Orbán: Could back Rutte as NATO leader with Russia compromise & apologies for criticism

BRUSSELS - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has signaled the possibility that he could back Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte as the next NATO secretary-general. Orbán said that if Rutte wants his support, the Dutch leader must agree to a way in which Hungary can remain on the sidelines in Russia’s conflict with Ukraine should NATO get involved. He also called on Rutte to apologize for past statements he made in recent years, the political leader said in an interview with Hungarian news magazine Mardiner. 

The current NATO secretary-general, former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, has already said he plans to step down this year. Rutte and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis are the last two candidates for the job, which requires unanimous support from all NATO members. 

“Hungary has two demands against Prime Minister Rutte. One is a matter of honor, the other is a military political demand,” Orbán said. “We cannot support a NATO secretary general who advocates that the participation of all member states in military operations outside the alliance’s territory is mandatory,” he continued. 

“We would like to conclude an agreement with the future secretary general that we will maintain our membership, but we do not want to participate in military action outside NATO territory, we must have this option. Legally, we still have it, but we expect it to be declared as a politically accepted, popular position.” 

Additionally, Orbán demanded that Rutte apologize for past negative statements he made about Hungary in earlier disputes. It seemed he was alluding to when the Dutch PM vociferously criticized Orbán in 2021 as part of his condemnation of Hungary’s strict laws against sexual minorities and diverse genders. Rutte even suggested that the European Union should consider kicking Hungary out of the bloc if they do not adhere to the EU’s position on human rights and equality for everyone in every member state. 

“As far as honor is concerned, there is no Western politician in Hungary with a worse reputation than Mr. Rutte. He had two sentences that the Hungarians will not forgive him for. First, he said that Hungarians should be excluded from the European Union, and then that Hungary should be brought to its knees,” Orbán alleged. 

“The German occupiers and Stalin said that no matter what the Hungarians want, some decision must be forced down their throats, if necessary, by force,” the Hungarian leader noted, pointing out the complex situations his country has dealt with this past century. 

When Hungary announced its intention to introduce strict laws limiting the public depiction of anything deemed homosexual or transgender, Rutte questioned Hungary’s future in the European Union. “Then they have nothing to do in the EU as far as I am concerned,” Rutte said in Brussels in June 2021. 

“The legislation must be repealed. In our eyes, it is completely contrary to the values we stand for. The country must repeal the law and get on its knees,” Rutte continued. “This is such a fundamental point, that if we let that go, we are nothing more than a trading bloc and a currency.” 

“He has to do something about this situation, he is asking for the trust of Hungary for such a position, so it is expected that he will come forward and say something about it. Hungary is an equal country, we expect that from it. As we made clear when the Swedes joined NATO, more respect must be given to Hungary.” 

Thus far, Iohannis only has the support of his home country, Slovakia, and Hungary. For the time being, Orbán said, “We support Romania.” 

Rutte has the support of 29 NATO allies, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France. More recently, he managed to win over Turkey after paying out of pocket to fly to Ankara to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

It has been rumored that the NATO members intend to reach a deal that can be announced during the next NATO Summit in Washington D.C. starting July 9. It will also mark the 75th anniversary of the organization.