Profession/ Current priorities
Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments
© May 2001
Patricia RemakMember of Parliament of the Netherlands - Tweede Kamer, representative of the conservative-liberal party VVD
I wasn't happy with my living environment. I live in Amsterdam Zuid-Oost , and I was really angry about all the garbage that was lying everywhere, and about all the people that just didn't use the trashcans. After a lot of complaining, people suggested that I could best do something about it when I joined local politics. That hadn't crossed my mind before, I was busy with my job and my children, and thought, maybe someone else is more suitable. But they convinced me that I should join local politics. I helped writing the programme for elections. Soon I became a member of the local council, and was a member of the committee of environmental issues. With the next elections, I even became alderperson of the council of Amsterdam Zuid-Oost.
Do/did you have a role model?
No. I didn't have an example. I thought, I fit the job description. I didn't have an idea of how it should be, because it as a new council. You didn't know what to expect. Well, not that I really wanted to be like someone - who is like me in politics anyway? But I admire Nelson Mandela, but also Margaret Thatcher. I do not fully agree with her political standpoints, but I admire the way she stood up between all the gentlemen. British politics is a very conservative environment.
Does political involvement or policy making have a tradition in your family?
My family is involved in a lot of voluntary work, is very socially engaged, and have been members of the Social-Democrat party PvdA since this party did so much for the independence of Surinam. But they were not active in politics whatsoever. My family is involved in a lot of voluntary work, is very socially engaged, and have been members of the Social-Democrat party PvdA since this party did so much for the independence of Surinam. But they were not active in politics whatsoever.
Have you been engaged in political grassroots activities before your involvement in party politics - e.g. in a citizens' rights, parents or other initiative?
Yes, in the board of the primary school of my daughter, the youth organisation of the church I belong to, and in the Zeister Zendelingen Genootschap. That is actually the oldest organisation for developmental aid in the Netherlands. It exists already 250 years! It is a bit like Novib, but then very small. But ou can imagine what a conservative group of people that is. I was the first woman in the board ever, in all those centuries.
What were important experiences you made? I learned to be more patient. When I see something that needs change, I always want to change it now - at this moment, immediately. I learned that you have to talk very long before you can convince someone of your viewpoint. And I learned to listen. I think- we need action, something needs to be done, right now. And I learned that that is not always possible.
Where there disruptions in your political career path and why?
No, I started in the local department of the VVD, and got straight up.
Where there disruptions in your biography that have/had an impact on your political career?
How and why did your objectives change during your political career?
They didn't. I always wanted to be someone who is good in solving problems - both in work and in my political career. So I try to do the job as good as possible, and be a good representative.
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Actually, it came quite naturally. I lived in Hoorn, and I became a member of the PvdA (Labour, MB). That had to do with a sense of history. My parents are members of the PvdA, because the party did so much for the Surinam people in the Netherlands and for the independence. Especially prime minister Den Uyl. So I joined the party, too. I was quite active in the party in that time, in my residence Hoorn. But I couldn't agree with the weak attitude towards unemployment. Like: 'well, it is recession at this time, it will be better in a couple of years'. I was very afraid, very insecure about the future, and I was of the opinion that the PvdA didn't have any alternatives. And then Bolkestein came into sight (the party leader of the VVD for some time, MB), and he clearly stated what needed to be done, in my opinion. But I didn't switch over to the VVD immediately. I was without party affiliation for five years. I visited meetings of all the large parties, and then decided to be a member of the VVD.
Which party do you belong to? Since when?
I am a member of the VVD (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie - People's party for Freedom and Democracy, a conservative-liberal party, the second party in the Netherlands at this moment, MB). I became a member when Frits Bolkestein was leader of the party. I really admired the way he can say things in simple words. I do agree with his standpoints on economic issues, and I like the way he addresses issues that are politically incorrect to talk about. When he became an important player in the party, I became a member.
Does your party have en equal opportunities regulation?
