Science - November 18, 2009

Doing justice to Mansholt

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Sicco Mansholt (1908-1995) has been the subject of several books, including The Grain Republic by Frank Westerman and a biography by Johan van Merrienboer. On 12 November a new film about this Dutch politician was premiered: Overstag (Changing Tack), by Louis van Gasteren and Joke Meerman.

Sicco Mansholt was a charismatic, committed and influential social-democratic politician: first at local level in Wieringermeer, then nationally as Minister of agriculture, and eventually at European level where, as Agricultural Commissioner from 1958 to 1973, he helped to shape the European Union. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Wageningen Agricultural College in 1956.
As a journalist, Louis van Gasteren kept track of Sicco Mansholt during his life and the film draws on Van Gasteren's rich archive, supplemented with interviews with contemporaries, including politicians, family members and colleagues. The film narrates chronologically the life of a politician in the first instance, and only secondarily that of Mansholt the man. The focus is on the turning point, the moment he changed tack, veering away from the position of Agricultural politics he had held at the end of the nineteen sixties.
  Mansholt saw how EU agricultural policies that aimed at raising production ended up mired in surpluses and environmental degradation. Much influenced by the Club of Rome's 1972 report, Mansholt parted with these policies and sought to guide EU policy along Sustainability lines. With little success.
The film is a fine historical documentary about Mansholt the politician. It is a tribute to Mansholt and hardly a critical note is struck. It is discreet about his relationship with Petra Kelly and steers clear of his limited opposition to Dutch policies in Indonesia. Little reference is made to the impact of the fast-changing social context on Mansholt's life. Ultimately, this documentary offers no new facts or insights, but it does do justice to the life of one of the most influential Dutchmen of the 20th century. /Tuur Mol, director Mansholt Institute

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