projections giving his liberal VVD (of which I am a member) 36 out of 150 seats in parliament, up three.

The outcome is likely to be a center-right government of three or four parties.

If you haven’t been reading our live election blog, this explainer will get you up to speed on the results, takeaways and next steps. Read more “Dutch Election: Takeaways and What Happens Next”

Foreign Press Are Missing the Story in the Dutch Election

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte attends the state opening of parliament in The Hague, September 18, 2018 (Ministerie van Financiën/Valerie Kuypers)

The big story in this year’s election in the Netherlands is that all parties, including the ruling VVD (of which I am a member), have moved to the left. As a result, there is broad consensus for deficit spending, far-reaching climate legislation, closer defense integration in Europe, more central government involvement in housing and raising corporate tax.

Not all foreign media have noticed. Many are still obsessed with yesterday’s story: the far right. Read more “Foreign Press Are Missing the Story in the Dutch Election”

Rutte Wins Dutch Election, Pro-EU Party Places Second

  • Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal VVD placed first in parliamentary elections in the Netherlands on Wednesday but fell short of a majority.
  • Three or four parties will be needed to form a coalition government.
  • The social-liberal and pro-European D66, which has governed with Rutte since 2017, placed second, pushing Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) into third place.
  • The combined populist right would win more seats than the Labor Party, Greens and far-left Socialists combined. New parties on the left made gains. Read more “Rutte Wins Dutch Election, Pro-EU Party Places Second”