April 23. 2024. 5:54

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Rutte’s road to NATO leadership faces hurdles in four countries

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his supporters are facing a number of obstacles in his bid to become NATO’s next secretary general, which could delay the decision by weeks.

Rutte is a top contender to take over from incumbent NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. NATO diplomats were adamant the next boss’s name would be selected during the first week of April, in time for the alliance’s foreign ministers meeting and the 75th-anniversary celebration.

However, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis’s surprise candidacy for the same position has thrown cold water on what many had seen as a done deal for Rutte.

At this stage, Rutte has to gain the confidence of four governments: Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Turkey.

With foreign ministers discussing the matter during their meeting in Brussels, it is unclear whether the matter will be settled by the last ministerial in Prague (30-31 May) before the leaders’ summit in Washington (9-11 July).

“I think at the latest we’d like to see this settled by the Washington Summit,” US Ambassador Julianne Smith said on Tuesday (2 April).

Stoltenberg’s term is scheduled to end on 1 October after ten years. His mandate had been renewed three times, including to keep the alliance in safe hands in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The appointment process is unofficial, informal, and closed-door and the list of criteria, including availability, gender, nationality, and national military spending, makes it difficult to get a clear sense of who will take the job.

Rutte is currently supported by the four NATO members forming the so-called ‘quartet’ – France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the largest defence spender, the United States.

This support and that of more than 20 other national governments should have guaranteed Rutte an unimpeded path to the position.

Worries from the Eastern flank countries over under-representation in the NATO leadership body reiterated their interest in the top job.

Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, who is considered a good candidate among alliance members, announced her support for Rutte in a post on X on Tuesday (2 April), dismissing rumours over an April fool’s joke that had suggested she would be safe to get the job.

Several NATO diplomats said that none of Rutte’s supporters have switched camps to support Iohannis or another dark horse.

“There is ongoing debate on the qualifications of both of these very impressive leaders, and we will continue to debate the pros and cons until we reach consensus,” Smith said.

Both Turkey and Hungary require the most convincing, sources said.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he wants the next NATO secretary-general to take the fight against terrorism more seriously and “take into consideration the sensitivities of the non-EU allies” after a meeting with Rutte last month, opening the way for discussion.

Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said his Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government opposes Rutte’s nomination, as the Dutchman criticised Budapest’s rule of law record.

Romania has its own candidate, while Slovakia is in the midst of an election period.

Several NATO diplomats supporting Rutte said they believed both Ankara and Budapest could be convinced over the coming weeks, as the Dutchman is in touch with the leaders and its backers and does not consider Iohannis a serious candidate.

Read more with Euractiv

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