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'Pragmatic' Rutte to lead new Dutch coalition government

Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands announced today that his Liberal party and the Social Democrats have agreed on a new coalition, the third Mr. Rutte has headed.

By Peter TefferContributor / October 29, 2012

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (r) and Diederik Samsom of the Social Democrats talk prior to a news conference in The Hague today. Mr. Rutte's Liberal Party and the Social Democrats announced they had reached a coalition deal, paving the way for a pro-austerity, pro-European government to be sworn in as early as next week.

Michael Kooren/Reuters

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Utrecht, The Netherlands

The next time Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has a summit with other European leaders in Brussels, he will be in a shrinking camp of political survivors. 

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Since Mr. Rutte first took office two years ago, there have been 17 elections in EU member states where voters could influence who becomes president or prime minister. Only four prime ministers and one president managed to keep their job, and Rutte is one of them.

Rutte's continued survival in The Netherland's top office reflects his ability to cooperate and compromise with his political peers. Today, he announced his new cabinet, forged by an agreement between his center-right Liberal party (VVD) and its new coalition partner, the Social Democrats. But the new government is the third political constellation – each with partners of significantly different leanings – that Rutte will lead within the past year.

His first, more right-wing government collapsed in April, when firebrand populist Geert Wilders withdrew his support for Rutte's minority government with the center-right Christian Democrats, effectively causing elections. But because EU rules demanded a new budget, three opposition parties joined the minority government for a temporary coalition.

Pro-European tone

Now, Rutte will lead a government that includes a party that during the election campaign took a much more positive tone towards European integration than the prime minister did.

“A prime minister speaks for all parties in the coalition. Expressing a compromise opinion comes with the job, and that's something Rutte can do," says Medy van der Laan of the social-liberal D66 party. "He is not someone with a Great Design."

Rutte started his career at the international corporation Unilever, but shifted into politics when he became deputy minister of Social Affairs and Employment under Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende in 2002. Two years later, he switched to the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science to become deputy minister of Education and Science.

Ms. van der Laan was his colleague at the same ministry and as deputy minister responsible for Culture and Media affairs. “Mark Rutte was a nice, sociable colleague – always cheerful and bright,” van der Laan says. “He always created a good atmosphere. A pleasant guy. Rutte is someone who tries to find similarities instead of differences. And he has a good political antenna.”

An inclusive leader

Arend Jan Boekestijn was a Liberal member of parliament from 2006 until 2009, and praises Rutte's inclusive leadership.

“Often party leaders have their paladins, but not Rutte. He showed no favorites,” Mr. Boekestijn says. Rutte is “intrinsically friendly and genuinely interested in people,” and his social skills make him “a builder of bridges,” Boekestijn adds.

“This man is a connector,” says Eric Trinthamer, who was spokesperson for Rutte and the party in the same period.

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