Rutte In Bind as Parties Balk at Endorsing Treaty Fudge

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte meets with other European leaders in Brussels, March 16
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte meets with other European leaders in Brussels, March 16 (European Council)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte failed to convince other parties on Friday to support his attempts to amend the Netherlands’ ratification of a European association agreement with Ukraine, despite warning that withdrawing from the accord could trigger instability on Europe’s eastern border.

“This is bigger than the Netherlands alone,” Rutte said at a news conference.

The leaders of the Christian Democrats, liberal Democrats and Green Party were not impressed. Read more “Rutte In Bind as Parties Balk at Endorsing Treaty Fudge”

Echoes of Clinton-Trump Contest in the Netherlands

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte answers questions in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, July 5
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte answers questions in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, July 5 (European Parliament)

Tom-Jan Meeus has a good piece in Politico about the state of Dutch politics five months out from the next election.

Meeus, who is a political columnist and former United States correspondent for NRC Handelsblad, argues that there is a American influence on this election: Should Donald Trump win in November, Meeus expects his Dutch counterpart, Geert Wilders, will shift further to the right. Mark Rutte, the incumbent center-right prime minister, could benefit if Hillary Clinton prevails.

This probably oversells the effect of America’s elections on the Netherlands’, but Meeuw is onto something. Read more “Echoes of Clinton-Trump Contest in the Netherlands”

Rutte Favored to Lead Party into Next Election

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte joins a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, January 20
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte joins a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, January 20 (European Parliament)

Mark Rutte is favored by the Netherlands’ ruling liberals to lead their party into the next election, due in early 2017.

Rutte has been party leader since 2006 and prime minister since 2010. His popularity has gone down since he made a pact the left-wing Labor Party in 2012, but the right-wing liberals could still win the most seats in the next election.

Rutte hasn’t announced his intentions yet, but his two likeliest successors recently signaled they would not challenge him for a third term. Read more “Rutte Favored to Lead Party into Next Election”

Weeks Left to Save Schengen, Dutch Premier Warns

Mark Rutte, Manuel Valls and Alexis Tsipras, the prime ministers of the Netherlands, France and Greece, meet at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 21
Mark Rutte, Manuel Valls and Alexis Tsipras, the prime ministers of the Netherlands, France and Greece, meet at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 21 (WEF/Valeriano Di Domenico)

European countries have “eight to six weeks” to save the Schengen system of border-free travel, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte warned at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Thursday.

Once spring sets in, refugee flows from the Middle East are likely to increase. Already, numbers are higher this month than they were in January of last year and 2015 saw the highest number of people traveling into the European Union since the bloc removed its internal border controls.

“We cannot cope with the numbers any longer,” Rutte said.

He called for a strengthening of the European external frontier and rapid agreement on sharing immigrants around the EU. Read more “Weeks Left to Save Schengen, Dutch Premier Warns”

Leaders Recognize Migration to Europe Must Be Slowed

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte shakes hands with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Kleve, near the Dutch-German border, May 23, 2013
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte shakes hands with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Kleve, near the Dutch-German border, May 23, 2013 (Bundesregierung)

Various Western European leaders have warned that an uncontrollable influx of asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa threatens to undermine the bloc’s open borders.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte told reporters on Thursday that the European Union could go the way of the Roman Empire if it didn’t take action. “Big empires go down if the borders are not well-protected,” he said.

The Netherlands will take over the bloc’s rotating presidency in January.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, has similarly warned that the continent’s free-travel area, known as Schengen, is at risk. “We have to safeguard the spirit behind Schengen,” he told the European Parliament on Wednesday.

Juncker predicted that the demise of Schengen would herald the collapse of the euro as well. “A single currency does not exist if Schengen fails,” he said. “It is one of the pillars of the construction of Europe.”

Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, was even more direct: “We cannot accommodate any more refugees in Europe,” he told the German Süddeutsche Zeitung this week. Read more “Leaders Recognize Migration to Europe Must Be Slowed”

Resignations Cast Cloud Over Dutch “Teflon Premier”

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte leaves his residence in The Hague, January 18, 2012
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte leaves his residence in The Hague, January 18, 2012 (Rijksoverheid)

The resignation of two cabinet heavyweights and likely defeats for his government in next week’s Senate elections make Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte’s position seem precarious.

