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'Teflon Mark' Rutte set to bring consensus-building skills from Dutch politics as next NATO chief

'Teflon Mark' Rutte set to bring consensus-building skills from Dutch politics as next NATO chief
'Teflon Mark' Rutte set to bring consensus-building skills from Dutch politics as next NATO chief

 



NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, greets Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte as he arrives for a NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, June 14, 2021. (AP)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — In more than a dozen years at the top of Dutch politics, Mark Rutte has learned a thing or two about finding consensus among conflicting coalition partners . He is now poised to take his experience leading four Dutch multi-party governments to the international stage as NATO's new secretary general.

The Romanian president withdrew from the race for the alliance's top job on Thursday, leaving Rutte the only remaining candidate and almost certain to lead the world's largest military organization from October.

Rutte's nomination could be sealed by a meeting of NATO ambassadors in the coming days, or when President Joe Biden and his NATO counterparts meet for a summit in Washington from July 9-11.

The secretary general chairs meetings and guides sometimes delicate consultations among NATO's 32 member countries to ensure that an organization that operates by consensus can continue to function. The NATO leader also ensures that decisions are implemented and speaks on behalf of all members.

Even before succeeding Jens Stoltenberg, Rutte was put to the test.

To get the job as NATO chief, Rutte had to use all his diplomatic skills to convince skeptics, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to support his candidacy.

“It took a long time. It's a complicated process, but it's an honor that it seems to have happened,” Rutte told reporters in The Hague before cycling from work.

A former NATO spokesperson said Rutte was a good candidate for the job.

“Like Stoltenberg, Rutte is a pragmatist and one of the few European politicians who has developed a good working relationship not only with Joe Biden, but also with Donald Trump. This could prove a key asset for NATO after the US presidential election in November.” said Oana Lungescu, former NATO chief spokesperson.

Rutte “is considered a safe person to lead NATO through turbulent times, just as Stoltenberg has done over the past decade,” said Lungescu, now a member of the defense think tank and security, the Royal United Services Institute, at the Associated. Press.

From historian to business leader to politics A history graduate and former human resources director at multinational consumer products company Unilever, Rutte first became prime minister of the Netherlands in October 2010. He resigned in July last as his four-party coalition argued over how to curb migration.

Although he has been one of Europe's most important politicians for years, Rutte has remained down-to-earth.

He is often seen cycling around his hometown of The Hague, or walking from his office to a meeting while eating an apple. When he tendered the resignation of his government to King Willem-Alexander last year, he traveled in a Saab station wagon to an ornate royal palace.

On Thursday, he posed – in jeans, a white shirt and sunglasses – for selfies with people in front of his office, sitting on his bike.

When he was Dutch prime minister, Rutte was a strong supporter of Ukraine and its right to defend itself after the 2022 Russian invasion. Under his leadership, the Netherlands pledged military equipment to kyiv, including Leopard tanks and F-16 fighter jets.

He said the war on Europe's eastern flank was one of the reasons he sought the post of NATO chief.

“With everything that happened in Ukraine, the instability in the world and a number of people who thought maybe I could achieve this, you can't leave that aside,” he said. declared. “And it’s of course incredibly interesting work.”

Rutte's political career has not been without its challenges. Rutte has recovered from a number of scandals while in power in the Netherlands. He was so adept at keeping political stains from clinging to him that he earned the nickname Teflon Mark.

His third coalition government resigned in early 2021 following a scandal involving investigations into child protection benefits that wrongly labeled thousands of parents as fraudsters.

Months later, Rutte proved himself a master of survival by leading his conservative People's Party for Freedom and Democracy to victory in national elections and cobbling together his fourth and final coalition made up of the same parties that had resigned for trigger the vote.

Experience on the international political scene His years in office also allowed him to hone his skills at the international level. Working the room with a broad smile and a firm handshake at European Union summits, Rutte developed strong working relationships with powerful leaders such as former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and France's Emmanuel Macron. He also visited Biden and Trump in Washington.

“As a veteran of EU summits, Rutte will bring a different understanding than Stoltenberg of the complex relationship between NATO and the EU,” Lungescu said. “But it will also need to ensure that EU defense efforts complement, rather than undermine, NATO at this critical time.”

While the Netherlands, under Rutte's leadership, failed to meet the NATO target of spending 2% of its GDP on defense, the Dutch are expected to surpass that target this year. NATO estimates suggest the Netherlands will spend 2.05% of its GDP, up from around 1.2% a decade ago, when the allies pledged to increase their military budgets following the annexation of Crimea by Russia.

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