By Toby Sterling
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Wim Kok, a long-serving former Dutch prime minister widely respected for his consensus-building leadership style, died on Saturday of heart failure, his Labour Party said.
Kok, who was 80, led two centrist coalitions between 1994 and 2002, overseeing first a period of recovery and then of strong economic growth.
He was commonly seen as an architect of the Netherlands “polder” or consensus model of governing, in which workers, employers and the government agreed key reforms.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte praised Kok as someone who “first as finance minister and then as prime minister stood above political parties.”
Kok was “totally reliable, totally upright, and always focussed on solutions,” Rutte said in a statement.
Earlier in his career, Kok had held key posts in the country’s labour unions.
As prime minister he cut taxes, introduced reforms to incentivise employment rather than welfare, and reined in spending. His time in power coincided with that of U.S. President Bill Clinton and Britain’s Tony Blair, and he was seen as a “third way” politician.
“Shaking off ideological feathers is not a problem only, for a political party like ours, it’s also a liberating experience,” Kok said of steering his party towards the political centre.
Internationally, he played a key role in negotiations leading to the introduction of the single European currency, the euro.
Kok’s political career ended dramatically with the mass resignation of his cabinet over the role the Dutch military played as U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia.
A study by the country’s Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies found the government responsible for sending lightly armed Dutch troops to defend Srebrenica, a U.N.-declared safe zone in Bosnia.
Outmanned and outgunned, the Dutch battalion did not fight to defend the enclave and looked on helplessly as Bosnian Serb forces stormed the enclave and went on to massacre 8,000 Muslim civilians in the worst mass murder in Europe since World War Two.
After leaving office, Kok served on the boards of Royal Dutch Shell and ING, among others, and lobbied unsuccessfully for a European Constitution.
He is survived by his wife, Rita, and three children.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Adrian Croft)