Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, one of Europe’s longest-serving leaders, and his cabinet resigned on Friday, January 15 over a report highlighting systemic failure by his government to protect thousands of families from overzealous tax inspectors, The New York Times reports.
Rutte and his cabinet will continue running the government in a caretaker capacity, with general elections already scheduled for March. His center-right party is currently leading in the polls. The other parties in his coalition, who have also been touched by the scandal, are not expected to call for earlier elections because of the pandemic.
“Mistakes have been made on all levels that have led to great injustice for thousands of families,” Rutte said in a news conference. “Innocent people have been criminalized, and their lives destroyed. This cabinet has taken full responsibility.”
Rutte said the report that led to the downfall of the cabinet was “hard as nails,” but “fair.”
He handed in his resignation and that of his entire cabinet after riding his bicycle to see King Willem-Alexander van Oranje. He had been serving his third term as prime minister and had been leading the Netherlands since 2010. If his party gets the largest share of votes in the upcoming elections, he can serve a fourth term.
The report, the result of an inquiry in which Rutte was also questioned, concluded that “unprecedented injustice” had been done to innocent families, some of whom were forced to immediately repay huge amounts in child care benefits. In many cases an administrative mistake like a missing signature was enough for the tax authority to label parents as frauds and fine families as much as tens of thousands of euros, the report said.