Portada » Rutte’s possible departure as NATO leader increases political uncertainty in the Netherlands | International

Rutte’s possible departure as NATO leader increases political uncertainty in the Netherlands | International

by Isabella Walker
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NATO is looking for a new secretary general and Mark Rutte, interim prime minister of the Netherlands since the last elections on November 22, is the main (and for now only) candidate to succeed the Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg, whose mandate expires on November 1st. The Dutchman has many possibilities, but negotiations to agree on a new coalition in his country are at a standstill. If NATO approved his nomination without there still being a Dutch government, the problem would be political: there is no precedent in the country’s recent history for a head of the Executive to leave office in these conditions with the instability that this may result.

Rutte gathers support to replace Stoltenberg. Only the Dutch politician ran openly and enjoys the support of a good majority of the Alliance’s 31 members, including three heavyweights: France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Although the decision was taken unanimously and Hungary and Turkey have not yet reached an agreement.

“We are faced with an unprecedented situation in recent Dutch political history because a prime minister has never left office before another was appointed,” explains Ingrid Leijten, professor of constitutional law at Tilburg University, by phone. “It doesn’t look like a new coalition will be agreed in the Netherlands anytime soon, so it’s possible that if Rutte moves to Brussels, he will do so in this context of an interim government,” she adds.

“It won’t be a legal problem, because the Council of Ministers will be able to appoint a new prime minister without the need for Parliament’s intervention,” explains Leijten. It is possible that another minister – probably from Rutte’s party, the right-wing liberals VVD – will take his place. “But the real underlying problem is the long process of forming the coalition,” comments the professor. “Dutch governments fall quite easily and, because there are so many parties represented in Parliament, it is difficult to reach an agreement quickly.” It is a complex process, without rules that establish “a time limit for closing a deal”. It is not established that the party with the most votes should be in government nor that “or that the prime minister belongs to that winning group”, adds Leijten.

Although the interim Dutch government cannot make controversial or far-reaching decisions, it does not ignore the urgency of the current international situation. “The problem of a possible departure of Rutte towards the Alliance will be political, not constitutional”, confirms political scientist Tom van der Meer of the University of Amsterdam. In his opinion, the figure of the prime minister has become more important in recent decades, “especially due to the weight of the European Union”. Hence his growing visibility. Rutte announced his retirement from politics in July 2023, after the dissolution of the fourth coalition that he had led consecutively since 2010. He has said that he will not run for re-election and perhaps will opt for teaching. After a period of relative silence, his name has been circulating in Brussels due to his negotiating skills. He had not closed the door on such a position.

Negotiations to form a new government in the Netherlands have returned to square one after almost three months of failed meetings between the four right-wing parties – including the extreme party of Geert Wilders, winner of the elections – which obtained the highest number of votes. He has been appointed a new mediator and will have four months to sound out all the parties on the type of coalition they prefer. At the Dutch domestic level, Van der Meer suggests that the question is not so much whether Wilders will become prime minister. “It is possible that it will be agreed that the leaders of the parties who agree to remain in Parliament without appearing in the Council of Ministers. The prime minister could therefore be an external professional figure,” he underlines.

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The mandate of the Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg officially ends in October, even if NATO wants an early nomination, perhaps to separate him from the major EU positions – such as the presidency of the Commission – which will be decided between July and October.

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