Mark Rutte is now the longest serving prime minister the Netherlands has ever had and the Dutch papers have been busy trying to find out what makes him tick.
With 4,310 days to 4,309, Rutte has outserved CDA big beast Ruud Lubbers by exactly one day. Both men faced challenging crises during their tenures but, says former CDA minister and party chair Bert de Vries, their legacies will be very different.
‘He [Lubbers] led the country through the crisis of the 1980s and put the country’s finances in order ,which meant the country was in good shape at the beginning of the 1990s,’ De Vries told the NRC.
Rutte on the other hand ‘will leave the country facing big problems, such as the benefit scandal, the climate, the nitrogen crisis and box3 [asset tax]. And he carried out indiscriminate cutbacks during his second cabinet,’ the paper quoted De Vries as saying.
However, the NRC points out, most other parties must take their share of the responsibility as well. ‘There is hardly any party that has has not worked with him during his 12 years – in a coalition, in an alliance or to put important legislation in place,’ the paper said.
An analysis by the Volkskrant, with numerous photos of Mark Rutte’s two trademarks – a big smile and a non flashy bike – described Rutte’s ‘survival instinct’ which meant he threw the PvdA’s Job Cohen in front of a bus to form a cabinet (2010-2012) with ‘gedoogsteun’ from far-right Geert Wilders.
When that collapsed Rutte won an unbeaten 41 seats in the next elections, prompting Wilders to say his ‘schoolboy looks hides the fact that he is one of the greatest power politicians’.
The scandals, which are fanning the flames of what MPs see as the imminent conflagration of Rutte’s ambition for another four years in power, have resulted in a lacklustre cabinet but there it is, the paper said. ’A large part of the electorate still likes Rutte even if no one else does.’
Rutte’s mentor, former VVD minister Uri Rosenthal praised the prime minister for treating everyone equally. ‘Whether it’s a council member from Appingedam or the president of the United States, he doesn’t look down or up at either of them,’ he told the Telegraaf. He also said Rutte, compared to Lubbers, has had to contend with an ever widening political landscape and more media pressure.
Rosenthal said he had ‘concerns’ about the criticism Rutte has been facing, with one threat to his survival shaking the otherwise seemingly oblivious PM. That particular crisis centred around CDA MP and Pieter Omtzigt about whom Rutte had lied to journalists. ‘That had a big effect on him,’ Rosenthal told the paper.
He bounced back very quickly, however, Rosenthal said. ‘His powers of recuperation are immense. (..) It is not every politician who can be on speaking terms with an MP who called him names the day before.’
Former D66 leader Alexander Pechtold lost himself in animal comparisons calling Rutte a ‘chameleon’ with the ‘skin of an elephant’ before adding on a sour note that the prime minister has been lucky to depend on a VVD electorate which is ‘not very idealistic’.
‘Rutte is always five years behind any societal change but comes around in the end,’ he told the paper, citing the Black Pete discussion.
The Financieele Dagblad in its analysis said Rutte’s ‘political invulnerability is driving his opponents crazy’.
The Rutte method of ‘staying calm, keeping things small and moving on’, or perhaps sheer pigheadedness, works, the paper said. That approach has now, for instance, resulted in a yes from farmers’ organisation LTO to open talks with mediator Johan Remkes.
The prime minister likes to minimise his role, saying he is more of an overseer of the democratic process of decision making.
But, the FD said, Rutte is the face of an era, the man in the middle ‘the link that keeps a polarised society together’. ‘The Netherlands cannot do without Mark Rutte. That goes for his party too’, the paper concluded.
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