Ruud Lubbers, youngest and longest-serving PM, dies aged 78

US president George Bush and Ruud Lubbers in 1989. Photo: By Rob Croes / Anefo, via Wikimedia Commons

Christian Democratic party stalwart Ruud Lubbers, prime minister of the Netherlands from November 1982 until August 1994, died at his home in Rotterdam on Wednesday. He was 78.

Lubbers was both the youngest-ever and longest-serving PM and one of the few to be honoured with the title of Minister of State upon his retirement, the Financieele Dagblad wrote on Thursday.

Lubbers, scion of a Rotterdam business family, entered office when inflation stood at 6% and unemployment was headed toward a peak of 9%. Three long weeks later, he had masterminded the Wassenaar Agreement with employers and unions in which wage hikes were traded for shorter average working weeks.

The famed Dutch ‘polder model’ of economic governance was born and formed the basis for long-term economic growth.

‘He was a no-nonsense politician, someone who knew instinctively what had to be done,’ one of his successors as prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, commented.

In Lubbers’ third and final term he tackled the WAO, the then bloated disability payments scheme with the aid of his economic affairs minister Wim Kok who would succeed him as prime minister.  In 1990, more than 900,000 people were receiving disability benefit. ‘The Netherlands is sick,’ he announced before setting out to reform the system.


To some, Lubbers was ranked among the great European leaders such as François Mitterand, Helmut Kohl and Margaret Thatcher. One of his campaign slogans was ‘Meer markt, minder overheid’ (more market, less government).

Another high point of his career was overseeing the drafting in December 1991 of the  Treaty of Maastricht which opened the way for EU economic and monetary reform and the launch of the euro.

Upon retirement, he served on a number of national and international committees and was UN High Commissioner for Refugees from 2001 to 2005. And he also returned to the family business Hollandia, a steel and machinery company, which built bridges.  In a way, Ruud Lubbers spent his life doing the same.