AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Ruttes Cabinet is considering a collective resignation over a report blaming the government for mismanaging childcare subsidies that plunged thousands of families into financial ruin.
A parliamentary inquiry last month concluded that unprecedented injustice had been done to innocent families, who were often forced to repay tens of thousands of euros in subsidies, leading to unemployment, bankruptcy or divorce.
Rutte, in office since 2010, said late last month that the affair, which spanned almost the entire past decade, was embarrassing. Compensation of at least 30,000 euros ($ 36,500) is being paid to approximately 10,000 families.
Families this week filed charges against five politicians, including Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra and Economy Minister Eric Wiebes, for their role in mismanagement.
Opinion polls suggest Rutte’s government has the approval of two-thirds of the public. But political analysts said pressure on the government to resign increased after Lodewijk Asscher resigned as leader of the opposition Labor party and said he would not run in the March 17 parliamentary elections as he thought he was partly to blame for the scandal.
Asscher, who was social affairs minister when his party was a coalition partner in a previous Rutte government, not only puts more pressure on the cabinet, but also on individual party leaders, wrote political expert Tom-Jan Meeus in Twitter.
Rutte called crisis talks with his entire cabinet for Friday.
The subsidy scandal without the tax office relentlessly enforcing subsidy repayments, without allowing families to prove their innocence, the parliamentary committee found.
Political analyst Sophie van Leeuwen said the scandal was unlikely to hit Rutte in the election just two months away, given his treatment of the coronavirus pandemic.
Voters are not really interested in the subsidy scandal because for many of them it is far away. Rutte has high approval rates because he is good at the role of a statesman leading the Netherlands through the worst crisis since World War II, she told Reuters.
Answering questions about his possible resignation, Rutte said on Tuesday his Cabinet will remain fully capable of managing COVID-19, even if forced into guardianship status. The country is in the midst of the most difficult pandemic blockade and Rutte is considering lowering the stricter rules.
($ 1 = 0.8223 euro)
Reporting by Bart Meijer; Written by Anthony Deutsch; Edited by Frances Kerry
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