Secret Memos

1 April 2008

Secret Memos

Harry van Bommel

Harry van BommelIn politics agreements are often arrived at and promises made via secret memos. These are informal notes available only to those directly involved. They contain engagements which are not for general consumption. My colleague Ewout Irrgang, the SP's development specialist, recently received a secret memo in which agreements between the former Labour (PvdA) development minister Eveline Herfkens and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were contained regarding a non-approved rent subsidy which she would receive on top of her huge salary as a special adviser to the UN. This rent subsidy was also enormous, around a quarter of a million.

It is always exceptionally exciting to hold such secret items in your hand. I have, for instance, had in my hand secret agreements of the Dutch Council of Ministers, in which the ministers agreed that they would never give their support to a second referendum on the European Treaty.

This week I once again had a secret memo under my nose. It happened during a debate on next week's NATO summit. Central to it was the question of whether Ukraine and Georgia could become candidate members of NATO. 'No' said, amongst others, Labour, the SP and the Christian Union. In Ukraine a major part of the population is against membership, in Georgia there is serious instability, while in neighbouring Russia NATO's advance eastwards is seen as a dangerous menace. The 'Cold War' lives again, I argued.

Because Christian Democrat (CDA) Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen was not prepared to promise that he would block a decision in favour of candidate membership, I announced that I would be proposing a motion on the matter. Immediately the minister grabbed a pen and wrote a secret memo to Labour spokesman Martijn van Dam who was sitting two places away from me. I was able to read the memo over his shoulder, and I saw that the minister had written something on the use of the veto. He would not be prepared to use it if the Netherlands turned out to be the only opponent of candidate membership. In short, the Netherlands is indeed against this move but will swallow its objections if we are the only ones. Pure opportunism, in other words.

On Tuesday I will propose my motion, nevertheless, to the effect that this candidate membership must be blocked. This will present a curious spectacle. The government is in reality also against, the PvdA is certainly against, but the chance that the motion will gain a majority is small. With his secret memo, Mr Verhagen has put the Labour Party in a difficult position. Will Labour keep its word and continue to oppose the move or will they plump, as usual, for peace within their coalition with the CDA?

Just give me one guess!

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