Mark Rutte's unprecedented mark on Dutch politics as its longest serving prime minister
Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s announcement that he will leave national politics marks the end of an era. He has served as the Dutch political leader for almost 13 years from his office in the Torentje, becoming the longest-serving prime minister in the Netherlands.
His time as prime minister was tumultuous. On the European stage, Rutte increasingly showed himself to be an important player and a statesman, but aversion to the VVD leader has recently grown at home in The Hague.
After years in the opposition, Rutte started as prime minister of a Cabinet where “the Dutch Right can really lick its fingers,” as he described it himself. But he showed himself to be an extremely flexible politician who could govern from left to right and from very conservative to very progressive. The VVD member was praised for his pragmatism, but he also received enormous criticism, especially in his later years as prime minister.
In Europe, Rutte was often able to bridge differences, although he sometimes also dug in his heels against other European Union leaders, especially when it came to getting finances in order.
Rutte usually refers to the attack on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 as a defining moment of his time as prime minister. Some 193 Dutch people were among 298 who died. After his first Cabinet, a minority Cabinet with support from the PVV, had fallen over austerity measures, his second Cabinet with the PvdA kept a tight rein on emerging from the financial crisis. His last two Cabinets were not only dominated by the nitrogen emissions crisis and the protests that accompanied it, but also by the coronavirus pandemic. In that crisis, his Cabinet announced far-reaching measures, and Rutte addressed the people directly in two addresses directly from the Torentje.
In addition to minor skirmishes and major scandals surrounding the abolition of the dividend tax, fraud policy, and the scandal over the disclosure of the Ministry of Justice’s payments to an alleged drug trafficker, Rutte’s Cabinets also made significant accomplishments. The pension system will be reformed, and the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of parliament, adopted an unprecedented climate package last week.
The historic decision to stop extracting natural gas in Groningen was made by his third Cabinet, though his Cabinets were accused of pushing extraction to the maximum allowable despite safety concerns for residents long plagued by man-made earthquakes. The last year and a half of Rutte’s premiership was mainly marked by the war in Ukraine. The Netherlands was at the forefront of support for the Ukrainian army and government.
Certainly, in the early years, all kinds of problems seemed to slide off the cheerful VVD leader, earning him the nickname “Teflon Mark.” The 50PLUS faction even had a non-stick frying pan hanging at one time. But later, more and more issues stuck to Rutte. His third Cabinet fell over the childcare benefits scandal, but the VVD continued in a fourth Cabinet with the same parties. That followed a chaotic coalition formation process that took a year. Rutte’s own role in pushing for Groningen gas extraction was also specifically mentioned in the parliamentary inquiry into the issue. The inquiry determined he did not do enough to protect the people of Groningen.
After the elections in 2021, the reconnaissance prior to the formation process revealed that Rutte had spoken about then-CDA MP Pieter Omtzigt, while the Prime Minister denied this. The feeling in parliament arose that Rutte wanted Omtzigt - an extremely critical parliamentarian - to be promoted out of the Tweede Kamer. He received a motion of censure, supported by almost the entire Tweede Kamer. And the entire opposition supported a motion of no confidence against him.
Never before has a Prime Minister’s fate dangled so emphatically as in that famous April 1 debate. But over the past days, coalition parties have also pointed very specifically to his role in the latest Cabinet crisis. Rutte’s fourth Cabinet fell over the migration policy. Many opposition parties have long wanted the Rutte era to end.
The outgoing prime Minister will leave a hole when he disappears from the political scene. The VVD does not immediately have a successor ready. And for almost 13 years, Rutte was the face of national politics in The Hague.
Reporting by ANP