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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.

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“On the campaign trail Rutte would talk to citizens who say they would never vote VVD. But he does manage to shake their hands, make them laugh and afterwards they concur: 'We still don't agree, but it was nice talking to you,'” Mr. Trinthamer says.

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Despite his affable reputation, Rutte is still capable of winning a political fight. In 2006, when Rutte won internal elections to become the Liberals' party leader, he ended up in a protracted struggle with his main challenger, Rita Verdonk. Apparently unable to cope with her second place on the Liberal ticket, the popular Ms. Verdonk spent almost a year challenging Rutte's leadership, until he was able to expel her from the party in 2007. That gave Rutte the air he needed to build a solid and tight faction.

Leans right

Ideologically, Rutte's influences run typically center-right. He has called British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher one of his “all-time favorite politicians” and is also an admirer of President Ronald Reagan. Rutte thinks “that every citizen has a duty to try and make something of his life, and that the government should not be in their way,” says Mr. Trinthamer.

But he's not without his nods to leaders farther left than himself. During one of his first TV interviews as prime minister in 2011, Rutte said, "There is nothing wrong with the Netherlands that cannot be cured by what is right with the Netherlands": an allusion to president Bill Clinton's inaugural address in 1993.

Some political opponents have criticized what they say is a lack of a greater vision. In a recent debate in parliament, MP Alexander Pechtold of D66 called on the prime minister to present “ideas and the beginning of a vision on the future of Europe.”

Europe is set to feature prominently in Rutte's new government. Born in 1967, he belongs to a generation for whom European integration no longer is about the prevention of war. In a speech he gave last year, he noted that the European Union is in a “different developmental phase,” which requires “a more modest and realistic conception focusing on wealth and growth instead of the ideological tone of Europe as an elevated project.”

Rutte is apt to take a friendlier approach to Europe than he did previously. Although Rutte claimed that Mr. Wilders' party had not influenced the European politics of his first government, during the election campaign Rutte was tough on issues like the Greek debt crisis. When he was asked in a televised debate about whether to allow more loans to Greece, Rutte firmly stated: no more financial support to Greece.

But now, van der Laan expects Rutte to be "more pliant" in EU affairs. "He is very pragmatic and able to adapt in order to take steps he thinks need taking,” she says.


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