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Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and his entire cabinet resigned on Friday to take political responsibility for a scandal involving investigations into child welfare payments that wrongly labeled thousands of parents as scammers.
In a nationally televised speech, Rutte said he had reported King Willem-Alexander of his decision and pledged that his government would continue to work to compensate affected parents as soon as possible and to fight the coronavirus.

“We agree that if the whole system has failed, we must all take responsibility, and that has led to the conclusion that I have just offered the king the resignation of the entire cabinet,” Rutte said.

Prime Minister Mark Rute, center left, and Dutch King Willem-Alexander, center, pose with ministers for the official photo of the new Dutch government on the steps of the Royal Noordeinde Palace in The Hague, Netherlands (Photo: October 2017)
Prime Minister Mark Rute, center left, and Dutch King Willem-Alexander, center, pose with ministers for the official photo of the new Dutch government on the steps of the Royal Noordeinde Palace in The Hague, Netherlands (Photo: October 2017) (AP)

Shortly after delivering his statement, Rutte mounted his bicycle and headed to the king’s palace in a forest in The Hague to formally report to the king. Dutch television showed him parking his bicycle at the foot of the steps leading to the palace and entering.

The move was seen as largely symbolic; The Rutte government will remain in office on an interim basis until a new coalition is formed after the March 17 elections in the Netherlands.

The resignation ends a decade in office for Rutte, although his party is expected to win the election, putting him first in line to begin talks to form the next government. If he succeeds in forming a new coalition, Rutte will most likely become prime minister again.

Geert Wilders, leader of the largest opposition party in the Dutch parliament, said it was the right decision for the government to resign.

“Innocent people have been criminalized, their lives have been destroyed, and parliament was reported inaccurately and incompletely,” he tweeted.

View of Binnenhof, the seat of the Dutch government in The Hague, Netherlands, Friday January 15, 2021
View of Binnenhof, the seat of the Dutch government in The Hague, Netherlands, Friday January 15, 2021 (AP)

The Netherlands is the third European country thrown into political uncertainty this week amid the coronavirus crisis. In Estonia, the government resigned over a corruption scandal, while Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s ruling coalition risks collapse after a small partner party withdrew its support.

Rutte said earlier this week that his government could continue to make difficult political decisions in the battle against the coronavirus, even if it were in interim mode.

The Netherlands is in a harsh lockdown until at least February 9, and the government is considering imposing a nightly curfew amid fears over new, more contagious variants of the virus.

“To the Netherlands I say: our fight against the coronavirus will continue,” Rutte said.

Jesse Klaver, leader of an opposition party, told the national broadcaster NOS that he would continue to support the government in its coronavirus campaign.

On Thursday, the leader of the opposition Labor Party resigned because he was minister of social affairs in a coalition led by Rutte when the country’s tax office implemented a tough policy of monitoring child welfare fraud.

A sitting minister, Eric Wiebes, who was also linked to the scandal, said on Friday that he would resign with immediate effect and that he would not be part of the interim administration.

At Friday’s cabinet meeting, ministers decided their reaction to a scathing parliamentary report issued last month, titled “Unprecedented Injustice,” which said the tax office’s policies violated “fundamental principles of the rule of law.” The report also criticized the government for the way it provided information to parliament about the scandal.

Many wrongfully accused parents fell into debt when tax officials demanded repayment of payments. In the past, the government has apologized for the tax office’s methods and in March allocated 500 million euros ($ 784 million) to compensate more than 20,000 parents.

In a written reaction, the government pledged to reform the welfare system as a result of the scandal and to quickly pay affected parents 30,000 euros ($ 47,000) and expand existing compensation plans.

“Everything aims to offer parents and their children a new start in life,” the government said.

One of the parents waited near parliament while the cabinet met and said he wanted him to resign.

“It is important to me because it is the government recognizing, ‘We have made a mistake and we are taking responsibility’, because it is something quite what happened to us,” Janet Ramesar told The Associated Press.

Rutte plans to bring his conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy to the March elections, and polls suggest he will win the most seats. That would put Rutte, who has been in office for a decade at the head of three different coalitions, first in line to try to form the next ruling coalition.

But he said it was up to the voters in the elections to decide his future, noting that he took ultimate responsibility for failures within his government.

“The ball stops here,” he said.


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