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Who is NATO's new secretary general Mark Rutte?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg greets Dutch PM Mark Rutte during arrivals for a NATO summit in Vilnius, 11 July 2023
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg greets Dutch PM Mark Rutte during arrivals for a NATO summit in Vilnius, 11 July 2023 Copyright AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File
Copyright AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File
By Paula Soler
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On Wednesday, ambassadors of the 32 NATO members officially appointed outgoing Dutch PM Mark Rutte as its next secretary general - but who is Rutte, the man behind the job?

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It wasn't easy, and it took longer than expected, but now it's official: outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte will become the next head of NATO.    

"The Alliance is and will remain the cornerstone of our collective security," Rutte said, adding that leading the international organisation is "a responsibility I do not take lightly".

Rutte, a history graduate, first became prime minister of the Netherlands in 2010 - but resigned last July after his four-party coalition fell apart over how to curb migration.  

The Dutchman takes leadership of the 32-nation alliance from 1 October 2024, after a decade with former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg at the helm.   

Aside from his well-known casual and smiling manner, Rutte is not nicknamed 'Teflon Mark' for nothing.

The Dutch leader is the longest-serving prime minister in the Netherlands and has a track record of avoiding scandal during his time in office.   

His third coalition government collapsed in 2021 over a scandal involving investigations into child benefits, in which thousands of parents were falsely accused of fraud.   

Just a few months later, Rutte passed another stress test, leading his conservative VVD party to victory in national elections and forming his fourth and final coalition from the same parties that had quit the previous government.   

The 57-year-old Dutchman, who cycles to work and lives in the same neighbourhood of The Hague where he grew up, is also known as a creature of habit, with a self-controlled manner, capable of brokering compromises - characteristics that seem to be much appreciated by his EU colleagues. 

“Your experience, your security policy expertise and your diplomatic skills are in the right place,” German chancellor Olaf Scholz wrote today on X.  

Rutte displayed these skills in pinning down his own appointment, which had been resisted by Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban over objections including spending the country's money on supporting Ukraine.

Budapest lifted its veto on the deal following a letter sent by Rutte to Orbán appeasing the Hungarian premier that, as head of NATO, Rutte would not deploy Budapest's military or spend Hungary's money on supporting Ukraine.

From October, it will be time for Rutte to leave his beloved country, move to Brussels and prove put skills and experience at the head of four different governments to the test in navigating the alliance through a challenging geopolitical context, with a war at Europe’s borders.  

Rutte has supported Ukraine and its right to defend itself since Russia invaded the country in February 2022 - in fact, it was one of the reasons he sought the job in the first place, he said.   

Earlier this month, Rutte also attended the Ukraine summit in Switzerland, where he promised that the Netherlands would "continue to support Ukraine any way we can. For as long as it takes and with all the backing that is necessary."

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Under his leadership, the Netherlands has pledged military hardware to Kyiv - but failed to meet the NATO target of spending 2% of its GDP on defence.

According to NATO estimates, the Dutch are expected to exceed the target this year, spending 2.05% of their GDP, up from around 1.2% a decade ago.

But the EU in particular faces critical challenges in terms of defence capability gaps that will need to be addressed in the coming years to match the Alliance's ambitions.

Despite record EU defence spending of €270bn in 2023, the bloc lacks things like ammunition supplies and intelligence or surveillance - and is still heavily reliant on US production.   

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Rutte has previously spoken of the need for Europe to develop its own defence capabilities, but he wasn't as open to doing so without the Americans (who are also part of NATO).   

“Obviously, if we can buy full European, fantastic, but to be honest, you will never get there without also buying American, and then you can still do it in a very open way,” he told EU media at the Munich Security Conference in February.   

"I know I am leaving NATO in good hands," Stoltenberg posted on his X account (formerly Twitter) after the official announcement.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen also congratulated Rutte on his election as NATO's new Secretary General: "Your leadership and experience will be crucial for the Alliance during these challenging times," she said.

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Once in office, Rutte will serve a minimum term of four years.

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