Besides from striving for as much women in the house as the percentage of female members, no. And I think it really necessary to do something more - that we work on parity. The number has to be 40 % by the next elections. It is very important to mirror society.
How did you get into running for an office?
I was pregnant with my third child, and I was an alderperson of Amsterdam Zuid-Oost. And in that time, they were making the list for the Lower House. And I got quite famous; there were interviews for newspapers, periodicals and the television. Quite a number of persons called me that I should place my name on the list. But I wasn't concerned with that at all. I didn't think about the possibility to be elected to the Lower House. I was just busy with my pregnancy, and with my position as an alderperson. And while I was in the hospital, a couple of days after the birth of my third daughter, someone called me in the hospital. I didn't like that, really, but it was the last day to come forward as a candidate- so I gave my permission, and someone else enlisted me. And I still had to think about it - could I handle it with three small children? I talked with my husband about it. Should I give up my steady position, and the work I really like for something that I don't know what to expect?
Also, I thought it was important to contribute at the national level, because I have the experience at the local level what policy is possible to implement, and what policy isn't. I thought, maybe I can contribute to the understanding of politics on the local level.
Do you have mentors within your party?
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I worked in the harbours, in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Schiphol airport, for the Customs. And politics and my work are both involved in problem solving. If a taxpayer pays his bills, you never see or hear about it. You have to do with problems, or you try to prevent problems. It is the same as you do in politics.
In which areas do you see your special competencies?
I am reasonable strong in the substance of matters. I can see things in perspective. I take a realistic view at things, I am standing firm in my shoes, and people cannot shock me easily. I can't help it, but I cannot make a view of something I never have had in hand before. So I approach things with a quite open mind.
Which are your political priorities?
I really was irritated by the way national politics makes laws for the local level. They just don't know what is happening at the local level. So I keep an eye open for the implementation of the policy at the local level. Is it possible in the multitude of laws and regulation to implement a certain policy?
And further- as good as possible I prepare for the general meetings, to cover all the standpoints in advance. And building a good relationship with my colleagues. Not only of my party, but over the whole House. And I invest in that. I want to be a good politician.
Which are your main fields of action?
Tax law- especially indirect taxes, developmental aid, and then education within that field, European Affairs and Petitions.
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I would like to change the view that exists about women, migrants and the image of the VVD across the country. The VVD has to become a party that appeals more to women and migrants. Therefore I give lectures across the nation to explain what my standpoints are, and show that the party is not only for white, middle class men.
Further, I want to be a good representative. There are a lot of people here, and I want to be one people say about: 'That is a good one'.
How and why did your objectives change during your political career?
Do equal opportunity strategies - in your opinion - have an impact in your country to promote women in decision-making?
Well, eh, well, yes, hmmm, not really. I don't think it has to do with the regulation. The regulation was too late anyway; the increase of women had already started. The political parties themselves realised that something had to change, wouldn't they lose their appeal to female voters. Modern political parties need to have good, and a lot of women. Otherwise they loose their electorate. So it has more to do with the parties themselves than with the regulation.
Did you benefit from these strategies?
Of course - they need capable women in national politics, so I got the opportunity to climb fast. The only problem is, that the national politics seems to absorb all the women from the local level. Every time there is a very good local representative, she is asked for the House. That is a pity.
Do you see direct or indirect discrimination in "conventional" policy making? What is it that keeps women from committing themselves to politics? What are the major obstacles that women need to overcome in their endeavour to participate in political decision-making? Which are the obstacles you had to fight in your own political career?
I think it is important that wherever you are, that there is a mirror of the Dutch society. That is often not the case. I never experienced it, in my youth or later. I have always been the only black person. Even at university I was the only one. That doesn't matter, but I never experienced it otherwise. I have always been the pioneer. Maybe it is something I have to keep in mind, that it is something that has to develop. It doesn't matter to me, I am not waiting for it. But it would be nice if it were more balanced. But the people that should do it, must really want to do it. And I can imagine that they don't.
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