Europe

Mark Rutte: Modest but steely Dutch liberal

Mark Rutte, 16 Mar 17 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mark Rutte now faces the challenge of building a new coalition government

Dutch liberal leader Mark Rutte is poised for a third term as prime minister after neutralising the threat from anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders.

The victory of Mr Rutte, 50, has brought relief for fellow centrist politicians in the EU, who feared that Brexit and Donald Trump could set an unstoppable anti-establishment trend.

Mr Rutte appears to have boosted his electorate by talking tough on Dutch values and on Turkey's angry rhetoric.

He sticks to a fairly modest lifestyle.

For an hour every week he teaches at a school in a poor district of The Hague.

He drives a second-hand car and uses an old mobile phone. He still lives in the apartment he bought after getting a history degree from prestigious Leiden University in 1992, AFP news agency reports.

Almost every week he dines at a favourite Indonesian restaurant in the Dutch capital with his mother, now in her 90s.

A bachelor, he was a talented pianist in his youth and contemplated a career in music.

Liberal revival

He joined the youth wing of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) at the age of 16.

After university he joined the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever, and worked as a personnel manager in two of its subsidiaries.

Meanwhile he rose up the VVD ranks, and got senior government appointments from 2002 to 2006 in charge of social affairs and education.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption A 2012 photo shows Mr Rutte arriving by bike at Catshuis, the PM's residence in The Hague

He became VVD leader in 2006. When he became prime minister in October 2010 he was the first liberal to lead a ruling coalition in the Netherlands in more than 90 years.

This time, the VVD will have 33 of parliament's 150 seats. Four parties are expected to be in the new government.

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An ardent advocate of free trade, Mr Rutte sees the UK vote to leave the EU as a big blow. He is known to admire Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher - iconic leaders in British Conservative history.

Bust-up with Turkey

Mr Rutte is seen as having handled the election run-up adroitly, especially a toxic diplomatic clash with Turkey.

Just days before the vote, Mr Rutte banned two Turkish ministers from addressing campaign rallies in the Netherlands.

The Turkish government is wooing ethnic Turks in Europe ahead of a key constitutional referendum.

The ban enraged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He called the Dutch people "Nazi remnants" and blamed the Dutch over the notorious 1995 Srebrenica massacre, when Bosnian Serbs shot about 8,000 Muslim men and boys.

Mr Rutte demanded an apology, calling Mr Erdogan's language "unacceptable".

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Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Geert Wilders (left) remains a big player - but will not serve under Mr Rutte

Wilders 'on sofa'

The row overshadowed the election, and Mr Rutte took full advantage of it.

In a TV debate, Mr Wilders told him that he ought to expel the Turkish ambassador.

Mr Rutte drew applause when he replied: "Here we see the difference between sitting on the sofa tweeting and leading the country.

"If you lead the country then you need to take sensible measures and this is not responsible!"

In January, Mr Rutte also stole some of Mr Wilders's nationalist thunder by campaigning forcefully for Dutch values.

In a full-page ad in Dutch newspapers Mr Rutte said: "If you live in a country where you get so annoyed with how we deal with each other, you have a choice: Get out! You don't have to be here!"

He cited a dispute about an immigrant turned down for a job as a bus driver because he had objected to shaking women's hands.

Mr Rutte has ruled out bringing Mr Wilders into the next coalition government, even though Mr Wilders's Freedom Party (PVV) came second, winning 20 seats.

Mr Rutte was stung when in 2012 Mr Wilders withdrew support for his government, over planned budget cuts of €16bn (£14bn).

Mr Rutte's late father was a Dutch East Indies businessman and was 58 when Mark was born. Mark is the youngest of seven children - the other six were born to his father's first wife.