Commission Sides with Rutte over Macron on Industrial Policy

Emmanuel Macron Mark Rutte
French president Emmanuel Macron speaks with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte during a European Council summit in Brussels, June 24, 2018 (Elysée/Philippe Servent)

The European Commission has sided with the Netherlands and smaller nations against a Franco-German proposal for industrial policy.

The decision is a victory for Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, who has formed a loose alliance of likeminded Central and Northern European member states to prevent a lurch to protectionism in a Europe without the UK. Read more “Commission Sides with Rutte over Macron on Industrial Policy”

Revelations in Benefits Scandal Make Rutte’s Job Even Harder

Dutch parliament The Hague
Debate in the Dutch parliament in The Hague, March 15, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

Revelations that his outgoing government deliberately withheld information from parliament have made it even harder for Prime Minister Mark Rutte, in power since 2010, to form a new government in the Netherlands.

Cabinet minutes, normally kept secret for 25 years but released after they had leaked to RTL Nieuws, reveal that ministers agreed not to share all relevant files in the so-called child benefits scandal, which caused Rutte’s four-party government to resign in January.

Between 2013 and 2019, some 26,000 parents were wrongly accused of benefit fraud. Many were financially ruined by demands to pay back tens of thousands of euros in child support.

Pieter Omtzigt, at the time a backbencher for the ruling Christian Democrats, had requested internal documents from the tax agency that would disclose when civil servants had first advised ministers of the mistakes.

Withholding information from parliament is a capital offensive in Dutch politics, but Omtzigt’s request was unusual. Ministers are politically responsible for their departments. Parliamentarians have long accepted that civil servants need to be able to make their recommendations in confidence.

Omtzigt argued for an exception. The minutes reveal Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra, the Christian Democratic party leader, tried to “talk sense” into Omtzigt, who would not relent.

In the election in March, Omtzigt won a third of all votes for the Christian Democrats. His persistence in bringing the child benefits scandal to light has made him one of the most popular politicians in the country — but not necessarily in The Hague, where even some in his own party consider him a loose cannon. Read more “Revelations in Benefits Scandal Make Rutte’s Job Even Harder”

Rutte’s Opponents Smell Blood in the Water

Mark Rutte
Prime Minister Mark Rutte answers questions from Dutch lawmakers in The Hague, September 17, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

After eleven years in power, Mark Rutte is suddenly vulnerable.

The long-ruling Dutch prime minister won his fourth election in a row in March, but botched coalition talks have thrown his future into doubt.

What started with suspicions Rutte had tried to get rid of a critical lawmaker turned into a wider question about his credibility.

But discontent in other parties about Rutte’s longevity also plays a role.

Before I dive in, let me remind you I’m a member of Rutte’s political party and voted for him in March. So this is not going to be an unbiased analysis, and the reason I’m publishing it as an opinion story. Read more “Rutte’s Opponents Smell Blood in the Water”

Rutte’s Future in Doubt After Botched Coalition Talks

Emmanuel Macron Mark Rutte
French president Emmanuel Macron speaks with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte during a European Council summit in Brussels, June 24, 2018 (Elysée/Philippe Servent)

Two weeks after parliamentary elections in the Netherlands, attempts to form a coalition government have broken down amid incriminations that could put Mark Rutte’s prime ministership at risk.

Rutte won the election, but a botched start to the negotiations to form his fourth government has thrown doubt on his political survival.

The liberal has been in power since 2010. Read more “Rutte’s Future in Doubt After Botched Coalition Talks”

Dutch and Spanish Leaders Share Vision for EU

Mark Rutte Pedro Sánchez Charles Michel
Prime Ministers Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and Pedro Sánchez of Spain speak with European Council president Charles Michel in Brussels, July 20, 2020 (European Council)

Less than a year ago, Mark Rutte and Pedro Sánchez were on opposite ends of the debate about the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund. Sánchez and other Southern European leaders called for grants financed by EU-issued bonds. Rutte and his allies preferred loans. The two sides eventually split the difference.

Now the two prime ministers, one center-right, the other center-left, have made common cause for a version of European “strategic autonomy” that is more liberal than Emmanuel Macron’s.

In a joint “non-paper“, the Dutch and Spanish leaders endorse strategic economy as a means to an end — growth and security — but not an end in itself. They caution it mustn’t become an excuse for isolation and protectionism. Read more “Dutch and Spanish Leaders Share Vision for EU”

Rutte Is More Pro-EU Than His Critics Allow

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte makes a speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, June 13, 2018 (European Parliament/Fred Marvaux)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte is criticized from the left and center for failing to make the argument for the EU integration in his reelection campaign.

The Financial Times, which a few days ago selectively quoted from Rutte’s televised debate with far-right leader Geert Wilders to make him and not Wilders out to be the bigot, has listened to his critics and concluded that Rutte is following, rather than leading, Dutch public opinion on the EU.

