Mark Rutte: Mr.Nice Guy becomes Europe’s ‘Mr No’

Dutch PM Mark Rutte, left, Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Finland’s PM Sanna Marin, Sweden’s PM Stefan Lofven and Denmark’s PM Mette Frederiksen, Brussels, July 19, 2020. (AP Photo)
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Updated 20 July 2020

Mark Rutte: Mr.Nice Guy becomes Europe’s ‘Mr No’

  • Dutch PM Rutte is taking on the role of villain for a tough stance that has pushed a EU summit into a fourth day
  • Mark Rutte: We’re not here so we can go to each others’ birthdays for the rest of our lives — we’re all here to defend the interests of our own countries

THE HAGUE: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte cultivates a nice-guy image at home but in Europe he has been dubbed “Mr No” for blocking a deal on a huge coronavirus rescue package.
As the unofficial head of the “Frugals” — the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Denmark and Finland — Rutte is taking on the role of villain for a tough stance that has pushed an EU summit into a fourth day.
Hungarian premier Viktor Orban accused “The Dutch guy” of holding up a deal — and of personally hating him. Diplomats from other countries have privately been even less complimentary.
Rutte is unrepentant, insisting on stricter rules for the southern EU states that will get most of the cash, knowing that Dutch voters who go to the polls next year want him to hold firm.
“We’re not here so we can go to each others’ birthdays for the rest of our lives — we’re all here to defend the interests of our own countries,” Rutte told reporters Monday.
The liberal Dutch premier — one of Europe’s longest-serving leaders after a decade in power — went on to warn after yet another gruelling night of talks that the summit “may still fail.”
Rutte, 53, is often portrayed as the embodiment of frugality — the life-long bachelor cycles to work from the apartment he has lived in since graduating and drives a second-hand Saab.
“He doesn’t really seem to care about material possessions,” Pepijn Bergsen, a research fellow in the Europe program at Chatham House in London, told AFP.
His position chimes with the electorate in a “nation of preachers and salesmen,” which prides itself on Calvinist thriftiness and a long history as a trading power.
The former personnel manager for Unilever is also known for a cheery persona that has helped him make friends on all sides of the Netherlands’ fragmented political scene.
That quality, combined with a killer political instinct, has enabled Rutte to lead three coalition governments since 2010.
His feeling for the political winds was on display in a video in April that gave Rutte his new nickname. After a truck driver urged the PM “Don’t give the Italians and Spanish any money!,” he laughingly exclaimed “no no no!.”
With general elections due in March, Rutte is conscious of the need to see off a strong challenge from far-right and euroskeptic parties if, as expected, he decides to go for a fourth term in office.
Asked on Monday if he minded the “Mr No” epithet, Rutte replied that he “wouldn’t let himself be distracted by background noise,” adding that he was working for Dutch interest, “which are clearly linked to a European interest.”
His critics point out that the Netherlands’s tax breaks for multinationals cost the EU billions of euros, while the Dutch also benefit from soaring exports to other European countries.
With other leaders saying the “Frugals” risk fracturing EU unity at a time of crisis, the Dutch commitment to the European project that the Netherlands helped found is again under scrutiny.
The Netherlands has increasingly taken on the blocking role formerly held by fellow free-marketeers the British, following the UK’s exit from the EU earlier this year.
Rutte’s behavior over the 750-billion-euro ($855 billion) virus fund echoes the budget-blocking antics of former British prime ministers David Cameron and Margaret Thatcher.
His tough stance on the Greek debt meltdown and EU migration crisis in the 2010s meanwhile irked many in Europe.
Bergsen said Rutte’s position reflects profoundly held ideas in his own VVD party and parliament.
“You sometimes see people trying to explain the Dutch hard-line stance, it’s an election year, they can’t be seen to be giving this money away...,” said Bergsen.
“But most of The Hague actually just believes this stuff.
“They actually believe that if they give money for free — as they see it — to the Italians, it’s wasted. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Rutte actually believes that too.”


Priest who shared stage with Modi tests positive; India sees record number of cases

Updated 13 August 2020

Priest who shared stage with Modi tests positive; India sees record number of cases

  • Nritya Gopal Das, an 82-year-old Hindu priest, was the latest public figure to test positive
  • Television footage showed Modi holding Das’ hands and bowing before him

LUCKNOW, India: India reported another record jump in its surging coronavirus cases on Thursday with nearly 67,000 new infections, among them a religious leader who shared a stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a ceremony to launch construction of a grand temple.
Nritya Gopal Das, an 82-year-old Hindu priest, was the latest public figure to test positive after a string of Modi’s top cabinet colleagues were stricken with COVID-19, including interior minister Amit Shah.
With Thursday’s jump of 66,999 cases India now has nearly 2.4 million infections, according to the Health Ministry, behind only the United States and Brazil. For the last fortnight, it has been reporting 50,000 cases or more each day as it opens up the country after a months-long lockdown. Its COVID-19 death toll stands at 47,033.
Modi and Das were among 170 people who attended the Aug. 5 launch of the temple construction in the northern town of Ayodhya.
Dr. Murli Singh, director of information in Ayodhya, said Das had tested positive and was being moved to a hospital near Delhi. But he added that at the time of the ceremony the priest tested negative and so had not posed an infection risk to Modi.
Television footage showed Modi held Das’ hands and bowed before him. Modi’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Singh said people invited for the launch were all clear of the virus at the time.
“Guidelines were sent to all that only COVID-19 negative people will be allowed in the ceremony,” he said, adding doctors on the ground in Ayodhya had run tests before the event started.
The planned temple at Ayodhya is on a disputed site where Hindu groups have campaigned for decades.
Separately on Wednesday, a government committee said that the country would utilize its large vaccine manufacturing capacity to urgently deliver any potential COVID-19 vaccine to its neighbors and low-income countries.