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Rutte downplays his role in gas extraction file during questioning | NOW

Prime Minister Mark Rutte is the only constant factor in The Hague’s politics since Groningen’s gas extraction is under a magnifying glass. He testified before the committee of inquiry on Thursday. The committee members wanted to hear exactly how big his role was and is. Above all, Rutte has shown that he is not in control.

“There is a specialist minister who is responsible for everything,” said Rutte. He is there as prime minister to lead the ministers, but not to instruct them. Taking over control is not the intention either, he emphasized.

As prime minister, he is involved in the major issues. In a coordinating role and sometimes in a steering role. He takes the latter position “when it is necessary”. “It’s a bit annoying sometimes,” says Rutte.

For example, in 2018 he was involved in the development of a new damage protocol and in 2020 in the reinforcement operation. He wanted to try to speed things up in both cases.

This is typical of the Prime Minister’s approach. Rutte often minimizes his role in crises.

Rutte tries to smooth out folds every now and then

Furthermore, the Prime Minister was not at the controls much. For example, Rutte was not involved in the administrative agreements concluded with the region. According to the Prime Minister, this is really a task of the specialist ministers.

“At most it may be that – if it gets stuck somewhere – I get the question: ‘John, call him to give him a push. Then I do it well,” said Rutte.

He also painted a similar picture about his involvement in the childcare allowance scandal. In November 2020, the prime minister was questioned by a parliamentary inquiry committee.

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The Prime Minister then said that his Ministry of General Affairs is small among the other colossal departments. If something goes wrong at the Ministry of Finance, Rutte and his officials will not take over there. “We don’t want that either,” he said.

The seriousness of the situation did not dawn on Rutte until late

Furthermore, Thursday’s questioning showed that the seriousness of the situation in the earthquake area did not dawn on Rutte until late. In the summer of 2017, he visited the region for the first time, which was entirely devoted to gas extraction.

In 2019, he gave an account for the first time in the House of Representatives during a gas extraction debate. “It didn’t happen consciously, but it was often that the specialist minister spoke there. I thought afterwards: I should have done it much earlier,” said Rutte.

Rutte was only shocked five years later by winning ‘bizarrely high’ in 2013

But the most striking moment in Thursday’s questioning was his reaction to the high gas extraction in 2013. The prime minister only realized in 2018 that the gas extraction in 2013 was “weirdly high”, he said. “In 2018?”, committee member Peter Kwint asked to make sure.

For many people in Groningen, that high production in that year is still an open wound. Despite the regulator’s advice to reduce production as quickly and as much as possible in 2013, due to safety risks, the tap was turned on further.

“It was a slap in the face.”

Premier Mark Rute

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In that year, almost 54 billion cubic meters were mined. This much gas has not been extracted since 1981. How this could have happened is one of the big questions the committee is trying to answer.

The high withdrawal was already discussed in the Council of Ministers at the beginning of 2014, Rutte recalls. In that year he was also informed indirectly that there was great discontent in the region.

However, the painful situation only really dawned on him five years later, after he had an interview with former supervisor Jan de Jong in the Newspaper of the North have read “It was a slap in the face.”

Interrogation was difficult, Rutte was poorly prepared

The nearly five-hour questioning with the prime minister was otherwise difficult. Rutte had to look up many details in the folder with minutes that was on the table in front of him. This made it difficult for the committee members to keep asking questions.

Rutte often said that he was “unable to reconstruct” certain events. The prime minister also several times did not know what exactly was discussed in the councils of ministers. “I’ll have to look back on that,” he said.

For example, the Prime Minister could no longer remember when he heard from the then Minister Eric Wiebes (Economic Affairs) that he wanted to close the petrol tap, while it was a historic decision. The coalition agreement that has just been concluded can already be thrown in the trash, so to speak.

The fact that Rutte could not provide many answers led to irritation among the committee members. “You have now indicated quite a few times that you need to consult the minutes of the Council of Ministers. We assume that you have included them in the preparation for this interrogation,” Stieneke van der Graaf said at one point.

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The questioning will not have benefited the damaged trust of the injured from Groningen. According to the prime minister, trust will not be restored for the time being. “It’s -30 or -100.”

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