Nieuws - 13 januari 2011

Student in Parliament

Now Femke Halsema (leader of the Green Left party) has resigned, Wageningen student Niels van den Berge is temporarily acting as a Member of Parliament for the Green Left party in the Dutch Lower House. His ideal: an environmentally-friendly, social and tolerant Netherlands. 'Well, the entire world really.'

Niels van den Berge: 'Colleagues sometimes go to great lengths to trip you up.'
Wouldn't the Christian Democrats (CDA) be a better choice for a farmer's son?
'People often ask me that. My father had a fruit farm and used to experiment with biological pest control. That was what got me keen on environmental issues. The CDA has conservative views and wants to continue with intensive farming. But the only future is for a sustainable agricultural sector producing healthy food. I have discovered that many farmers are receptive to that idea. We also see our support among farmers growing.'
So, how is your degree coming along?
'It can be difficult sometimes to combine politics and degree studies. I did do a maths exam before Christmas but there are still a few things to tick off before I can complete my Bachelor's degree.  I'm going to be incredibly busy with parliamentary work and the election campaign for the Provincial Councils over the next few months. When Mariko Peters returns from maternity leave in two months time I will go back to being a policy officer. However, I am now the next in line for a parliamentary position.'

It will be very expensive for you to spend so long on your studies if the Cabinet's plans go through.
'I am not sure they can raise tuition fees for the current students. You can't just change the rules of the game during a football match. It is also a very bad proposal. A lot of students develop through the activities they do besides their study. The end result is better graduates. You won't get a sustainable knowledge economy if you economize on young talent. We are doing everything we can to stop the plans being implemented.'

Can you actually achieve anything as an opposition party?
'We regularly get results. An example is the legislative proposal to extend paternity leave from two to five days, which is soon going to be dealt with in parliament. A majority of MPs are in favour. Also, one of our motions was adopted recently setting the norms for CO 2 emissions from new power plants. If you really go for it, you can make a difference.'
How do you deal with disappointments?
'They do affect you but as a politician you have to carry on and try again the next day. Your task is to stay optimistic. If you no longer believe in what you are doing you will be unable to stand up for your ideals. I call myself a pragmatic idealist. The guiding principle is my ideals are leading, but I work within the framework of political reality.'

Is it pleasant among all those politicians in The Hague?
'It can be a nest of vipers. The debates are often pretty vicious. Colleagues sometimes go to great lengths to trip you up. You have to constantly be on your guard and keep a level head. Personally, I'm quite a gentle, calm person but you often have to be savage in debates. Actually, I quite enjoy that. And everyone is very friendly again when the debate's over.'

Do you have a message for  'Wageningen'?
'I am proud I am studying at Wageningen. I have learnt a lot about ecology, nature policy and environmentally-friendly agriculture, but have also learnt things in a wider sense. For instance, knowing how to analyze environmental problems is useful for parliamentary debates about green issues. I also call on everyone to vote in the Provincial Council elections on 2 March, especially if you do not agree with this Cabinet.'
Niels van den Berge's CV
1984 Born in Bad Honnef in Germany, grew up on the island of Tholen in Zeeland Province
2002-2004 Spokesperson for the Green Left youth organization Dwars
Since 2004 Studying Forestry and Nature Management at Wageningen University
2004-2007 Job-share member of Wageningen municipality council for Green Left
2007-2009 Environmental policy officer for Green Left in Brussels
2009-2011 Policy officer for the Green Left party in the Lower House
2011 Interim Member of Parliament for Green Left for two months as of 12 January. Portfolio includes agriculture and nature.