Tonight ‘exceptional’ publication of minutes from Council of Ministers

The minutes of discussions within the Cabinet about the payment affair will be made public this evening. The demissionary cabinet takes this very unusual step in response to the fuss about a reconstruction that RTL Nieuws came with last Wednesday.

According to RTL, the cabinet Rutte III deliberately withheld information requested by the House of Representatives. Ministers would also have complained about, in their view, difficult MPs, such as CDA‘er Omtzigt. RTL relies on ‘sources that have access to the minutes of the Council of Ministers‘.

The news of RTL unleashed a lot. The payment affair is already a very delicate subject in The Hague: the cabinet fell over it, and Rutte’s comments on Omtzigt led to a motion of censure in the House of Representatives against the VVD leader at the beginning of this month.

In the formation, ‘trust’ and ‘a new governance style’ are just the concepts that many of the conversations revolve around.

‘Risky precedent

The Chamber demanded clarification, some also asked for publication of the minutes. The Cabinet decided on Friday that they will indeed be published. These are all the minutes that have previously been sent to the parliamentary interrogation committee, including the so-called p-minutes (personal minutes of the most concerned ministers). That committee investigated the payment affair last year. Their report ‘Unprecedented wrong’ eventually led to the resignation of the cabinet.

Rutte spoke on Friday of an exceptional decision, which will also be one-off. In the television programme Buitenhof, Vice-President De Graaf van de Raad van de Raad van State called the disclosure yesterday โ€œa risky precedentโ€, although he also considers it an inevitable decision. According to De Graaf, this must remain an exception.

Rutte said Friday that the Cabinet was unanimous in its decision to release the minutes. The Prime Minister reiterated that nothing unbearable has happened in the way the Chamber has been informed: โ€œWe will also show that in the letter that goes out on Monday.โ€

On Friday, Prime Minister Rutte announced that the minutes will be published today:

As far as we know, minutes of the Council of Ministers have never been published prematurely. What is discussed in the Council of Ministers is, in principle, secret. The idea behind this is that administrators should be able to exchange views freely with each other. It is also important that the cabinet is supposed to speak with one mouth, the so-called ‘unity of cabinet policy’.

The minutes normally remain secret for 25 years, although sometimes they become public to scientists after 20 years. According to the rules of procedure, the Cabinet can grant an exemption from the obligation of secrecy, and that is what is happening now.

The Cabinet is still thinking about whether it is going to use the national police to find out how the minutes were leaked, because there may be a ‘criminal office’. The Cabinet is probably keen on this today.

The Chamber debates the issue on Thursday and interrupts the recess.