Kustaw BessemsSeptember 30, 202215:24

    “Of course I understand that this is just a bummer.” Not the first sentence of Speaker of the House of Representatives Vera Bergkamp that lacks any sense of proportion. The decision of the executive committee of the House to order an investigation into the actions of Bergkamp’s predecessor Khadija Arib was leaked to NRC, before Arib knew. Including serious, but as yet unsubstantiated, anonymous accusations from civil servants about ‘an unsafe working environment’ and even ‘abuse of power’ and ‘a reign of terror’.

    As an employer, Bergkamp may be responsible for the reporters, but as chair she has an equally great responsibility to deal carefully with MP Arib.

    Now it is also a matter of guarding against too easy reflexes. Arib is admired. She performed the most important task of a President of the House, namely chairing debates, with verve. Her life story – she fought for the rights of Moroccan women, among other things – is impressive. She’s charismatic and funny, something we haven’t been able to catch her successor doing yet. I notice that because of this I tend to explain away the complaints, but those are tendencies to beware of. Because taking good care of your staff is something that impressive, good, funny presidents can fall short of. We don’t know yet.

    Do not underestimate how difficult it is to treat such complaints properly. It is now suggested, also by Arib herself, that Bergkamp should have discussed reports directly with her first. That could have turned out badly too. One of the letters received refers to Arib’s chairmanship of the committee that is preparing the parliamentary inquiry into corona policy, in which the staff of the House will again have to deal with her. You fall short in the protection of reporters if you immediately run to the accused. And Arib would have been faced with anonymous, unweighted allegations against which she had been unable to defend herself.

    The fact that the process is precarious is what makes the leak so bad. As a President of the House you should find that unacceptable. You would have to do everything in your power to get it up and prevent it from happening again. And that’s really different from ‘of course understand that it sucks‘. Bergkamp’s seeming inability to recognize the heaviness of such moments and to convey the weight of the institution she represents is something I fear increasingly seeing a pattern.

    It was also noticed again last week when the MP Gündogan, who had split from Volt, described emotionally to the interruption microphone that she receives horrific fantasies of violence and is intimidated at home by incensed Forum supporters. She looked closely at Bergkamp, ​​poked her finger at Forum MP Van Meijeren behind the podium and shouted: ‘And he claims that he distances himself from violence?’

    Bergkamp’s response: ‘Please via the chairman.’

    A desperate Gundogan: ‘I’m talking to you.’

    She has never used Bergkamp’s endlessly recurring phrase, ‘please via the chairman’, but it has been a symbol of her impotence for some time now. If she really finds speaking through the chairman so important, let her finally make that clear. Then maintain that. There is much to be said for it. Because it makes speakers less ordinary people who have a personal problem with each other and more emphasizes their office in which they represent us.

    See each other more as an office. Less pretending that the Chamber is an ordinary company with ordinary colleagues. This is not only lacking at Bergkamp. For example, she should no longer allow Prime Minister Rutte to consistently refer to, for example, ‘Sigrid Kaag’ and ‘Wopke Hoekstra’ instead of the Ministers of Finance and Foreign Affairs. Rutte likes to talk about his ‘team’ that way, but he has long since left Unilever. This is not a ‘team’, this is the government.

    A majority of the House now wants to include in the House rules that members are not allowed to threaten each other. But that too is based too much on the personal. The reason is that Pepijn van Houwelingen of Forum told Sjoerd Sjoerdsma of D66: ‘Your time will come, because there will be tribunals.’ Sjoerdsma was then threatened by sympathizers of Van Houwelingen.

    However terrible that private suffering may be, the House should be more concerned with undermining the democratic constitutional state as a whole. This undermining happens when political activity becomes dangerous, but also because of the desire to overthrow the current legal order that is contained in those ‘tribunals’. So if you already want to send a signal in the regulations with a term from criminal law, then ‘incitement’ is more suitable than ‘threat’. Because it incites a crime against public authorities and that is at stake.

    Bergkamp should have acted quickly when Forum leader Baudet recently suggested that Minister Kaag is a spy for dark forces, but not in the first place because it is so bad for Kaag (that is, no doubt), but because such suspicions undermine the legitimacy of our fragile order. I’m a little concerned that the current chairman is a better HR officer than the previous one, but lacks the acuity needed to help guard our democracy.