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Interview with Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, from the World Economic Forum 2017


Following are excerpts from a CNBC interview with Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, from the World Economic Forum 2017 with Julia Chatterley.

JC: So there's a lot of people being quite critical about the lack of European leadership representation here in Davos this year. And yet here you are. Why did you think it was important to be here?

MR: For two reasons: First of all this is an opportunity to get in touch with some of the thinking in other parts of the world and to discuss with many other leaders how things are developing and secondly it is a chance to speak with many businesses. Businesses who want to set up shop in the Netherlands or who are already active in the Netherlands, sort of a relationship development. And in that sense that creates jobs in the Netherlands. Jobs in the Netherlands. Of course my first role is to create jobs for my country.

JC: What were you hearing about your country and about the upcoming election? What were people saying to you?

MR: Well the general mood about them is positive. We had the biggest drop in unemployment in many years in 2016. Our growth rate is now the highest of the European Union except for Spain and Romania. We had to put in place many savings, people acknowledge this so they are saying your economy is resilient, we are the fourth most competitive economy in the world. Number one of the European Union. So in many instances many people are telling me we want to invest in your country. So that is very positive.

So you've also made some comments about Brexit and everybody's been talking about Brexit while we've been in Davos here. But your your statements were pretty potent. You said that the UK people were choosing to become poorer in order to control immigration.

This was the choice, the choice always was that when you want economic growth being part of the biggest market in the world which the European Union is, to leave that market with all the consequences that entails, there are consequences that you have to face up to and they wanted to do this because they wanted to control migration.

Do you really believe that the UK people wanted to be poorer, they chose to be poorer? I think that is wrong to say that...

…But they had a clear choice. I still remember David Cameron three weeks before the referendum give me a ring and saying the debate is shifting from the economic argument, which he was winning, shifting to the migration argument. And clearly he was losing on that argument. And I always told him, I was on BBC and other instances, and I told people, this is a clear choice if you want to have more control on migration that will work against economic growth. You will get poorer by doing that. And the sad thing is that I believe at the end of the day that net immigration into the UK will not come down because also in the future they will need many workers also from Eastern Europe to fill the many vacancies.

Let's say you are right actually and the UK people did say you know we'd be happy to be poorer in order to control immigration. That says a great deal about the structure of the EU at this moment surely.

Well I'm not sure that they were happy to be poorer but at least the choice was on the table. It was very clear on the table and people said well we don't believe these numbers, we just want to regain sovereignty. Within the European Union we are all sovereign because we all can leave. We all can influence the decision in many instances we have veto rights, so that's always been sort of silly argument that the UK want to regain its sovereignty by leaving the European Union. That was silly anyway.

Your finance minister Dijsselbloem said today he expects massive unemployment by 2037. The U.K.'s going back to the 70s.

But I think he's right. I spoke today with many international institutions. Companies. Banks. Big, big organizations who are really thinking, not thinking, they're in the decision faze of leaving the U.K. Leaving London. Leaving the city. So this is big.

Do you think it's delusional out there because at the moment if you look at the way the markets looking at Brexit. It doesn't look that bad. It doesn't look like the UK is going in that direction at this moment. Are people are delusional, we haven't seen the impact yet. What is it?

In the short term when your currency is devaluating against other currencies then of course you will have a short term economic benefit going out of that. But this is all short term. Look what it is doing to savings, pensions savings, private savings what it will do to the longer term to the strength of the economy. So I'm afraid that Dijsselbloem what totally right here.

Are you going to make it difficult for the U.K. to sign some kind of agreement with the EU here?

I don't hope so. I mean it is the right of the UK to trigger this famous Article 50 to leave the EU. I'm totally and fundamentally against them doing it. But it is their sovereign right. It means that we need to have a thorough fair negotiations between the EU and UK. And I would not like to talk in terms of punishing etc. but we will have to find a way out where they will leave the internal market and they want to have some sort of relationship with Europe in the form of free trade agreements but that it will be considerably less impactful than the current arrangement

JC: Because you want to also send a message to your own population don't you? Because there are some out there arguing that actually you are using the same kind of language here that failed David Cameron and is also the same kind of language that the populists use. You're scaremongering about Brexit because you're concerned about the right wing party in your own country looking like they're going to win the election. How do you respond?

