“ I‘ve been walking around with this for a long time. It’s not leaving me anymore. I‘ve been thinking for a long time what I could have done better. I have not been able to find out what I could reasonably have known or done to prevent this. That only makes it sadder.” Those words were spoken by the Wiebes who had resigned today in a brief statement, after Rutte had announced the fall of the Cabinet shortly before.
When he took office as minister in the current cabinet, Eric Wiebes was sorry to turn his back on the Tax Administration. As Secretary of State for Finance, he had been responsible for the tax authorities for three and a half years, and he had been happy to do so.
“ I do not find the Tax Administration miserable at all. I really love it”, Wiebes told DeccEit in 2017 to ask if he was happy to do something else. He had just talked to former Rutte about his new job as Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Affairs. “I think that’s a great challenge, but I‘m also always sad about what I leave behind.”
‘Very heavily coresponable‘
While the Tax Administration was not an easy portfolio. Wiebes succeeded Secretary of State Weekers in February 2014. The VVD alderman from Amsterdam started his new tasks full of ambition. He wanted to get a broom over the attic, as he called it himself. But it was different. He had to explain almost every week in the House of Representatives about another new problem, such as the long waiting times at the Tax Phone and the generous departure arrangements at the Tax Administration which led to an exodus of experienced officials.
Before the parliamentary interrogation committee, Wiebes recently confessed that he did not notice that in the meantime there was a ‘social bomb‘ which struck thousands of parents. There were a lot of loose pieces, but no one oversaw the whole puzzle, he said. He felt “very heavily co-responsible” about the implementation of a bad law that was like a “burning fuse” in a social powder keg. “Yes, something went wrong here.”
This is how Wiebes announced his departure:
Eric Wiebes (57) was born in Delft. His father was a nuclear physicist, he studied mechanical engineering himself. Then he worked at Shell and McKinsey. Meanwhile, he did a master’s degree in business administration. Between 2004 and 2009, he held several senior positions in the Ministry of Economy, including as Deputy Secretary-General.
Wiebes became a traffic manager in Amsterdam in 2010. He stood out for his intelligence and stubbornness. “He doesn‘t care about political hobbyhorses and taboos,” wrote the Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool at the time. That was still seen as fresh and original. Later in his political career, it also aroused annoyance.
When Weekers had to leave in 2014 because of the chaos at the Tax Administration, VVD leader Rutte Wiebes flew in from Amsterdam to fill the vacancy. While Wiebes missed a clear ‘financial profile‘, Wiebes was now known as a crisis manager who, for example, had dealt with the problems with the North/South Line well.
At the Tax Administration it was not possible to put things in order. The generous departure arrangements, which also allowed the best officials to leave, led to great annoyance in the House of Representatives. Even the coalition parties VVD and the PvdA sighted that nothing had been solved and that taxpayers’ money had been wasted. The fact that in the background there was also a great drama that caused marriages to die and people were expelled from their homes was not yet in the picture.
Wiebes became Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Affairs in Rutte III and received, among other things, the earthquakes in Groningen in his portfolio. In March 2018, he started working rapidly and announced that he would stop gas extraction in Groningen as soon as possible. That decision went beyond the agreement of the coalition parties to the formation and gave him sympathy in the earthquake area.
But the appreciation for his commitment then plummeted again, especially because of his social clumsiness. For example, after a significant earthquake in the spring of 2019, he spoke about “a spot”. He was very much blamed up to The Hague. Prime Minister Rutte was also not amused. A slip must be possible, said the VVD leader. “But this one was really unhappy.” Wiebes made excuses for the painful slipping.
Last year Wiebes wrote the word of the year to his name. During the first corona wave, on 27 March, the Minister for Economic Affairs said that he was busy with entrepreneurs making plans for the one-half meter economy so that their business could open up. In the following weeks, it became established as a different society.