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Thursday, 24 February 2011

Former Dutch Minister of Transport and Public Works Camiel Eurlings faces moral hazard: did he serve country or Air France-KLM?

Some stories are like good wine: the longer you taste them, the better they become. Normally yesterdays’ newspaper is todays’ wrapping paper for fish, but some stories sink in. Here are the highlights of a percolating story about the former crown prince of Jan-Peter Balkenende, the last Prime-Minister of The Netherlands:

Camiel Eurlings, member of the CDA (Christian Democratic) political party and former minister of Transport and Public Works for The Netherlands will become the new managing director of KLM The Netherlands, according to NRC Handelsblad (; link in Dutch).
He will lead the freight division of the airline company, according to Air France-KLM (French-Dutch Airliner- EL). Groenlinks (environmental left-wing party- EL) and the Socialist Party react critically to the news.
Eurlings is taking over the management portfolio of Peter Hartman, who will remain with the company. The board of directors is furthermore extended with business manager Erik Varwijk.
Eurlings announced last year in a surprise-move to withdraw from politics when his term as transport minister would have ended, just before the elections for the 2nd Chamber of Dutch parliament took place. Although the minister was seen as a future leader for the CDA, he stated that his family life forced him to withdraw from standing at the political forefront.
As Transport Minister Camiel Eurlings introduced the flying tax, to the discontentment of Schiphol Airport and KLM. But he was not insensitive for the negative effects of the tax on the Dutch aviation sector. In 2009 the flying tax was discarded again: “We have to keep our aviation sector competitive” according to the minister.
Groenlinks MP Liesbeth van Tongeren is unpleasantly surprised that Eurlings will get a job in a company that was a direct subject to his decisions as minister. “This smells like a conflict of interest” according to the stateswoman.[…]

According to Paul de Clerck, member of lobby watchdog “Alter-EU”, in an Op-Ed in De Volkskrant of February 24: “New job Eurlings damages the standing of politics” (link in Dutch). Here are some pertinent snips:

“The appearances are against Eurlings, as he defended KLM multiple times during his ministry. It provokes the question whether he defended the public interest or KLM’s interests, his future employer. This is the kind of situation that occurs more and more often and that one as a minister should prevent. 
Eurlings wanted to be an energetic, gung ho minister. That he had often a keen eye for the interests of his future employer KLM, becomes clear now:
-  He wanted to let the taxpayer foot the bill for costs that KLM made, due to the Icelandic ash cloud
-  He discarded the flying tax under pressure of the aviation sector
-  He cleared the way for the expansion of KLM and Schiphol, hurting the interests of the people living close to the airport
That Eurlings now commences at KLM hurts the peoples’ trust in politics. It confirms the image that politicians, after working in government positions, are rewarded by the business community for services rendered. For a salary that exceeds the maximum pay for politicians multiple times, without any doubt.[…]" 

The article, however unfortunately in Dutch, is an absolute must-read.

Reading these articles, the following conclusions are very obvious:
-      Of course Eurlings had a keen eye for the interests of his future employer

-      Of course he will deny this even after 30 minutes of “waterboarding”

-      Of course this smells as much like corruption and manipulation, as former army generals getting a wellpaid advisory job at the military-industrial complex after their retirement.

-      Of course “evidence” is here the neglected stepchild of “suspicions”

-      Of course all kinds of people in The Netherlands are now looking for new legislation to prevent this from happening again in the future.

-      Of course it is an illusion that you can legislate these moral hazards away from politics

As long as people remain people, things like this will happen. Making yourself angry about it doesn’t help at all.


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