Dutch finance minister cashes in on world economic crisis
Six months ago, his political fortunes were failing. But Dutch Finance Minister Wouter Bos has emerged from the global economic crisis as the country's favourite and most trusted politician.
"He rescued the economy, and himself, from the brink of an abyss," Dutch economist Arnold Heertje told AFP, mirroring the popular opinion of Bos' bold and speedy rescue of ailing Dutch banks and wide-ranging support for the general economy.
"This was his opportunity to show what he is capable of doing. He has shown himself to be a leader in times of crisis."
Until recently, questions had been asked about the decisiveness and vision of the 45-year-old minister, who has a passion for cooking and unfulfilled dreams of a professional football career.
Opinion polls showed his left-wing Labour Party (PvdA) bleeding support.
He was regarded as an adequate finance minister managing a solid budget but was sometimes described as having more charisma than substance.
Yet in recent months, Bos earned praise for his swift 17-billion-euro (23-billion-dollar) nationalisation of faltering bank Fortis, giving 20 billion euros to support healthy banks and insurers, another 200 billion euros for bank loan guarantees, and a six-billion-euro economic stimulus package.
He also won high praise for promising that Dutch clients of frozen Icelandic savings bank Icesave would get their money back "one way or another."
"The rise in his popularity has to do not only with the decisions he took, but also the way in which he communicated them," said Heertje.
"He managed to instill a sense of confidence in people. He has found new confidence in himself as well."
Ever since, Bos has been raking in the political capital. He has received at least half a dozen "Politician of the Year" titles and was knighted "The Netherlands' hope in dark days" by the influential Elsevier news magazine, which made him man of the year.
A December survey by pollsters Politieke Barometer found Bos way ahead of other politicians in terms of "offering real solutions -- at 29 percent more than doubling Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's 13 percent score.
"He didn't ask for it, but the crisis worked out well for him," said Heertje.
Despite a predicted head-to-head race, Bos' hopes for the Dutch premiership were dashed in 2006 when the PvdA came a far second in general elections to Balkenende's Christian Democrats (CDA).
He became deputy prime minister and finance minister in Balkenende's fourth CDA-led government, his PvdA taking 33 seats of the 150 in the House of Representatives.
By November 2007, polls showed the PvdA would score only 24 seats in a new election and by September last year the figure had dropped to 15.
Last month, one poll found support for the PvdA equal to 36 parliamentary seats -- putting it head-to-head with the CDA.
Born in the western town of Vlaardingen, Bos, who is vegetarian, graduated with a double major in economics and political science before becoming a high-flying executive at oil company Shell.
In 2002, he became an MP and labour party leader.
Since 2006, he has managed to contain inflation as well as retain a budget surplus and the lowest unemployment in the European Union.
"The Netherlands is still a wealthy and prosperous country and our economy is doing relatively well compared to other European countries," the minister said last month.
"We will get through this (crisis), we are no push-overs."
In a recent interview with the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper, Bos described the economic crisis as "my worst headache."
Even before the crisis he slept five hours a night and had little time for his two daughters and wife, now pregnant again, or his hobbies, cycling and cooking.
"Yes, I wanted to be premier," Bos told the daily.
"But I am not jealous of Jan Peter. And if you ask me what I would most have liked to become? The goal keeper of Feyenoord (the Rotterdam football team)."
By Mariette le Roux
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons; roel1943