Nathalie de T'Serclaes
© Jan 2001
Nathalie de T'SerclaesNathalie de T'Serclaes slowly grew into the political world. She had always been interested in politics in a general way. At home they were not at all politically committed or active, at least not recently. They even never discussed politics. But she was.
"I studied sociology, that was in the seventies. I was at the university in May 68, which helps to situate the context. It might not have been a coincidence that I wrote a thesis on the situation in Chile at the political level during the Allende period. I've always been interested in politics."
Once trained as a sociologist she explored the labour market, searching the kind of work she would like to do, when she met by coincidence the former president of the political women's group of the PSC, the Francophone Christian-democrats.
"I didn't really see the sector in which I wanted to work. I explored several tracks. 1975 was also the international woman's year. And finally I thought that there might be interesting things to do in politics. It was a bit by coincidence that I had the opportunity to meet the one responsible for the political women's group of the PSC who was looking for someone, because at that time they wanted, at least within the PSC, to develop the party's women's organisation. I was recruited to work within the structure of the party. So that is the way I entered politics. At that time I absolutely imagined to launch myself at the electoral level. It was rather a prolongation of my sociology studies, of me being interested in women's issues. I felt motivated for this kind of work and that's it. It was the women's ticket that made me go into politics and to become the member of a party."
That was in 1976. It was evident that once she would work for the party she would also become a member. Her choice for the party was not something clear since long. It would be more correct to say that she had more affinities with the PSC than with other parties, and that by elimination of the parties with which she had no affinity she would arrive at the PSC. Her family background, coming from a Christian family, might have had an impact too.
de T'Serclaes worked as the vice secretary general of the PSC's political women's group until 1980, when she herself became the secretary general. She remained in that function for another four years. Wanting to move on she switched over to the party headquarters and became the vice secretary-general of the PSC. She stayed in that function until 1989.
"I worked as a technocrat rather than a politician at that time. I didn't at all think in terms of an electoral mandate. It was the files I was interested in."
Her private situation might also explain why she had no electoral ambitions: meanwhile she had got married and had three young children. Towards the end of the eighties her perspective changed.
"At a given moment I told myself that I had to choose. I couldn't remain were I was for the rest of my life, politics doesn't work that way. So I told myself 'what should I do?'. I could have gone for a technocratic career, get nominated in a ministerial cabinet or so, but I didn't feel for it because I wanted to be autonomous. I didn't want to depend on someone else. I'm not a soul to put in an administration, I didn't want to join a ministerial cabinet, it ties you too much to a minister. So I told myself, that was left for me was to enter the arena. I felt for it and I wanted to see whether I was credible in the arena."
She had already been placed on the lists for the local elections of 1976 and 1982, but without any ambition. It is evident that if you're working for the party they place you on the list. Not on an eligible or visible place, but you figure on it. In 1987 she was the second successor for the federal elections. It was the first time she did a real campaign. Not in order to get elected, that would be unrealistic, but in order to get as many votes as possible. In order to prove what she was worth.
In 1988 local elections took place. Due to the good score obtained during the previous elections she was placed fourth on the list, and the first woman. To her these elections were very important because she had to prove that she was credible.
1988 was the first time she got elected. Since she has always been a member of the local council. Initially she was actually not really interested in local politics.
"Local politics did not interest me, my goal was situated at a rather different level. I wanted to have a foot in it, but it wasn't my priority. I was not sure that I wanted to launch myself in it."
"Local politics were an amusing discovery and I found out that the local level was much more interesting than I had ever imagined: the contact with the people and the concrete problems situated at a practical level that this represents."
de T'Serclaes thinks that the elections of 1987 and 1988 have been the most important ones. Since then she still always had to fight for a good place on the list, but things were easier. She was credible and taken into account.
In 1989 she was elected to the regional Council of Brussels Capital Region. She stayed there until 1991 when she switched over to the Council of the French Community. There she stayed until 1994.
In 1991 she got elected to the federal Lower House and stayed there for nearly two legislatures. In 1988 she retired. Together with several other members of the PSC, she left the party and founded another movement, the MCC, Mouvement des Citoyens pour le Changement, the movement of citizens for change. They considered that the PSC did not want to evolve, that it went backwards rather than forwards.