Well in the Netherlands nobody, almost nobody, is in favour of an exit. Maybe there were, let's say 20 or 30 percent in the polls were in favour before Brexit. But after the people in the Netherlands and many other countries have seen what happens in the United Kingdom in terms of trade, the currency, constitutionally, politically, economically nobody of course wants to do that. The Netherlands is the second most interconnected country in the world after Singapore. So being part of the single market is crucial. We have 2.1 million jobs directly linked to the effect that we have this international interlinks position. And 70 percent of those jobs come out of the membership of the European Union so it vital for us.

JC: And yet the strongest support in your country at this moment is for a right wing party, a skeptical party. So there's a contradiction in what you're saying.

We have to see what the outcome of the election will be. I of course will fight very hard to come to a different outcome and I'm fairly optimistic that I will succeed but…

JC: Do you deny you're scaremongering here…?

Absolutely… I'm just stating the facts and the fact that people are worried in my country is not because of Europe. They are worried because of what happened in the last four years. We had to put in place huge savings, reforms and people question, some people question, whether the political, the politicians are there for them because they had, they feel they had to pay the price for the recovery. And I want them also now to participate in the recovery itself.

JC: So you're saying…

…And secondly they're worried about migration and not from Eastern Europe. They're worried about the refugees coming from Syria, the North of Africa and luckily last year we were able to come to a deal an agreement with Turkey which has halfed the amount of refugees coming into the Netherlands compared to 2015.

JC: More people are dying though, crossing the Mediterranean. It's not a great solution?

Well crossing the Asian sea, there are almost no people dying so the deal with Turkey is holding. But you're absolutely right. We now need to focus on the north of Africa. We need to close similar deals with countries in the north of Africa like we did with Turkey so that people can stay there in safe camps. We are also willing to invest there in terms of education and some future outlook for the people there and to prevent them to come to the European Union and they will not be eligible for asylum anyway because the large majority of them are economic migrants.

JC: So what you're saying, just to make sure I'm clear on this, is that what we're seeing in the Netherlands now is a backlash against you effectively and your policies rather than a backlash against Europe.

It's a backlash against the fact that people feel they had to pay the price for the recovery. And I now want them to be part of that recovery so that's my next, that is why I want to continue in office because it is my passionate belief that I want to have everybody in the Netherlands now to be participating in a success. And secondly, the refugee crisis, there we have half the numbers. But now we have to be very clear in the Netherlands itself, when you come from outside, what are the Dutch values, what are our liberties, what is our history? And when you come as a refugee, we can host you, not in the numbers we saw last year, at a considerably lower number, but still you have to accept that you have to deal with our society and make adjustments in terms of what you are willing to do being part of that society.

JC: You've ruled out forming any coalition with the Freedom Party. So you would rather not trying at least dilute their influence by working with him, you'd rather step away?

Now there are three reasons for that. The one, for me personally, a very strong one was the fact that he left the government, he was in a support role in 2012, it was when the crisis really started to hit the Netherlands and he threw our country into an election campaign for more than four months because he left basically the coalition. And he didn't want to take responsibility for tough measures. And I cannot accept that. Secondly he has questioned the independence, the independent judges in the Netherlands, the independent judiciary and this is a core value. And thirdly he has talked about, for example, Moroccans in the Netherlands that he wants fewer of them. So when you talk in general numbers, people coming to the Netherlands, I can understand that. But when you talk about people in the Netherlands with a Dutch passport in many cases, this is absolutely not acceptable and running against basic values of my society.

JC: Final question, because I know you have to go. How do you turn this around? How do you turn the polls around between now and the election?

Well of course polls are constantly changing. And when I'm in discussion with people in the streets, which I'm doing constantly, people are telling me 'we want to be part of the recovery, we want to feel that the Netherlands is, at the macro level, doing better at the micro level of my personal life, I want to really feel this that my children get a job, that my pension is in good shape, that the health sector is delivering what it needs to deliver' and that's what I'm working on. And I'm absolutely convinced these policies are the best policies for the Netherlands and I will fight passionately to bring it to a good result and see you next year in my present capacity.