June 7, 2023 –THE HAGUE – In the debate about the parliamentary inquiry into gas extraction in Groningen, Prime Minister Mark Rutte clashed several times with opposition parties. There was several squabbles about the extent to which the Cabinet can be blamed for deciding against reducing the amount of natural gas that was extracted in 2013 following the severe earthquake near the village of Huizinge in 2012. The prime minister was urged to explain why he did not intervene, as a result of which gas extraction remained high for a long time despite the frequent earthquakes hitting the region. He was also asked to explain why the seriousness of the high level of gas extraction only dawned on him so late.
The sensitive debate took place Wednesday under the watchful eye of dozens of Groningen residents. They traveled to The Hague to watch the debate from the crowded public gallery. Regional politicians and civil servants were also following the Tweede Kamer debate. “It’s good that you’re here,” Rutte said to the people in the gallery. “This is mostly about you first and foremost.”
Various Cabinets have made mistakes in the years that the Netherlands benefited from gas extraction in Groningen, Prime Minister Mark Rutte admitted. That includes major and “unprecedented mistakes” by his own Cabinets, he said at the start of the debate following the parliamentary inquiry into the Groningen gas file. “And also by me,” he added. On Wednesday, Rutte and Mining State Secretary Hans Vijlbrief were scheduled to respond to harsh criticism from the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament. In the first part of the debate, the opposition focused specifically on Rutte’s role. They demanded more self-reflection from the Prime Minister.
Rutte quickly came into conflict with opposition parties about the responsibility of his second Cabinet for the record-high amount of gas extracted in 2013, the year after the severe earthquake near Huizinge. The result was a short break during the debate, and Rutte’s attitude also led to commotion in the gallery.
Rutte insisted during the debate that the Cabinet did not have enough information to make a different decision. Regulator SodM had urged significant reductions even though gas extraction was higher than ever. This was a painful experience in Groningen. According to Rutte, the former minister of economic affairs, Henk Kamp, should have been informed about GasTerra’s concerns about the high level extraction. “This should not have just been passed on, it should have been asked about,” said MP Pieter Omtzigt.
Rutte’s remarks that the seriousness of gas extraction in that year only dawned on him in 2018 was also greatly criticized on Wednesday. During the debate, the prime minister tried to make clear that he was aware of the broad problems in Groningen resulting from the earthquakes.
The Prime Minister’s defense led to frustration among several opposition parties. What Rutte said is “factually incorrect,” stated GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver.
PvdA MP Henk Nijboer also said parliamentarians were witnessing “another smoke screen.”
The defense was “very unbelievable,” said PvdD MP Christine Teunissen.
Coalition parties ChristenUnie and CDA also criticized Rutte. The new CDA MP, Eline Vedder, said some of Rutte’s statements were “worrying”. She wants the Cabinet to break through the “pattern” of inadequate information provision.
ChristenUnie leader Mirjam Bikker said the prime minister’s contribution lacked recognition of the suffering of Groningen residents as a result of the high extraction in 2013.
At the insistence of the coalition factions, Rutte eventually also elaborated about the pain of Groningen residents. Bikker and D66 MP Faissal Boulakjar asked Rutte to lower his guard. “We are not seeing enough of your human side,” Vedder said. She initially found the Prime Minister’s reflection too “technocratic,” which, according to Rutte, may also have to do with a difference in style.
Rutte had to conclude in the debate “that my interventions have not always led to the desired result. As much as I would have liked to see that.” He admitted that he should have acted sooner. It should have been different, but “there was no straight route to doing the right thing”. The parliamentary committee of inquiry concluded in its report that Rutte did not step in to advocate for Groningen residents, which “would have been appropriate.”