Rutte Closes In on NATO Job After Hungary, Slovakia Support

(Bloomberg) -- Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is on the verge of becoming the NATO military alliance’s next head after securing the endorsement of Hungary and Slovakia.

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Prime Minister Viktor Orban said he now supports Rutte’s bid as long as the Dutch premier agrees to respect a deal the Hungarian leader made with North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg last week to give his nation an opt-out from the alliance’s commitments to Ukraine.

“In light of his pledge, Hungary is ready to support PM Rutte’s bid for NATO Secretary-General,” Orban said on X on Tuesday, linking a letter Rutte sent him the same day.

The pair had met in Brussels on Monday on the sidelines of a European Union summit to overcome past differences that had caused Orban to oppose Rutte’s candidacy. Slovak President Peter Pellegrini, who also spoke in the Belgian capital, said his nation would back the outgoing Dutch leader, in exchange for assurances that NATO would protect Slovak airspace following the handover of military equipment to Ukraine.

Rutte needs to secure unanimous support among NATO’s 32 members to succeed Stoltenberg, whose mandate expires in October. Allies have been hoping to settle on a next secretary general by the time of NATO leaders’ summit in Washington in July. The decision comes at a critical time with anxiety in Europe about the potential return of former US president Donald Trump — an outspoken critic of the organization.

The backing of Hungary and Slovakia left Romania — which is fielding its own candidate for NATO’s top job with President Klaus Iohannis — as the only nation that has yet to formally back the Dutch leader, though it’s expected to do so.

Romanian officials in April said the nation won’t block the election of the next NATO chief, as long as Rutte makes clear commitments to eastern European security priorities and progress is made on better regional representation inside the alliance.

Orban, who’s sought to block Western aid to Ukraine and dilute sanctions against Russia, was a potential stumbling block to Rutte’s candidacy, especially given the history of bad blood between the two leaders.

Rutte has been among the toughest critics of Orban’s consolidation of power, which prompted the EU to suspend a share of Hungary’s funding due to rule of law concerns. On Monday though the two men put disagreements behind them at their meeting.

--With assistance from Daniel Hornak, Ania Nussbaum, Natalia Drozdiak, Megan Howard, Zoe Schneeweiss and Patrick Donahue.

(Updates with Orban’s backing for Rutte from first three paragraphs.)

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