That’s hardly an outrage in a democracy, but I don’t think it tells the whole story. The prime minister who once promised to give “not one cent more” to Greece (and then agreed to another bailout) has become more pragmatic about European integration. Read more “Rutte Is More Pro-EU Than His Critics Allow”

Financial Times Smears Netherlands’ Rutte as Bigot

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte arrives in Brussels to meet with other European leaders, February 12, 2015 (European Council)

In an hour-long election debate with Geert Wilders on Thursday night, Prime Minister Mark Rutte took his far-right opponent to task for treating nonnative Dutch as second-class citizens. He pointed out that Wilders wants to ban the Quran, close mosques and deny voting rights to dual citizens.

Because Morocco won’t allow even the descendants of Moroccan nationals to give up their passport, Wilders’ proposal would disenfranchise some 400,000 Dutch citizens, including the speaker of parliament, Khadija Arib.

It is a plainly racist proposal, and Rutte called Wilders out on it — thrice. He asked Wilders to consider the effect of his rhetoric on the hundreds of thousands of Dutch Muslims of good will, not in the least children, some of whom Rutte teaches civics every week on a middle school in an immigrant neighborhood of The Hague.

He demanded an apology from Wilders for his infamous 2014 election promise to get “fewer Moroccans” in the Netherlands. Far from apologize, Wilders said he wanted fewer Somalians and fewer Syrians as well, and he accused the liberal party leader of presiding over the “destruction” of the Netherlands by admitting so many non-Western immigrants.

Rutte, as he has for years, ruled out forming a coalition government with Wilders’ Freedom Party.

Here is how the Financial Times summarizes the exchange:

Rutte … felt compelled to insist that he wasn’t in fact a Muslim — twice. Ahead of the debate, Rutte told [de] Volkskrant he was ready to seal Dutch borders in the face of another EU migrant crisis and declared the country’s values “nonnegotiable” for foreigners.

Rutte’s preternatural ability to pander to the far right is part of the reason he is a shoo-in to keep his job for the next four years.

I don’t know if the author, Mehreen Khan, speaks Dutch, but it doesn’t sound like she listened to the debate. Read more “Financial Times Smears Netherlands’ Rutte as Bigot”

“Strategic Autonomy” Divides Europe’s Top Liberals

Angela Merkel Emmanuel Macron Mark Rutte
German chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and French president Emmanuel Macron watch Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte walk into a European Council meeting in Brussels, July 18 (European Council)

Emmanuel Macron and Mark Rutte belong to the same European liberal family, but they take different views on the future of the liberal world order.

The French president believes Europe should become less reliant on the United States and foreign trade. He argues for “strategic autonomy” in everything from the digital economy to defense to environmental policy.

The Dutch prime minister has doubts, rooted in decades of Dutch Atlanticism and centuries of overseas trade.

Both have allies.

Macron has the support of German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, a former German defense minister.

Rutte is backed by smaller countries in Central and Northern Europe as well others in the European Commission. The Financial Times reports that plenty suspect “strategic autonomy” is a fancy way to dress up French protectionism; are wary of formally endorsing the principle if it means undermining NATO and open trade; and are skeptical of the push for reshoring of industry and supply chains.

They have reason to be. Read more ““Strategic Autonomy” Divides Europe’s Top Liberals”

Dutch Parties Take Risk Attacking Liberalism

Giuseppe Conte Mark Rutte
Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte is received by his Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, in The Hague, July 10 (Palazzo Chigi)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has taken a hard line in Brussels on the conditions of coronavirus aid to Southern Europe, but at home his government has abandoned austerity without controversy.

During the last economic crisis, Rutte, who has led the liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy since 2006, raised taxes and cut public spending to keep the Netherlands’ budget deficit under the EU’s 3-percent ceiling.

Now, when the economic contraction caused by COVID-19 is even more severe, he is borrowing €56 billion, or 7.2 percent of GDP. Debt as a share of economic output is projected to rise from 49 to 61 percent.

Statism is back in a country that is (or used to be) considered a champion of liberalization and free trade.

Rutte’s competitors spy an opportunity. Read more “Dutch Parties Take Risk Attacking Liberalism”

What Rutte Wants

Angela Merkel Emmanuel Macron Mark Rutte
German chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and French president Emmanuel Macron watch Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte walk into a European Council meeting in Brussels, July 18 (European Council)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has become the bête noire of EU integrationists for refusing to sign off on a €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund that largely consists of debt-financed grants.

Rutte is not alone. The leaders of Austria, Denmark, Finland and Sweden are also withholding support, which is why EU leaders are still holed up in Brussels after four days of talks.

But the Netherlands has the largest economy among this “frugal five” and Rutte doesn’t mind taking the heat.

Why? Read more “What Rutte Wants”