Dutch PM who brokered the Maastricht treaty on greater European union

Born: May 7, 1939;

Died: February 14, 2018

RUUD Lubbers, who has died aged 78, was the prime minister of the Netherlands who guided his country through economic turmoil to prosperity and helped shape the foundations of the European Union when he brokered the Maastricht Treaty. From 2001 he was also UN high commissioner for refugees but was forced to step down in 2005 over accusations of sexual harassment.

Lubbers headed a conservative administration in the Netherlands from 1982 to 1994, trimming back the Dutch welfare state, persuading powerful trade unions to rein in their demands and ushering in years of growth. Many commentators saw him as an idealogical stable-mate of Margaret Thatcher.

However, his international reputation suffered in 2005 when he was forced to step down as UN high commissioner for refugees in a sexual harassment scandal. A female employee had alleged that Lubbers touched her inappropriately during a meeting.

As a politician, he was sometimes criticised as too willing to compromise on principles, but supporters say he was a pragmatist and dealmaker - skills that were to the fore when he was attempting to broker a deal on the Maastricht Treaty. The treaty was extremely controversial in the UK and caused trouble in the Conservative Party for the then Prime Minister John Major.

However, Major and Lubbers got on well, with Major recalling Lubbers as patient, well-informed and calm. Eventually, Major and Lubbers were able to negotiate an opt-out for the UK on the single currency and so-called social chapter, which extended qualified majority voting to some areas of social policy.

At the time, Lubbers believed that the single currency would be a triumph and encourage the EU members into ever great co-operation and union but he later admitted that he had been wrong. "I thought the euro would be so successful that it would lead to political union and that it would be attractive for other states to join," he said. "That was a mistake."

Rudolphus Franciscus Marie Lubbers was born in Rotterdam into a wealthy Catholic family that owned a large engineering firm. Initially, Lubbers had ambitions to be an academic and studied economics at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. However, after his father's sudden death in 1965, he and his brother became co-directors of the family firm.

His move into politics came in 1973 when he was asked to join the government as minister of economic affairs. He was then elected to the House of Representatives and later became leader of the Christian Democratic Appeal party. He then became Prime Minister when Dries van Agt resigned in 1982, making Lubbers the youngest ever man to hold the job - he was 43.

He went on to form three successive governments between 1982 and 1994 and pursued a broadly centrist but market-first approach. It was his success and notable skills for diplomacy that marked him out as the man for the Maastricht job.

After his last term as Dutch PM - he voluntarily left the job after 12 years - Lubbers attempted to become president of the European Commission, succeeding Jacques Delors, but the attempt was reportedly scuppered by Germany. He was then a candidate for the job of secretary general of NATO, but this time it was the US that put the kibosh on the idea. He was named UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 2001, serving for four years until the sexual harassment scandal led to this resignation.

Lubbers was married to Maria Hoogeweegen, an economist, who survives him along with their three children.