Defeated in the elections, Mark Rutte is the favorite for the future head of NATO
Outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is the clear front-runner to become NATO chief, although a shock victory by the far-right in the Dutch election could threaten his legacy, reports France 24. A number of diplomats put Rutte ahead of other candidates – including Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kalas and Latvian Foreign Minister Krisjanis Karins – who are vying to take over from Jens Stoltenberg next year.
A successor to Stoltenberg, whose 10-year term has been extended twice because of Russia's war on Ukraine, is expected to be announced before the July summit in Washington. After turning down a bid for a NATO seat in previous years, the 56-year-old Rutte is now available after deciding to leave national politics.
Last month he told Dutch media that leading the alliance was a "very interesting" job and that he would be open to the possibility. Rutte is a well-known figure on the European scene after 13 years in charge of the Netherlands. Diplomats claim that it is favored by the main NATO powers – the United States, Great Britain, France and Germany.
"He is a candidate for Secretary General of NATO. He made it clear that he is available and that there is broad support for him," said the diplomat, who wished to remain anonymous.
However, fierce bargaining is still likely, with some warning that Rutte's selection is not yet a done deal due to possible opposition from Turkey and Hungary.
One potential stumbling block for Rutte could be the situation he leaves behind in the Netherlands, where Geert Wilders' victory sent shock waves across Europe. "If you look at the favorites before, they often come up short. Let's wait and see," says a diplomat.
During discussions about a potential replacement for Stoltenberg in previous years, various NATO allies expressed their preferences for the next head of the alliance. Some wanted to elect a woman to lead NATO for the first time, and countries on the eastern flank, closer to Russia, hoped to get someone from their region.
Estonian Prime Minister Kallas meets these criteria, but some in the West consider her too aggressive towards Moscow. Another criterion could be the appointment of a leader from a country that meets NATO's goal of spending two percent of its GDP on defense.
The Netherlands fell short of that goal during Rutte's long tenure, but has vowed to do so next year. The Rutte government has also taken a prominent role in supporting Ukraine, pledging another two billion euros this month and leading the push for Kiev to get F-16 fighter jets.
Rutte would become the fourth Dutchman to head the NATO alliance, adding to arguments by some that the alliance is not stepping outside its comfort zone. However, supporters insist he is fully aware of the danger Russia poses.
His years in power were marked by the killing of 196 Dutch citizens when a missile that investigators say was fired from Moscow brought down a passenger jet over Ukraine in 2014.