By Anthony Deutsch and Stephanie van den Berg
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who announced the sudden collapse of his fourth government on Friday due to splits over migration policy, is interested in seeking a fifth term but could face the toughest elections of his career.
Last August, Rutte, 56, became the longest-serving prime minister in Dutch history, a testament to his political stamina and survival skills honed over a 12-year tenure.
Rutte has led the conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) for 17 years, through countless crises and a toughening of immigration policy, spurred by a rise of right-wing parties demanding the country’s borders be closed.
Asked late on Friday whether he wanted to continue in a role of political leadership, Rutte said it was up to his party, but added: “If you were to ask me to decide now, the answer is obviously ‘yes’ because I have the energy and the ideas.”
Rutte has been nicknamed “Teflon Mark” for his ability to survive political scrapes, but in recent years he has faced mounting criticism over his handling of key policy issues, from farm policy and climate change to social welfare and a crisis over the Groningen gas field.
Recent troubles include a scandal over childcare subsidies that brought down Rutte’s previous government. During the crisis, he said he had “no active memory” of his own earlier statements and acknowledged erasing text messages on his phone.
He attributed the latest political storm to “a clash of values” in the four-party coalition government over immigration. Smaller coalition parties insisted children and parents seeking asylum in the Netherlands have a right to be reunited, while his VVD sought restrictions.
‘BEST JOB IN THE WORLD’
Many Dutch voters say they are tired of his leadership – but see no obvious alternative. His main rival in an autumn election will be a farmers’ protest party that shook up the political landscape and took a majority of seats in the Dutch Senate following provincial polling in March.
Despite his ups and downs at home, Rutte has been a tireless presence on Europe’s political stage.
He formed his first coalition in 2010 and his fourth in January 2022, following an election widely seen as a referendum on his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among current European national leaders, only Hungary’s Viktor Orban has served longer.
Rutte, who is not married, lives in the same house in The Hague that he bought with student friends and can be seen cycling to cabinet meetings or state visits munching an apple.
Throughout his political career, he has continued to teach a social studies class at a high school in the city.
Although often tipped for high-level international positions at the EU or NATO, he has said he has “the best job in the world” and does not want to leave Dutch politics.
“I feel like I’m getting to the halfway point,” he quipped to journalists last year.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Helen Popper)
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