Ruud Lubbers, the Netherlands' longest serving prime minister, has died aged 78. Lubbers also headed the UN refugee agency on a symbolic $1 salary, and, in 1991, hosted the EU's formative Maastricht summit.
Lubbers, a conservative who argued for "more markets, less government" and a closer European Union, passed away on Wednesday in his home city of Rotterdam, the Dutch government announced. No cause of death was given.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the Netherlands had "lost a statesman with huge stature" and went on to praise Lubbers for his commitment to Europe and as a "world citizen" who was "intelligent and wise."
"He knew how to find a solution to every problem," Rutte added.
Lubbers, a Christian Democrat from a Rotterdam engineering and machinery family, who studied economics and then headed an employers' federation, formed his first government in 1982 with the liberal VVD party, on a pledge to cut back the Dutch welfare state.
His slogan "more markets, less government" prompted conflict with trade unions but earned him a reputation for the "Dutch model" of spurring the economy to create more jobs.
Key role at Maastricht
In his third consecutive term, he formed a grand coalition with center-left Social Democrats in 1989, and played a key role in late 1991 when the Netherlands hosted an EU summit that formulated the bloc's Maastricht Treaty focused on political integration.
The accord, signed in early 1992, also laid the groundwork for the shared euro currency.
When he stepped down in the Dutch election year 1994, he had become the Netherland's longest-serving prime minister.
His 12 years in office had included his persuading parliament to accept the deployment of NATO European missiles in the Netherlands and ambitious conservation projects across the densely populated low-lying nation.
WWF and then UNHCR
After stints in academia, bids for top jobs at the European Commission and NATO, and criticism of Germany's then-chancellor, Helmut Kohl, Lubbers went on to serve as president of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in 2000, before becoming the head of the UNHCR refugee agency in 2001.
Bombing of Afghanistan wrong
A month after the 9/11 airline hijacker attacks on New York and Washington, Ludders rejected US bombardment of largely Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
He told Germany's Die Zeit newspaper in October 2001 that less US military action, not more, combined with aid agency assistance, would minimize the "danger of a conflagration."
Bombing starts: President Bush on TV, 7 October 2001
As UNHCR commissioner he had urged the United States: "no revenge, no disproportionate reprisal attacks that will inevitably cause larger refugee flows and human suffering."
His UNHCR post was extended in 2003 but in 2005 he was forced to step down over sexual harassment allegations, which he rejected as defamatory.
In latter years, when the Netherlands had difficulties forming coalition governments, Queen Beatrix reportedly called in Lubbers as adviser and intermediary.
Dutch broadcaster NOS said Lubbers had long suffered from an unspecified illness.
ipj/kms (AFP, AP, Reuters, Munzinger-Archive)