Home Europe Mark Rutte will be NATO’s next secretary-general

Mark Rutte will be NATO’s next secretary-general

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BRUSSELS — Mark Rutte will be the next NATO secretary-general after all 32 members of the alliance agreed that the outgoing Dutch prime minister will succeed Jens Stoltenberg.

Following endorsements from Hungary and Slovakia on Tuesday, Romania confirmed its support for Rutte on Thursday, with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis withdrawing his candidacy for the NATO top job.

During a meeting of the Supreme Council of National Defence, Iohannis said he had notified NATO allies about the withdrawal of his candidacy.

Rutte will take over NATO’s leadership at a critical time. His new job will begin by Oct. 2, just over a month before the U.S. election, which will shape the fate of the military alliance that has served as Eastern Europe’s most successful deterrence to an aggressive Russia. Former U.S. President Donald Trump, the current Republican candidate, has pledged to stay in NATO but threatened to cut U.S. aid to Ukraine if reelected.

Observers, though, credit Rutte for being a “Trump whisperer,” thanks to his ability to make deals with politicians from different backgrounds, even earning the then-U.S. president’s praise: “I like this guy!”

Having Rutte confirmed also means the succession issue is cleared up before July when NATO leaders head to Washington to mark the alliance’s 75th anniversary.

Rutte’s quest for the NATO top job has been a long journey. He has been campaigning for the job since last November.

Rutte has been criticized for not being active enough in canvassing support from Eastern European countries, who questioned his pre-2014 support for Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.

Rutte also continuously failed to bring Dutch defense spending up to NATO’s target of 2 percent of GDP throughout his 14-year premiership of the EU’s fifth-largest economy. The Netherlands is finally expected to meet that target this year, according to NATO’s latest figures.

Romania’s President Iohannis threw his hat into the ring at a late stage. When he declared his candidacy in March, two-thirds of all NATO allies had already sided with Rutte. Throughout his three-month race, Iohannis only managed one vote among the 32 allies — that of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who used his holdout to gain leverage and secure Hungary’s opt-out from NATO’s Ukraine tasks and financing.

Rutte’s selection also follows a drawn-out process that saw Stoltenberg’s term extended four times.

In 2017, allies opted to extend the secretary-general’s term until the end of September 2020. In 2019, they moved that date to September 2022. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted another extension, which was set to run through September 2023. In July last year, NATO allies agreed to extend Stoltenberg’s term as secretary-general by a year.

“I’m very confident that the alliance will find a good successor,” Stoltenberg told POLITICO last week.

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