Thursday 18 August 2022

Mark Rutte becomes longest serving Dutch prime minister

Photo: Depositphotos.com

Prime minister Mark Rutte becomes the longest serving Dutch premier on Tuesday, when he will have spent 4,311 days in the torentje, the round office in a small tower on the water front of the parliamentary complex.

Rutte, 55, became leader of the VVD in 2006 and prime minister on October 14, 2010. Prior to that he had two sessions as a junior minister in successive cabinets led by Jan-Pieter Balkenende, taking his total time in parliament to 20 years.

His record as serving prime minister on Tuesday will be just one day longer than Ruud Lubbers, the Christian Democrat leader who held the top job for nearly 12 years up to August 22, 1994.

As of now, there are few signs than he won’t be occupying the torentje office for several more years to come. That is not to say he has not come in for considerable criticism, particularly in more recent years.

Rutte, whose willingness to cycle to work has generated photo coverage around the world, has become known as ‘Teflon Mark’ for his ability to get round problems, most recently the child benefit scandal. The current nitrogen pollution crisis, however, shows no sign of going away.

More than that, an increasing number of commentators have criticised the prime minister for his low profile, while farmers dump manure and set fire to hay bales on motorways all over the country.

‘Where is Rutte in such an emergency?’ wrote Nausicaa Marbe in the Telegraaf. ‘He has assured the country in a tweet that he is close touch with the responsible ministers. But what are we supposed to take that to mean.’

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His political allies tend to regard him as a fair, down to earth man, who does his homework. ‘You don’t make him angry quickly,’ former D66 leader Alexander Pechtold told broadcaster NOS. ‘Whether you have three seats and are in opposition, or if you are a powerful political partner, it does not really matter to him.’

Carola Schouten, deputy prime minister on behalf of ChristenUnie, told NOS that cabinet meetings under Rutte are formal events. ‘But at the same time, they are relaxed,’ she said. ‘He contributes some sort of peace, and tells a joke now and then.’

Sell-by date

Despite growing concern in some quarters that Rutte has been too long on the job, Pechtold believes he could end up leading a fifth cabinet. ‘He has reinvented himself a couple of times already,’ said Pechtold.

‘So his opponents have to take care not to think things are over. He wants to mean something to this country, and he is prepared to give up a lot to do that.’

Rutte has said repeatedly since the 2021 general election that he still has ‘plenty of ideas and energy’. He also has no obvious successors waiting in the wings.

Europe

There have been rumours that he is after a top European job, or sees himself as Nato secretary general, but he has always protested his innocence. And in Europe too Rutte is one of the old guard. Only Hungarian premier Viktor Orban has been in power for longer.

The NRC points out that during local election campaigning in Leiden earlier this year, Rutte was asked if ‘he is now more than half way into his premiership’. Rutte had to laugh, the paper said.

This week, in which he breaks Lubbers’ record, he is abroad. And no, the paper said, he has no plans to celebrate the milestone.

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