A prime minister who decides for himself which of his apps and texts are archived and which ones are discarded is unacceptable. That is the conclusion of the House of Representatives after a sometimes emotional and prickly debate with Prime Minister Rutte.
At the insistence of the House, he is willing to adjust his course of action, as always have an official watch. He also wants to look at the system that Norway uses, where the smartphones of all administrators are read out every week by default. And a specialized inspectorate is going to review the archiving at his ministry.
Rutte defended the fact that he himself removed unimportant or non-government-relevant apps from his old Nokia phone. He forwarded the rest of the messages to officials for saving. “I abide by the law, I keep to the spirit of the law,” he said.
But the House of Representatives finds it unwise, to say the least, that Rutte makes that schifting himself. “It‘s freakishly time-consuming, but it’s also error-prone. On the day itself, it is difficult to estimate which messages turn out to be important years later,” said D66 MP Faster.
In the debate, no new information has surfaced about important messages that appear to have disappeared. But it is precisely the fact that the House cannot control this properly leads to dissatisfaction.
“Does the Prime Minister understand that the lightheadedness with which he talks about deleting text messages does not contribute to confidence? Christenunie MP Van der Graaf asked him. “At a time when trust in politics is under pressure, this calls for a tightening of the rules.”
The opposition parties were sharper in their criticism. They see a pattern in Rutte‘s behavior. “The pattern that the Teevendeal receipt was not to be found. The pattern of no active memory of the position elsewhere for Pieter Omtzigt”, as Groenlinks leader Klaver put it.
“No meeting minutes. Wait as long as possible to provide information. Things are lashing away and in the meantime everything laughs away,” said MP Omtzigt.
PvdA party chairman Kuiken listed gaps in SMS traffic about the evacuation from Afghanistan and the surcharges scandal. “It seems that the Prime Minister’s phone‘s memory is deployed as selectively as the Prime Minister’s own memory.”
PVV leader Wilders sees in the prime minister “a kind of political Bermuda triangle. Anything he doesn‘t like just disappears inexplicably.” That he used such an old Nokia phone because he doesn’t like smartphones very much, Wilders calls “a rock mash”.
The suggestion of a part of the opposition that he discards important information so as not to be accountable shot Rutte into the wrong throat hole. “It is said too easily here: ‘Rutte has been cheating on the business’.”
He blames the House that the cabinet is approached in advance from suspicion, and said that ministers are talking about this atmosphere among themselves.
“I notice in society that people look at these debates with great difficulty,” he said. “In the past, in the times of Den Uyl and Wiegel, the biggest political opponents dealt with each other with respect and from basic trust. There is a shift of values in manners going on here.”
Rutte refused to respond to questions from GroenLinks leader Klaver about the amount of text messages he has sent and received over the past six months. “I‘m not going to do that,” he said to Clover’s anger.
During the debate, de Volkskrant published an article about text messages during the corona crisis. Between the end of 2019 and June 2020, Rutte had 41 sent messages archived. Rutte explained that most of the meetings during that period took place during meetings and on the phone. Telephone calls are not covered by the Archives Act and are not tapped out or stored.
How to deal differently with chat and text messages from the Prime Minister in the future is thus being investigated in more detail.