Mark Rutte will probably have some adapting to do as he exchanges the bike lanes of The Hague for those of Brussels.
His daily cycle to the Dutch parliament has now come to an end with elections in the Netherlands and his official departure from the post of prime minister. He is already looking ahead to the future, however, having expressed an interest in the position of NATO Secretary General. The prospect of his taking the reins following Stoltenberg’s departure in October 2024 has been welcomed with relief by the Alliance, according to NATO sources.
You see, Rutte not only has many years of experience as a prime minister to his credit, he also led a country that has always been firmly behind NATO. Indeed, the Netherlands even announced last September that it would be providing F16 fighters to Ukraine in 2024. Sources indicate that Mark Rutte is currently the front-runner for the NATO post, but in politics nothing is certain until it’s a done deal.
The initial plan, of course, was for a woman to take the helm NATO, with three names on the table: Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, and her Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen. For her part, Ursula von der Leyen has never expressed a desire to replace Jens Stoltenberg. But she was considered an ideal candidate by many, having served as Germany’s defense minister and having handled two wars during her tenure as head of the European Commission. The EU showed unity and determination following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, though the same unity was absent in the first days after Hamas’ attack on Israel and the outbreak of war in the Middle East. Still, an announcement should be forthcoming from the Commission President as to whether she will be running for a second term. In an interview she gave France TV Bruxelles after her State of the Union address last September, she said she expected to make her decision on whether she’ll be “the face of Europe for another five years” in late 2023-early 2024.
“I think it’s too early to decide that now. But I think I will make a decision toward the end of the year or early next year,” she said.
Estonia’s Kaja Kallas, although she definitely has the goods, seems to have less of a chance at this stage, while Mette Frederiksen’s ambitions seem to have run up against Ankara, with NATO sources reporting discontent in Turkey over the Quran burnings in Denmark. Still, she isn’t giving up, with Copenhagen attempting to calm the waters and reach out to Turkey, according to reports. Danish Foreign Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s visit to Ankara on 27 October can be seen in this light.
The situation could well be clearer in a few weeks’ time, though this does not mean that whoever is leading the race will definitely finish first. After all, every championship has its share of upsets.