Rutte knew about new job Cora van Nieuwenhuizen for weeks

Prime Minister Mark Rutte knew weeks before the former Minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen had taken a new job as a lobbyist. MPs and state law experts are now questioning how it is possible that she did not have to get away from the Prime Minister at the time.

Van Nieuwenhuizen (VVD) was able to attend important ministerial talks, even though she knew she had arranged the job of lobbyist for the energy sector. Rutte knew this as of July 23 rd. But he allowed his party mate to important meetings anyway. In August, for example, there were discussions on budgets, which also affect the energy sector, where Van Nieuwenhuizen was present.

โ€œAccept Means Stopโ€

In a debate Wednesday, Rutte replied to questions from Think: โ€œI heard (…) on 23 July from Mrs Van Nieuwenhuizen that she has a new position, but that she will not hold it until the cabinet has stopped. Well, a whole story, but in the end, the conclusion was: accepting that job means stopping right away. And that happened at the end of August, as you know.โ€

The SP, PvdA and state law experts agree with Ruttes principle: accepting a position means you have to stop right away. Otherwise, a minister could act in the interests of the future job, gather information or adjust certain decisions. But if Van Nieuwenhuizen โ€œhasโ€ that position on 23 July, as Rutte put it in the debate, why did she not have to leave right away, but should she stay on for more than a month? And why was she allowed to join the budget talks?

โ€œThis is not right, the Prime Minister has to explain this,โ€ says SP MP Renske Leijten. โ€œIf Rutte lets her in those budget talks while he knows she‘s going to be a lobbyist, then nothing will end up with the new governance culture.โ€

Not run away

PvdA MP and former Chamber President Khadija Arib also wants clarity. In Parliamentary Questions, she asks whether Rutte shares her opinion that it is undesirable for board persons to receive information that they can use in their future position. And if so, whether Rutte did anything to keep her away from that information.

In an interview with Nieuwsuur on the day of her departure, Van Nieuwenhuizen admitted that she did not walk away during the budget talks when it came to energy issues.

Check the interview back here:

According to Wim Voermans, professor of State Law in Leiden, it would have been right if Rutte had immediately asked Van Nieuwenhuizen to leave instead of staying on for weeks. โ€œEthically, this isn’t true.โ€ But the law does not strictly prohibit this, he knows.

Paul Bovend‘Eert, professor of State Law in Nijmegen, also sees a gap there. According to him, the rules in the governing handbook are broken in this case. But he points out that those rules do not have a legal basis. โ€œNothing is regulated by law. It’s freedom happiness.โ€ According to the professor, that should be different quickly. โ€œBecause those informal procedures don‘t work.โ€

No law

The cabinet does not feel obliged to abide by those rules. That’s what Rutte said literally in the Chamber. The Executive Handbook states that ministers wishing to hold talks about another position should submit it to the Prime Minister for approval. But Van Nieuwenhuizen did not, says Rutte. She reported on July 23 that she โ€œhasโ€ the position. โ€œRutte had to deal with a successful fact,โ€ says Bovend‘Eert, while she should have even reported her intention to hold a job interview according to the handbook.

Rutte told the Chamber this week that he cannot enforce those rules of the governing handbook. โ€œThe blue book (the handbook for executives, ed.) indeed asks officials to report it to me when they have conversations about another work force, but it is not an obligation.โ€ And, โ€œIt’s not a law, it‘s urgent requests to colleagues about how you interact.โ€

Lobby ban

The cabinet does partly use the so-called lobbying ban for Van Nieuwenhuizen. Until two years after her resignation, Infrastructure and Water Management officials are not allowed to speak to her in her position as a lobbyist.

But Van Nieuwenhuizen has also been Minister of Economic Affairs for five days, due to staff changes in the cabinet. And the officials of the energy department may receive the new chairman of the Energy-Netherlands Association.

According to Rutte, it is possible because there was no relationship of authority in those five days. However, the executives handbook does not know that exception. In fact, the handbook says that when accepting a new position, there should not even appear to be during the ministerial.has acted impure.

Professor Bovend’Eert also points out that Van Nieuwenhuizen is allowed to lobby with all parliamentarians.