Rutte moves closer to Nato leadership

Resignation of caretaker prime minister would increase political uncertainty in the Netherlands

With parties struggling to form a new coalition following the collapse of Mark Rutte’s government, the Netherlands could face even deeper political uncertainty if, as seems increasingly likely, Mr Rutte steps down as caretaker prime minister to become secretary general of Nato

With the coalition talks deadlocked and parliament in recess for the past week, the momentum behind Mr Rutte to replace Jens Stoltenberg at the head of the 31-state alliance has grown steadily to the point where he is the main contender, backed by two-thirds of its members. Mr Rutte requires the unanimous support of all members to become secretary general.

Most significantly, US president Joe Biden has decided to back Mr Rutte’s candidacy, according a US official who was speaking on condition of anonymity on Wednesday.

The British foreign office followed on Thursday, observing: “He is well respected across Nato, has serious defence and security credentials, and will ensure the alliance remains strong and ready to defend and deter.”


According to former Dutch diplomat Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who held the top Nato job from 2004 to 2009, Mr Rutte has outpaced both of his closest competitors – Estonian premier Kaja Kallas and Latvian foreign minister, Krisjanis Karins – and has “broad support”.

Mr De Hoop Sheffer told the TV current affairs programme Nieuwsuur: “I think Mark Rutte now has a very good chance of being appointed. I believe it will turn out well. And I feel we will have a decision sooner rather than later.”

He noted that Nato foreign ministers would meet in Brussels on April 4th to mark the organisation’s 75th anniversary. “That”, he said, “could be an early opportunity.”

However, given that it is just a week since the collapse of the first round of talks aimed at putting together a right-wing coalition reflecting the outcome of the November 22nd general election, with Geert Wilders’s far-right Freedom Party as the largest in parliament, it is highly unlikely that a new coalition will be in place by April.

If the Nato vacancy arises in April Mr Rutte will have to decide whether to step down early as caretaker prime minister of the Netherlands, leaving the country without a new government and without the premier who has been in post since 2010.

At the fringes of the Munich Security Summit at the weekend, Mr Rutte refused to speculate about the job or its implications.

If he does decide to step down early it will be a situation without precedent in modern Dutch political history: the Netherlands could find itself seeking a new prime minister and a stand-in prime minister to run a defunct cabinet.

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Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court