It’s no surprise that Mark Rutte has been using an old Nokia for years; he has almost cultivated the fact that he is not fond of things. Now that it has been established thanks to de Volkskrant that the prime minister himself decided for years which text messages he kept and which he did not, he is in trouble.
On Thursday, Rutte will again debate with the House of Representatives about openness and information provision, and by extension about trust between the House and cabinet.
De Volkskrant has been trying for some time to uncover text traffic from Rutte during the corona crisis via Wob requests. The newspaper only partially got what it asked for. General Affairs, the Ministry of Rutte, had only made public messages that the Prime Minister himself had forwarded to officials.
The newspaper went to court to still receive all the requested SMS traffic, but on Wednesday it became known that Rutte himself determined which messages he forwarded and were therefore available for Wob requests. His old telephone, which has since been exchanged for a more modern one, can only store about twenty messages.
Does ‘Rutte doctrine’ also play a role here?
During the hearings of the parliamentary inquiry committee about the allowance scandal, the concept of the ‘Rutte doctrine’ surfaced. The term popped up in text messaging between civil servants. The prime minister believes that civil servants should be able to exchange documents freely among themselves and with ministers, “without fear that those documents will all go outside”.
At the time, the House wanted to know whether this method of working was an obstacle to the progress of compensation for affected parents, the monitoring task of the House of Representatives, the work of the Van Dam Committee and the work of the media. The latter seems to be the case here.
No memories or documents seems to be a pattern
Last April, Rutte had the most difficult hours of his political career during the ‘function elsewhere’ debate. At the time, he had “no active memory” of what he had said about the then CDA MP Pieter Omtzigt during the reconnaissance phase.
Not publishing or not remembering unwelcome documents or events seems to be a pattern in Rutte’s long premiership. These are recent examples. A little further back in time, similar issues could be seen with the dividend memos or the Teevendeal.
Trust Rutte is dented again
So the House wants clarification again. “We knew that the prime minister is not fond of minutes and that he has a bad memory,” Jesse Klaver said on Wednesday when he requested a debate on the issue. “But that he himself knew his text messages is really shocking and also against the law.” The GroenLinks leader received Parliamentary support for his request.
Rutte will have to defend himself bravely, as he has done many times before. His political life will not be at stake, but it will probably put a new dent in the already fragile trust between him and the House.