The liberal party leader, who has been in power since 2010, was attacked by opposition parties from the left and the right on Tuesday night, following the resignation of the justice minister and his deputy a day earlier.

Both ministers stepped down on Monday after it emerged they had misinformed parliament about a decade-old drug deal.

Rutte refused to answer lawmakers’ questions about the deal on Tuesday, insisting that the only mistake his ministers had made was inadvertently misleading parliament.

Other party leaders accused Rutte of playing down the affair. The Christian Democrats said he was awfully “breezy” about the matter. “This case requires more than your loose style of management by speech,” said the Greens. Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer called on Rutte to be less “nonchalant.”

Elsevier, a conservative weekly, said Rutte appeared far less adroit than usual.

Normally, the Teflon prime minister is able to pit the left- and right-wing opposition parties against each other but this time they conspired against him.

Even if the liberal had wanted to hit back, he needed to keep in mind there are elections next week. The ruling parties are expected to lose their majority in the Senate and can ill afford to alienate parties whose support they might soon need to enact legislation.

Rutte was forced into a coalition with the left-wing Labor Party in 2012 when the two parties got over 50 percent support together in parliamentary elections. They do not command a majority in the Senate, however, where they formed an informal alliance with the centrist liberal Democrats and two small Christian parties.

If the five parties fail to renew their majority, Rutte may have to reach out to the Christian Democrats for support.

The left-right coalition has been strenuous. Early into his second term, Rutte was forced to roll back planned health insurance and immigration reforms, facing revolts in both ruling parties. Labor later threatened to hold up a housing bill and last month called for deeper cuts in natural gas production than the government had proposed.

Polls show the ruling parties losing thirteen out of thirty Senate seats while the liberal Democrats and the far-left Socialists would gain seven and four, respectively. 38 seats are needed for a majority.

Despite Monday’s resignations and the coalition’s low approval ratings, Elsevier argued that Rutte was still the pivotal player in The Hague. Roemer and nationalist Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders “disqualified” themselves with their “derision and grotesque rhetoric,” according to the magazine, while neither the Christian Democrats’ Sybrand van Haersma Buma nor liberal Democrat leader Alexander Pechtold could have handled the resignation of two cabinet ministers any better.

An op-ed in the leftist de Volkskrant — a newspaper that sympathizes with the Labor Party — is less sure. It recognizes that the liberal prime minister is a “master” at the art of compromise in day-to-day politics but said his confrontational tone in the election debates could make him seem less of a statesman.

Last week, Rutte said during a televised debate that he would rather Dutch jihadists who traveled to Iraq or Syria to fight for the self-declared Islamic State there died in battle than returned to the Netherlands. A poll showed 77 percent of voters agreeing with him yet other party leaders, except Wilders, took exception to Rutte’s words. Pechtold, whose centrist party is the second largest in the polls, said Rutte’s statement was “unworthy of a premier.”

The point of such tough talk, according to de Volkskrant, is to give Rutte’s liberal party a clear and recognizable profile. “And that is the point of election debates.”

But there are risks as well. Rutte’s partisan strategy make him seem less of a prime minister than just another party leader. Although the majority of voters disagreed with Pechtold’s nuanced argument that terrorists should be tried like regular criminals, they still said he won the debate.

Pechtold’s party, ideologically in the middle between Labor and the liberals, has also been the key dealmaker in the informal five-party coalition. Polls show voters prefer him or Lodewijk Asscher, Labor’s interior minister, to Rutte — if only by a small margin.

Parliament Vote Demand for Less Europe: Conservatives

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte welcomes his British counterpart, David Cameron, in The Hague, March 24
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte welcomes his British counterpart, David Cameron, in The Hague, March 24 (The Prime Minister’s Office)

Western Europe’s mainstream conservative leaders seem to have interpreted last weekend’s parliamentary election results as a mandate for reform, arguing that the surge in support for Euroskeptic parties demonstrated a popular desire for “less Europe”.

