What's New(s)

WHAT’S NEW(S) – 22/01/2021

WHAT’S NEW(S) – 22/01/2021

Two resigned and one survived

Last Friday the photos of Dutch Prime Minister Rutte cycling to the King to announce his resignation made the news across Europe. The Netherlands was not the only country where a political crisis made the PM step down last week. A few days earlier, Jüri Ratas resigned as a result of a corruption scandal within his party. But there was also one European country where the Prime Minister survived political assassination. 

You'll find the script below:

First of all, taking a closer look at this year’s first political scandal. What happened in Estonia ?

Amid strong allegations of corruption against his party, Estonia’s PM Jüri Ratas resigned last Wednesday January 13, even if he denied to be personally implicated; thereby triggering the resignation of the entire government, wrote Politico. Just a day before, the Estonian attorney general announced that Ratas’ Centre Party was implicated in the diversion of 39 million euros of public money for the construction of a shopping centre in Tallinn. Estonian broadcaster ERR News states that Kaja Kallas, leader of the Reform Party – the party that won the most seats in the last elections in 2019 – was given two weeks to present a new government. The Reform Party and Centre Party are currently still negotiating to reach an agreement.

Only a few days later, Mark Rutte announced his resignation in the Netherlands. What made the government decide to step down ?

They were ruining the lives of innocent people” that is how Spanish newspaper El Mundo summarised the child benefits scandal, by the Dutch press generally described as the “allowances affair”. Criticism towards the government mounted last December, when a parliamentary enquiry committee labelled the hunt for social benefit fraudsters as ‘unprecedented injustice’. For years, thousands of parents, most of them with an immigrant background, were wrongly accused of fraud by the administration and were asked to return thousands of euros. ‘Everything and everyone has failed’ summarised De Volkskrant – the government, parliament, ministries and tax administration. The state apparatus became ‘the enemy of the people’ writes Anna Holligan in the BBC, leaving families in financial and psychological anguish.

Spanish newspapers picked out their hero from the story: Eva Gonzále Pérez, a lawyer with Spanish origins who rang the alarm bell years before the affair came to light, states El Confidencial.

And will this crisis also mean the end of Mark Rutte´s long standing political career ?

Probably not. “Mark Rutte plans immediate return” wrote Eline Schaart in Politico, arguing that the PM escaped relatively unscathed, even if the parliamentary committee criticised Rutte’s lack of transparency. By resigning and taking ‘political responsibility’, the governing parties will probably not be penalised for their actions in the next elections, scheduled for 17 March. Media revealed Rutte’s People’s party for Freedom and Democracy is still leading in the polls. ‘Rutte will count on the voters’ mercy’ writes AD, even if the opposition will try everything to damage his reputation.

But there was one European country where the PM just managed to cling to power this week, wasn’t there ?

We are obviously talking about Italy where last week the withdrawal of Matteo Renzi's party, Italia Viva, from the government coalition endangered the continuity of Giuseppe Conte as prime minister. Hannah Roberts, Politico's correspondent in Rome, compares this withdrawal to the assassination of Julius Caesar.

According to her Renzi ‘failed to land a deadly blow and bring down the government, with Conte surviving two crucial votes of confidence in the Italian parliament this week’. Conte was also backed by the senate, where he secured his seat in a very tight vote, but according to Monica Guerzoni in Corriere Della Sera his government ‘comes out notably weakened to deal with the pandemic’. Daniel Verdú also warns in El País that the process is not over and that Conte must now consult the president of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, and consider the possibility of resigning. But this seems to be rather unlikely to happen.

Besides these political catastrophes, all eyes were set on the new German presidential candidate. Will he be the one changing Europe’s future?

Yes, with the German elections approaching, Europe wants to know who will be the next Merkel. Last Saturday her party CDU presented their new chief: Armin Laschet, who will quite likely be the man running for chancellor. In “5 things to know about” Politico presented him as a man with ambition with regards to Europe but with a soft line on both Russia and China. “A great reconciliator” that is how Laschet promotes himself according to Der Spiegel. Conservative newspaper Der Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung describes him as a ‘safe choice’. The somewhat ‘bland’ politician will however still have to clear the doubts of the German electorate, argues newspaper NRC: even if the party top has expressed its preference for Lashet, German voters are not yet convinced. On top, he faces the ‘uphill challenge’ to unite a divided party and country, states the Guardian.

Erik Ruiz Martín & Nadine Vermeulen

© European Parliament