Published: 10:42, June 20, 2024
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Outgoing Dutch PM to land NATO top job: Media
By Julian Shea in London
The Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte attends a press conference with NATO secretary general and some leaders of Nato members (not in the picture) in front of the Catshuis, official residence of the Dutch prime minister, in The Hague on June 27, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

Mark Rutte, the outgoing Dutch prime minister, is on course to become the next head of the NATO military alliance, replacing current Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Dutch national broadcaster NOS reported on Tuesday, after Hungary and Slovakia backed him.

Speaking at a news conference alongside US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington, Stoltenberg neither confirmed nor denied the media report.

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"With the announcement of (Hungarian) Prime Minister (Viktor) Orban, I think it's obvious that we are very close to a conclusion … to select the next secretary-general, and I think that's good news," he told reporters, while praising Rutte.

"I think Mark is a very strong candidate. … He's a close friend and colleague, and I therefore strongly believe that very soon, the alliance will have decided on my successor," Stoltenberg said.

Orban had announced that he had no objection to Rutte's appointment.

Hungary's close ties with Russia left Orban in a position of significant influence when it came to the appointment process.

Hungary has been at odds with other NATO countries over its ties with Russia and refusal to send arms to Ukraine, with Hungary's foreign minister last month labeling plans to help Kyiv a "crazy mission".

Orban's backing means that, of the 32 members of the military alliance, only Romania has yet to give its backing to Rutte, and that is expected soon.

Turkiye and Slovakia have also changed course on Rutte's bid, with Ankara saying it would support him in late April and Slovakia announcing its support earlier on Tuesday.

Rutte will step down from the domestic role he has held for 14 years once the new Dutch coalition government is formed.

Defense spending

Under his leadership, the Netherlands has ramped up defense spending above the 2 percent threshold of GDP required of NATO members, providing F-16 fighter jets, artillery, drones and ammunition to Kyiv as well as investing heavily in its own military.

On the global stage, Rutte is regarded as being one of the most successful figures from within the European Union in dealing with former US president Donald Trump, who is standing for reelection later this year.

At last year's Munich Security Conference, Rutte told world leaders they should stop "moaning and whining about Trump", and spend more on their own defense and munitions production.

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Stoltenberg's term will end on Oct 1, 10 years after taking office in 2014. NATO's annual summit will be held in Washington next month, after which Rutte is expected to take over as its new supremo.

After Rutte gained the backing of nearly all alliance members, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said on Wednesday he would address whether he will continue his bid to become the next chief of NATO at a state defense council meeting on Thursday.

"After (the meeting) I will tell the public. I can assure you that tomorrow afternoon you will be fully informed," he said.

Agencies contributed to this story.