Nationalists won over forty more seats in the European Parliament last week. Their votes came mainly at the expense of the European People’s Party, a group of Christian Democrats and conservatives, and the liberal alliance.

British prime minister David Cameron, whose Conservatives were beaten into third place behind the United Kingdom Independence Party and the Labour opposition, saw the outcome as strengthening his case for a more flexible European Union that does not automatically insist on deeper economic and political integration between all its member states.

“The European Union cannot just shrug off these results and carry on as before,” he said on Tuesday. “We need change. We need an approach that recognizes that Europe should concentrate on what matters, on growth and jobs, and not try to do so much.”

Cameron’s Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, agreed, saying, “The first thing we have to do is to formulate an answer,” one that “contains fewer rules and less fuss from Europe and focusing Europe on where it can add value to things.”

The Netherlands’ ruling Labor and liberal parties lost out to the federalist liberal Democrats and nationalist Freedom Party in last week’s European assembly vote.

Last year, Rutte’s government called for a halt to “creeping” European Union interference in national politics, saying “the time of an ever-closer union in every possible policy area is behind us.” The Dutch specifically argued against harmonizing social security systems and tax rates as well as laws governing food safety and working conditions across Europe.

Germany’s hawkish finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, similarly cautioned against “the mindless pursuit of more Europe” in an article for Die Welt newspaper. He suggested that the European Union should concentrate on those areas that “can only be negotiated with long-term success on the European level,” such as the single market, European energy and trade as well as foreign policy. Such an “intelligently integrated Europe,” he admitted, “could, in the end, mean less Europe.”

Cameron has promised his electorate a referendum on Britain’s European Union membership after the next general election by which time he hopes to have secured ample changes in the island nation’s relations with Europe to secure a “yes” vote.

France’s president François Hollande, for one, resists this effort to withdraw the relations between Europe’s common institutions and the member states. “We don’t need changes to the contract,” he said this week. Underlining the daunting task Cameron faces, Hollande added, “France is Europe. And Europe cannot live and cannot move forward without France.”

But Germany, the continent’s largest economy and leading nation, has not ruled out treaty changes to facilitate continued British membership, even if it hesitates to reverse the process of European integration that has defined its relations with its neighbors since the end of World War II. Throughout the European sovereign debt crisis, Germany pursued, if sometimes reluctantly, pan-European solutions, including a banking union that Britain, the Czech Republic and Sweden opted out of in 2012.

Sweden’s finance minister, Anders Erik Borg, warned at the time that the “move toward euro banks, euro taxes, euro transfers […] might be very popular among the eurocrats but I think there are very few Europeans actually wanting these developments.” Last week’s election proved him right.

Dutch Right Laments Rutte’s Indecisiveness on Budget

To the chagrin of the nation’s right-wing press, the Netherlands’ centrist government on Thursday announced that it will postpone €4.3 billion in deficit reduction measures planned for 2014 as part of a deal with employers’ associations and trade unions.

“We are taking a breather,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who also leads the Northern European country’s ruling liberal party, said during a news conference in The Hague. “There should be a recovery of confidence first, before we decide if additional measures are required.”

The government, which is also backed by the left-wing Labor Party, will determine in September whether more austerity is needed to comply with the European Union’s 3 percent deficit target next fiscal year. Read more “Dutch Right Laments Rutte’s Indecisiveness on Budget”

Dutch, German Leaders Criticized for Greek Debt Deal

Opposition parties in Germany and the Netherlands sharply criticized their respective governments on Tuesday after European finance ministers agreed to push back Greece’s deadline for achieving its budget targets a day earlier.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte campaigned against extra financial support for Greece. German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble rejected the notion out of hand. “More time means more money,” he said in a radio interview.

Now both governments have agreed to give Greece more time and more money. Estimates are that other European countries will have to spend another €44 billion to keep Greece from collapsing. Read more “Dutch, German Leaders Criticized for Greek Debt Deal”