The Dutch government is resigning over its response to a child welfare benefits scandal, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday.
Around 10,000 families in the Netherlands were told to repay tens of thousands of euros of subsidies after being wrongly accused of child welfare fraud.
In a nationally televised speech, Rutte said he had informed King Willem-Alexander of his decision and pledged his government would continue work to compensate affected parents as quickly as possible and to battle the coronavirus.
Rutte made his speech in the aftermath of the publication of a report by the Parliamentary Interrogation Committee on Childcare Allowance, which he called “very tough, but fair.”
He went on to say: “On all levels throughout the political-administrative-legal system, mistakes have been made that have resulted in great injustice to thousands of parents,”
“We are of one mind that if the whole system has failed, we all must take responsibility, and that has led to the conclusion that I have just offered the king, the resignation of the entire Cabinet,” Rutte said.
Pressure had been mounting on the Dutch government ahead of a cabinet meeting on Friday where they were set to discuss if they would quit only two months before a planned general election.
The Dutch premiere was clear that financial compensation for the affected parents is the “the first thing that needs to be properly arranged.”
“We will continue to work on quick compensation and the improvements needed for the future.”Elections for a new government will take place in mid-March he announced, saying that until then, the current administration will stay on and “can be expected to do what is necessary in the national interest.”
The resignation brings to an end 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 would most likely again become prime minister.
Geert Wilders, leader of the largest opposition party in the Dutch parliament said it was the right decision for the government to quit.
“Innocent people have been criminalised, their lives destroyed and parliament was informed about it inaccurately and incompletely,” he tweeted.
The country is currently struggling to implement its COVID-19 response amid thousands of daily infections and a slow rollout of coronavirus vaccines.
The Netherlands is the third European country to be thrown into political uncertainty this week in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.