Mark Rutte’s Torentje has been the home of a framed photo of Angela Merkel for a long time. She wears a red jacket, smiles, behind her you can see the Hofvijfer and the Torentje. He wrote something difficult to read under the photo. In front of NRC Rutte does his best, leans over the photo: she thanks him for the hospitality at the nuclear summit in The Hague in March 2014 ‘.With … thank you very much … and everything …“Yes, and then I don’t know anymore.” I got it from her later at dinner. ”
Cabinet colleagues who experience Rutte talking to Merkel on the phone (they talk to each other quite often) describe their dealings as confidential and straightforward. If Merkel thinks Rutte is not doing something right, she will say so. Like the time he arrived in Brussels with a biography of Chopin last spring, to make it clear to European government leaders that there was nothing to negotiate about the Netherlands’ tough demands on the EU budget, with that book. and an apple. through the night. Merkel thought it was childish.
But he also finds it useful and smart in finding solutions. The brand You can send a message to French President Emmanuel Macron if you believe, as in 2019, that the UK should exit the EU with a heavy blow if they continue to cause trouble there.
“Angela Merkel is a guy I like,” says Mark Rutte. “She is totally unadorned.” He describes the first time he visited Berlin as Prime Minister, in November 2010. “There was such a parade. Of course it is a play and, as a liberal, I am not at all adapted to protocol. I was walking beside him and had already started talking, so I didn’t nod at the flag. Then he said in a low voice: “Mark, du sollst ein bisschen tend.”
Do you speak German between you?
“If it’s a good conversation, yes. But business is English, or I speak English and she German, if she likes it. First there was another Interpreter in the middle, but then you keep looking at that performer. We agreed on this once. We joke and gossip in German. He likes that very much. But no harm, huh. In a nice way. “
She tells you, we hear, a lot about herself, about her husband …
Yes, but not much about her husband. I spoke to him once, a very nice guy. Once I sat next to him and thought: I have to go to the Bayreuther Festspiele. So I said to him, without inviting myself: ‘If you’re on a waiting list like that, it will be ten years before it’s your turn.’ I just dropped that. “
Is that what you call not inviting myself?
“New! But she called me a few months later and said: do you like to come to the Bayreuther Festspiele? That was in 2018. It was a bit like Joseph Luns yelling at his wife in a hotel in Moscow: could we still buy vodka? And then a car pulls up with a case of vodka bottles. “
Rutte laughs out loud.
Did this band help in the worst phase of the crown crisis? Germany offered the Netherlands IC places.
“This was mainly due to the good relationship with our direct neighbor, Armin Laschet (Prime Minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and now candidate for Chancellor of State, ed.). It was also important that our borders were not closed then. There was so much border traffic that it would have been a disaster. I think there was a nod from Berlin, from Angela Merkel. So yeah, it helps. “
The Dutch, Rutte says, are “very ocean-oriented.” This became apparent in January 2012 at a meeting of the CDU’s sister party, CSU, in Bavaria. Merkel had arranged for me to tell a story there. I was greeted by the Bavarian Prime Minister, then Horst Seehofer, and the president of the CSU in the German parliament. I was freezing, I slipped. So I grab an ashtray on the wall that breaks halfway and end up in Seehofer’s arms. And at night, on the ARD evening news, you could see how sense I was received. So I think: what an incredible mistake, this will be the opening of the NOS-Journaal. “
Ruth waits a moment.
“But it was not collected anywhere in the Netherlands. So my conclusion was: pff … relief. And also: we have our backs to Germany in no time. Not because we don’t like that country, but we focus on the UK and the US. We feel right at home in that culture and we’ve been hearing from Drees: they set us free. “
You read a lot of biographies of great world leaders. Do you think Merkel belongs there?
“She is very big, runs the largest and most powerful economy in Europe and feels the obligations that come with it. It demonstrated this in the debt crisis, in the establishment of the ESM emergency fund and also in the refugee crisis. Sometimes we disagreed, but in 2016 the Netherlands became president of the EU and the two of us really came together, leading to Turkey’s unexpected refugee deal. “
Or look at Brexit. German chancellors are trying to hold Europe together, so that French presidents can choose a more precise position. The France-UK relationship was difficult during the Brexit negotiations. I was very happy with Merkel’s leadership, which allowed me to try to avoid a hard Brexit. That was in the interest of the Netherlands. Merkel said, ‘Go talk to Emmanuel again.’
Merkel has become the face of Europe outside of Europe.
“But she knows: if she grows too big, the rest will be angry. Germany always has to pretend that it is actually Switzerland. She senses that well, she is not one of those leaders who thinks: look at me. It doesn’t seem like he’s forcing things through his position of power. I remember a conversation you had with a head of government, I cannot say his name, about the enlargement of the EU. That man had a certain point of view on that. She approached him and very charmingly, almost sighing, began to talk about how difficult it was and that she was even trying to find a solution. Could you help her? And I saw that man melt. “
He is not loyal to his party, but to his own values.
How would you describe her as a leader?
“Live by the Helmut Schmidt principle, which I most admire of all post-war politicians: you are not loyal to your party, but to your own values. I think that is also due to its origin in East Germany. There are things you feel: they are not negotiable for her. That’s why she found closing the border in the Balkans in 2016 so difficult. That’s for her. Rutte draws a line across her stomach with her fist. “… she just can’t do that with her background.”
What did you think when Merkel said about refugees from Syria in 2015? We do that?
“It has become iconic, it is as if the Syrians then went to walk to Germany. That, of course, is not true. I’ve always heard from him: why do I have to apologize when a friendly face Show? I think that in Europe we said too late in that crisis: it cannot continue like this. I think Merkel herself has also stuck to her open border policy for too long. Internally, I was already prepared to take far-reaching action in the fall of 2015. ”
Did you also see his ‘non-negotiable values’ reflected in the way he viewed Afghanistan?
“I saw very little of her in those weeks for that. We were all taken by surprise by the fall of Kabul and the calls were about: how do we get people out of there and how do you get a new one there? foothold. “
Merkel said: we may have to admit a lot more people than we initially thought. You showed understanding for the people who protested in Harskamp against the arrival of refugees. That’s a very different kind of leadership, right?
“I did not show understanding. Alone, and that also applies to Merkel: I understand that people in the Netherlands are concerned about the arrival of large groups of refugees. But I don’t understand the people who stand with pots and pans when people have just arrived panting from Afghanistan. You don’t do that. I understand the question, but Merkel and I are really no different. “
Will you still see Merkel, do you think?
“I don’t know. I’d really like to. It also depends on what he’s going to do. He says he’s leaving politics altogether and I think he is. He probably won’t be a talk show commentator either.”
Do you think that is good?
“I’m going to do it myself anyway. When I leave, I’ll never go to a talk show again. Every five years I go to my party’s anniversary congress to applaud the leader’s speech and when they ask me what I think I say: brilliant story! ”.
Now you become the biggest in the EU. What kind of Europe do you get without Merkel?
“Viktor Orbán, he is taller than me! The French president will have a different role. They will have to build more bridges and we will help with that, without losing sight of our own position. Personally I will miss her very much. But the gap will be filled. The new German leader still has no experience, who will be put to the test. ”
A version of this article also appeared on NRC Handelsblad on September 18, 2021.
A version of this article also appeared on NRC on the morning of September 18, 2021.
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