Coronavirus: in the Netherlands, the management of Prime Minister Mark Rutte hailed by the public

Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra, a potential competitor of the head of government, made a mistake by criticizing the countries of the South.

Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, went in a short time, with his customary skill, from the idea of ​​collective immunity to Covid-19 to that of “intelligent confinement”, then, on April 14, to the assertion that the health should take precedence over the economy. And that it was therefore necessary to extend the main part of the protective measures in force.

Result? In the eyes of the Dutch, the head of government is managing the crisis well and his rating, as well as that of his party (the VVD, liberal), is on the rise. A providential situation for “Mister Silicone” – so baptized for his flexibility and resistance – eleven months before the general elections of March 2021.

The man who has governed with almost all parties for ten years needed a boost in the face of the success of the Forum for Democracy (FVD), a radical and anti-European right-wing party which won the provincial and senatorial elections in the spring of 2019. Its leader, Thierry Baudet, eclipses even Geert Wilders and his Party for freedom (PVV, extreme right).

Power struggle

These are also domestic political considerations that largely explain the country’s intransigent stance towards support measures to be provided to the states most affected by the crisis, such as Italy. Hostile to the idea of ​​European pooled loans, the Netherlands also asked, through their finance minister, Wopke Hoekstra, for an investigation by the Brussels Commission on the reasons for the lack of budgetary margins in the southern countries. A statement made at the end of March and regretted since by the person concerned, who himself judged it “not very empathetic”.

The Prime Minister, him, intends to take advantage of this blunder, even if it highlighted the isolation of the Dutch, now deprived of their British ally and seeing Germany distance itself from them. If he supports his minister, Mark Rutte knows that Mr. Hoekstra intends to profile himself as his potential successor. And that the uncompromising discourse of this young Christian Democrat with regard to Italy and others is also due to his desire to go fishing in the liberal pool: when he ended up accepting a massive support plan in Greece, in 2015, Mr. Rutte narrowly escaped the sanction of his party, which considered overthrowing him.

“It is the power struggle between the two men that explains their slippage, analyzes Tom-Jan Meeus, columnist for the daily NRC Handelsblad . But their positioning at the national level has also damaged the image of their country, now unable to influence the result of discussions at European level. Which is probably good news for Italy and Spain … “