In 1999 she got elected to the Upper House, representing the MCC in a cartel with the Francophone Liberals (PRL) and Regionalists (FDF).
For de T'Serclaes an electoral mandate is something very special.
"The first time you're elected, it is impressive. I thought, wow, people voted for me, I got elected, I represent people. This is something important. Since, I always have the same feeling every time I take the oath following on an election: I am responsible for something, people trust me, so I have to do a proper job. Even now, after several elections, it has not become trivial for me to take the oath. It is something I consider to be very important, it is a delegation on behalf of the people, an important act of citizenship."
Women's issues have always been important to her, also once she was elected, even if it was sometimes in an indirect way: the trafficking of human beings, children's issues, etc. She is a member of the parliamentary committee on trafficking human beings and on prostitution.
During the previous legislature she was also a member of the parliamentary committee 'Dutroux', which was set up in the wake of the political and other scandals of 1997. That was a fascinating experience.
"That was a very special experience, the very intense contact with the people, and finally also the valorisation of the work we do. People approached us in the street in order to thank us: 'it is great what you're doing'. People followed what we were doing, and that is very valorising. That is an experience which I will never forget. It is the people's valorisation of the work we do that made me say: 'well, after all we do not work for nothing neither for noboby'. Because everything is focused on the government and on what does the government, although we deliver good work, we deliver interesting work, but it is not really valorised."
In general one could say that she always focused on societal problems in the large sense of the term.
And she wanted to have an impact.
"I like to have an impact, to provoke mechanisms - but that might have to do with my training as a sociologist - that make society change, laws that make things get moving."
Therefore, she has both in the federal Lower House and Upper House been a member of the parliamentary committee on Justice.
"At the beginning of my career at the political women's group of the PSC I participated in legislative work that the female - and some male - MPs undertook on important topics such as the reform of contract of marriage, the surviving married partner, abortion, and I saw all the work that took place within the parliamentary committee on justice. I always told myself that if one day I would be an MP, I would like to join the parliamentary committee on Justice, because it is in there that you can do the most interested work concerning societal problems. The issues I was interested in, societal problems, it is there that they are dealt with."
She also follows the work of the parliamentary committee on European affairs, but that is rather for reasons of pure and personal interest.
At the local level she does not focus on societal problems. She rather concentrates on budgetary issues, because the issue of finances is very concrete at the local level: there is finally decided how much money for what. Whereas there is no room for legislative issues at the local level. The issues she likes to deal with in terms of contents, are not really dealt with at the local level.
de T'Serclaes has three political priorities. The first one is to continue working on the recompostion of the political landscape, the evolution of parties and movements, their topics and priorities.
The second political priority is linked to the first one: it concerns the renewal of our political system as such. The issue of direct democracy, of referendums,etc.
"We have to improve our political system the way we live it, we arrived at the limits of a system."
A third priority concerns the follow up of the work she followed within the two parliamentary committees on the trafficking of human beings and the political scandals of 1997. First measures have been taken, but there is the whole follow up of reforming the police system, etc.
She herself does not have any problems, she has found her place and they do take her into account. But on the whole politics is still a man's world. And it will remain one until there are not more women in politics. Because their number is important. For the moment being they are too few in order to change politics. And it is the way the game is played that has to change, too.
The MCC is a small movement, led by a triumvirate and one could not imagine that this triumvirate would be renewed without containing a woman. But there are no formal rules. In the PSC there were rules, but attached as an external protocol to the party statutes. It was very difficult to obtain rules.
However, rules work, it is the only thing that works.
"I'm pro parity and alternation. Okay, let us start with a form of alternation, because it is difficult and we have to be realistic. But that they start with something like they voted in France: to have three men and three women among the first six. Because it makes things progress. I'm for parity, really, I don't see any other system. In order to force a change. Men function in a male world and they will go and search their friends."
The same goes for women. During the last local elections four out of the five candidates elected on her list were women. She thinks that men get less interested in local politics because it is a less powerful level, but the fact that she, a woman, recruited candidates also played a role.
"If I'm looking for candidates, whom could I look for, leaving aside those who are already present and who would like to be on the list? I look among the people whom I know, ie women."
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