Dutch PM and Cabinet quit over child welfare payments scandal

Mark Rutte Netherlands

Mark Rutte Netherlands

Mr Rutte, who came to power in 2010 and is one of Europe's longest serving leaders, added: "The rule of law must protect its citizens from an all-powerful government, and here that's gone terribly wrong".

In a press conference on Friday afternoon, he said that responsibility for the failed handling of the childcare subsidies lay with the Cabinet.

The Liberal leader is resigning after extended public outrage over what has become known as the Supplement Affair, which had already led to Labor Party leader Lodewijk Asscher stepping down.

Deputy Prime Minister Kajsa Ollongren, who serves as interior minister, said as she entered Friday's meeting that "it is very important to be accountable and also to show responsibility in the political sense, and we are going to talk about that in the Council of Ministers today". It seems likely that Rutte has calculated the political fall-out of a cabinet collapse as less damaging than defeat over the scandal in parliament next week.

Mark Rutte's 10-year spell as Dutch leader may be brought to an end by the scandal, but it's equally likely he will return to his position before too long.

Rutte's third term had just two months to run - the last three weeks of which would be taken up by the election campaign - and no major new pieces of legislation were in the pipeline. That saw the wrongfully accused families condemned to financial ruin. The report also criticised the government for the way it provided information to parliament about the scandal. "No, I did not know that the Tax Authority started an unjust hunt of thousands of families", Asscher said, following his own resignation on Thursday.

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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy speaks after a televised debate moderated by journalist Jeroen Pauw, on the eve of European elections in Amsterdam, Netherlands, May 23, 2019. The government has in the past apologized for the tax office's methods and in March earmarked 500 million euros ($607 million) to compensate more than 20,000 parents.

"Innocent people have been criminalised, their lives destroyed and parliament was informed about it inaccurately and incompletely", he tweeted.

Rutte had previously said he was opposed to dissolving the coalition, saying the Netherlands needs stability during the coronavirus pandemic, but other coalition parties said they believed political consequences were unavoidable following a scathing parliamentary report into the benefits scandal.

At least one cabinet member, minister for economic affairs Eric Wiebes, said he would not rejoin a caretaker cabinet.

Responding to questions about his possible resignation, Rutte said on Tuesday his Cabinet would remain fully capable of managing the COVID-19 crisis even if forced into caretaker status.

But the child benefits scandal threatens that reputation, and potentially even Rutte's own job.

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