During his 11 years in office, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has earned himself the nickname “Teflon Mark”. The 53 year-old, who has led three coalition governments and is going for a historic fourth this March, has been a stalwart figure at the helm of Dutch politics, brushing off crises and scandals that may well have finished off less impervious politicians.
While Mr Rutte has remained largely unscathed for over a decade, his political rivals and coalition partners have often suffered. It has earned the prime minister comparisons to Germany’s Angela Merkel, his close ally and fellow political survivor who also has a stellar record of neutering potential threats and winning re-election while her coalition partners tanked.
A familiar story of flailing rivals seems to be playing out in the current Dutch election campaign. Last month, Hugo de Jonge, Mr Rutte’s health minister, announced he would not lead his conservative party into the elections due to the pressure of managing the pandemic. Mr de Jonge had won a tightly fought leadership contest just five months earlier.
Mr Rutte’s populist challengers have also been beset by fratricide. The upstart anti-EU Forum for Democracy party and its founder Thierry Baudet fell out spectacularly late last year over a racism scandal and internal push to kick him out.
The leader of the Labour party is the latest prime ministerial candidate to go. Lodewijk Asscher said on Thursday he was resigning for his part in a child benefits scandal under the previous government, in which he served as social affairs minister.
The Labour party is now scrambling to find a new leader, with the name of EU commission executive vice-president Frans Timmermans doing the rounds. Mr Timmermans was responsible for a surprise surge in the centre-left party’s support during 2019’s European elections. But as the NOS reports, he is unlikely to head back to The Hague to take on the powerhouse that is Mr Rutte.
The fallout from the child-benefits controversy — when thousands of Dutch families were wrongly accused of defrauding the state — could still claim more political careers and even the government itself.
Mr Rutte’s cabinet meets on Friday with pressure mounting for a collective resignation over the affair. It would be the Netherlands’ first government resignation in nearly 20 years, when a coalition led by Wim Kok resigned following an investigation into the Netherlands’ role in the Srebrenica massacre.
Ironically, a government collapse may end up protecting Mr Rutte by apportioning responsibility on all four coalition parties, rather than just the prime minister.
The Dutch go to the polls on March 17. Should Mr Rutte emerge victorious — as polls suggest — the scandal will be yet another political pitfall that he has successfully swerved.
The UK looks to have suffered its largest ever fall in population since the second world war as foreign-born nationals headed for the exit during the pandemic. Analysis of official data by the Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence estimates that up to 1.3m people born abroad left the UK between the third quarter of 2019 and the same period in 2020 — with London suffering the steepest fall. (chart via FT)
Portugal will enter a new national lockdown on Friday, on the same day that European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and eight of her commissioners fly to Lisbon to mark the start of the country’s six-month EU presidency.