Minutes harmful to confidence

The highly exceptional constitutional step taken by the outgoing cabinet to publish secret minutes of several councils of ministers from 2019 should have contributed to the restoration of confidence. Not only between the citizen and the public administration – seriously disrupted by the actions of the Tax and Customs Administration in the Supplement affair – but above all between the government and the House of Representatives. It was the House that requested the confidential documents after RTL News seemed to be drawing from it last week. This publication gave the impression that the Rutte III cabinet had deliberately withheld crucial information about the Supplement affair from parliament two years ago. And according to RTL the Council of Ministers had repeatedly discussed individual MPs from coalition parties.

The publication of the documents, Monday evening, will not restore the mutual confidence of group chairmen for the time being – rather it will damage it more. In the grueling formation process, informateur Herman Tjeenk Willink had, among other things, been given the task of the House of Representatives to investigate whether and how this mutual trust could be restored. Until now, there has been little confidence in VVD leader Mark Rutte. But the minutes of the Council of Ministers meetings show that Rutte was not alone in his demand for the loyalty of the other government parties and their parliamentary parties. This demand was coalition-wide and was also pushed by D66. The parties actively addressed each other about the behavior of party members in the House of Representatives. Especially outgoing Wouter Koolmees (Social Affairs, D66) played a leading role in this.

In a meeting on 12 July 2019, he was the first to be ‘very displeased’ about MPs Pieter Omtzigt (CDA) and Helma Lodders (VVD) – according to him ‘activist spokespersons’. He wanted their party members in the cabinet to hold them accountable for this. Koolmees then received support from Rutte, who indicated to Lodders that he had already emphasized “the importance of unity within the coalition”. Wopke Hoekstra (CDA) and Kajsa Ollongren (D66) also joined in.

Only D66 leader Sigrid Kaag indicated that he had “less trouble” with MPs from the coalition “openly opposing the cabinet”, although not unconditionally.

Coalition in each other’s arms

The minutes thus force the coalition partners of the outgoing Rutte III cabinet into each other’s arms: they have all been complicit in a culture that D66, CDA and the ChristenUnie especially blamed on VVD leader Rutte. For Hoekstra and Kaag it will now be more difficult to maintain the harsh tone about Rutte, with which they tried to distance himself more and more in recent weeks.

The minutes also have consequences for opposition parties that have so far refused to rule out cooperation with Mark Rutte’s VVD. PvdA leader Lilianne Ploumen and GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver supported a motion of no confidence against Rutte – who did not receive a majority – but then left the door ajar by always offering Rutte the opportunity to show herself and show herself humbly. that he wanted to restore confidence. Ploumen reacted on Twitter on Monday evening in a bewildered way. She denounced the “putting down of critical MPs”. And: “With the consent of the entire cabinet, the withholding of information was considered more important than finding the truth.”

The assertion that the cabinet deliberately withheld certain information from the House of Representatives is indeed correct, but the cabinet had good reasons for that in its own judgment. This concerned a request from Omtzigt for a ‘full account of the facts’ in which he wanted to know exactly which official of the Tax Authorities may have acted unlawfully. That irritated the responsible State Secretary Menno Snel (D66). He thought, with the support of Rutte and the rest of the cabinet, that “the actions of the civil servants concerned should not be shared in detail”.

The mutual distrust between the House and the cabinet has not yet been allayed with the revelation of the minutes. Especially not because of the step that the cabinet took on Monday to report the possible leakage of the state secret documents to RTL. In the accompanying letter to Parliament, Prime Minister Rutte again hints who he sees as possible suspect (s): the members of the Parliamentary interrogation committee.
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