Social affairs minister Ronald Plasterk survived a long debate on Tuesday night into revelations he had wrongly stated the US was behind the collection of information about 1.8 million phone calls.
The Liberal democratic party D66, which often acts as a de facto junior coalition party, failed to gather enough support for a no-confidence motion in the minister although almost all parties of the opposition were in favour of the motion. Plasterk’s excuses were insufficient because ‘ministerial responsibility also applies to actions taken in the past,’ D66 leader Alexander Pechtold said.
The minister told parliament last week the Dutch, not the American, secret services were responsible for collecting information on 1.8 million satellite phone calls plus text and fax traffic and that the information had then been shared with the US authorities.Last night’s debate was called by opposition MPs who wanted to know if Plasterk deliberately misinformed parliament last year when he stated NSA was behind the information gathering.
Plasterk told MPs in October the Americans were behind the tapping, after the revelations were first published in German magazine Spiegel. However, in a two paragraph briefing last Wednesday, Plasterk said the information had been gathered by the Netherlands itself. And on Monday the minister admitted he had been told of the error in November, but had not given that information to MPs.
During his speech, Pechtold said the minister’s failure to inform MPs was ‘a fundamental breach of the position of parliament’. ‘You cannot hide behind the concept of the interests of the state to mask mistakes,’ he said.
Nos commentator Joost Vullings said Plasterk had expected a no-confidence motion but not that it would be supported by nearly all the opposition parties. In particular, the sharp text drawn up by D66 had an impact on him, Vullings said. ‘The (coalition) Labour party is seething,’ Vullings said. ‘They don’t see any reason to back a no-confidence motion. They are furious.’
Some pundits are blaming D66’s actions on the forthcoming local elections, in which the liberal party is mounting a strong challenge to Labour in some cities. ‘But I have been unable to gather enough evidence to prove it,’ Vullings said.