'It's an honour', Rutte says as he secures NATO chief post

'It's an honour', Rutte says as he secures NATO chief post

Outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is on track to bring the experience of leading four Dutch multiparty governments to the international stage as NATO's new secretary general.

On Thursday, Romania’s president withdrew from the race for the alliance’s top job, leaving Rutte the only remaining candidate and all but certain to head the world’s biggest military organisation from October.

“It took a very long time. It’s a complicated process, but it’s an honour that it appears to have happened,” Rutte told reporters in The Hague before riding his bicycle away from work.

Securing the job of NATO chief required all of Rutte's diplomatic skills as he convinced doubters, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to back his candidacy.

Rutte’s appointment could be sealed by a meeting of NATO ambassadors in the coming days or when US President Joe Biden and his NATO counterparts meet for a summit in Washington on 9-11 July.

Who is Mark 'Teflon' Rutte

A history graduate and former human resources manager at consumer products multinational Unilever, Rutte became prime minister of the Netherlands for the first time in October 2010.

He quit last July as his four-party coalition wrangled over how to rein in migration.

Although he has been one of Europe's top politicians for years, Rutte has remained down to earth.

He can often be seen riding his bicycle around his hometown of The Hague or walking from his office to a meeting eating an apple.

When he handed in his government's resignation to King Willem-Alexander last year, he drove to an ornate royal palace in a Saab station wagon.

On Thursday, he posed — in jeans, a white shirt and sunglasses — for selfies with people outside his office while sitting on his bicycle.

Mark Rutte poses for selfies with teenagers outside his office in The Hague.
Mark Rutte poses for selfies with teenagers outside his office in The Hague. - AP Photo

While he was Dutch prime minister, Rutte was a strong supporter of Ukraine and its right to defend itself after Russia's 2022 invasion.

Under his leadership, the Netherlands pledged military hardware to Kyiv, including Leopard tanks and F-16 fighter jets.

He said the war on Europe's eastern flank was one of the reasons for seeking the job as NATO chief.

“With everything that happened in Ukraine and the instability in the world and a number of people who thought I could maybe do it, you can’t just push that to one side,” he said. “And it is, of course, an unbelievably interesting job.”

Rutte's political career hasn't been all smooth sailing. Rutte bounced back from a number of scandals while in office in the Netherlands.

His skills in preventing political stains from sticking to him earned him the nickname "Teflon Mark".

His third coalition government resigned in early 2021 over a scandal involving investigations into child welfare payments that wrongly labelled thousands of parents as fraudsters.

A few months later, Rutte proved himself a master of survival by leading his conservative People's Party for Freedom and Democracy to victory in national elections and cobbling together his fourth and final coalition from the same parties that resigned to trigger the vote.