How Mark Rutte became the “Mr no, no, no” of the European recovery plan

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                Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has accepted to play the role of villain in the negotiations on the European recovery plan by taking the head of the group of "frugals", these states opposed to too much financial solidarity for the countries of the south of Europe particularly affected by the Covid-19 crisis.
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                                    <p>He is the undisputed media winner of the marathon of European negotiations on the recovery plan, which continued on Monday 20 July, the fourth day of talks in Brussels.  Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, established himself as the man who managed to stand up to France and Germany, for once agreeing on the need to spend lavishly to overcome the economic crisis engendered by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mark Rutte has risen to the rank of informal spokesperson for the group of “frugal”, these four countries (the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and Denmark) which want to reduce the amount of the recovery plan (by 750 billion euros 700 billion) and put more emphasis on loans rather than direct transfers of funds to countries most affected by the coronavirus.

Shovel nicknames

The leading role of the rejection front that Mark Rutte agreed to play has earned him the nickname “Mr no, no, no” in Brussels. He comes in particular from a video circulating on YouTube, where the Dutch Prime Minister responds with a thunderous “no, no, no” to a worker asking him not to give more money to Spain and the United Kingdom. Italy.

It's also a new nickname for a politician who seems to collect them.  He has also been nicknamed "Mister Flexible" - illustrating his ability to add water to his political wine in order to form coalitions to stay in power - or even "Teflon Mark", because political problems and scandals seem never stick to his skin. 

But this gallery of small names does not really capture the complexity of a political figure who has remained in power in the Netherlands since 2010, while gradually gaining influence in Brussels.

Mark Rutte, born in 1957, joined the ranks of young Dutch liberals at the age of 16, giving up his ambitions for a career as a pianist. He quickly became a young talent in the center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, and at the same time pursued a career in human relations at the American retail giant Unilever.

In 2002, he occupied his first ministerial portfolio, as State Secretary for Social Affairs and Employment. Four years later, he took the head of his party and, again, four years later, he became the country’s first Liberal head of government in nearly a century.

The shock of Brexit

Since then, he has governed with whoever wants to support him, be it the far-right of Geert Wilders in Parliament, the Social Democrats of the Labor Party in the government or, since 2017, a coalition of four rather conservative parties.

Its ability to find compromises on the national political scene has become almost proverbial. It contrasts, in any case, with the inflexibility he seems to show on the European scene.

But in fact, the two are linked. “Mark Rutte’s position in Brussels is a bit that of a man who speaks two languages. He is a convinced European and makes it known, but at the same time he knows that he has a very narrow margin for maneuver. he does not want to lose his majority at home, “said Politico Ton Elias, a longtime Dutch political ally.

Internal pressure is all the stronger given that the next general elections are scheduled for March 2021, and that the far right is playing out the bidding on both the issue of immigration and that of a Europe that would cost too dear to Dutch taxpayers.

Mark Rutte does not don the armor of the white knight of a thrifty Europe, even in times of health crisis, only to heal his popularity in the Netherlands. Another event explains why the Dutch Prime Minister thus accepts to pass for the “Father the rigor” of the European Union: Brexit. The UK’s exit from the EU “made the Dutch realize that they were losing one of their main liberal allies in Brussels, behind whom they liked to take refuge to counter the claims of the countries of southern Europe” , underlines the Berlin Policy Journal, a German magazine specializing in diplomatic issues.

Different visions of Europe

Mark Rutte has thus lost London and can no longer count on Angela Merkel who, on the occasion of the recovery plan, seems to have joined the camp of countries, like France, calling for more solidarity and federalism in Europe . And this is the whole problem for the Dutch Prime Minister: he considers that the EU is too diverse to allow for greater political integration.

He never hid it. During a speech in Berlin in March 2018, he thus called for “to stop considering that the European Union was a train which was rushing at full speed towards federalism”. For the Dutch, this is a danger because “there is a growing group of States in Europe which do not want to play by the rules and which risk emptying the European project of their substance if we move towards more integration, “Pieter Omtzigt, a member of the Christian Democratic Appeal, a conservative party ally of Mark Rutte in the government, told Politico.

It does not refer only to the countries of the South, regularly accused by those of the North of spending too much. It is also a criticism of states like Poland and Hungary, which pursue populist policies deemed by the Dutch to be incompatible with EU values.

In this regard, a little publicized aspect of the battle currently taking place in Brussels around the recovery plan is a good illustration of Mark Rutte’s posture as a defender of European values. The “four frugals” indeed want to link the financial aid that the EU can provide to the Member States with respect for “certain democratic values”. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was not mistaken, accusing Mark Rutte of carrying out “a personal vendetta” against him and his country.

It is therefore not only for a question of big money that Mark Rutte agrees to pass for the villain of history, opposed to more solidarity with the countries hardest hit by the health and economic crisis. He believes that this plan fundamentally challenges his liberal vision – both economically and politically – of the European Union.

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