Again, the phone rings at Johan Remkes to solve a headache file

If there is something going on in politics that seems unsolvable, who do you call? Johan Remkes. Once again, the 71-year-old VVD mastodon has been drummed up as the Hague ghostbuster. This time, as an โ€œindependent interlocutorโ€, he must try to mediate the spirit back in the bottle in the rising nitrogen conflict between farmers and the cabinet.

In recent years, Remkes proved indispensable as a solver of headache files. The most fresh thing in the memory is the smoothing of the formation of Rutte IV Cabinet. Each potential coalition party ruled out a necessary other party, following the crisis of confidence that arose when Prime Minister Rutte had proposed a โ€œposition elsewhereโ€ for critical CDA MP Pieter Omtzigt. With a lot of spiritual massage work, he managed to force a restart of Rutte III cabinet, by getting VVD, D66, CDA and ChristenUnie back to the negotiating table.

Retired Problem Solver

The Groninger has a long track record in politics. He has served just about every position imaginable. Remkes once started as a deputy in his home province, then he was a member of the House of Representatives, Secretary of State, Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Commissioner of the King. So far his regular career.

After leaving as Kings commissioner in North Holland in 2018, Remkes announced his retirement. He wanted to spend more time on his personal life. But little of these plans came to fruition when considerable political problems arose in The Hague – that is, the municipality of The Hague.

Mayor Pauline Krikke stepped up in 2019 after a very critical report about the bonfire in Scheveningen that got out of hand. At the same time, a crisis had also arisen due to corruption investigations into aldermen Richard de Mos and Rachid Guernaoui, which caused the college to fall.

Remkes was recalled from Groningen to observe the mayors position, and to put things in order in the Hague city council. That was successful. After nine months, he handed over the chain of office to the new mayor Jan van Zanen, and was promptly appointed honorary citizen of The Hague.

In the meantime, Remkes had also delved into the nitrogen file. In 2019, the Council of State had put a line through the Dutch nitrogen policy and Remkes, as chairman of the Advisory College of Nitrogen Issues, had to issue a report on how to proceed. Remkes advice was presented in June 2020 and serves as a kind of source document of the cabinets current nitrogen plans.

After two troubleshoot jobs, Remkes said he would really retire. However, not much later, Remkes nuanced that by saying that a new job from Groningen had to be able to be done. A few months later, he became acting governor in Limburg.

The entire provincial government had resigned to a subsidy scandal and Remkes had to provide a new board. Even during his temporary governorship, Remkes was also allowed to try to form a new government coalition. It resulted in Rutte IV cabinet.

Now Remkes has to come to the aid of the cabinet again as a mediator in the farming crisis. Farmers organizations and some opposition parties react lukewarm to extremely critical of Remkes appointment. A VVD member who, with his report, was also at the substantive basis of the current nitrogen plan is difficult to call an โ€œindependent interlocutorโ€, is the criticism.

Political preference in the background

Remkes will probably parry that with reference to his past. Even when he was chairman of the Advisory College of Nitrogen Issues, he received similar criticism. But despite his background as a VVDer, he still released a firm critical report on the plans of a cabinet led by VVDer Mark Rutte, and he did not find that difficult, he told NRC: โ€œI sit there as an independent chairman. If you put your own political preference in such a role at the forefront and want to push through your own views, then it becomes a hopeless failure.โ€

Nevertheless, there is a chance that Remkes opponents will put his background in the foreground, although they too have to admit that Remkes has achieved great success in the past. โ€œGreat respect for his track record is beyond disputeโ€, says leader Caroline van der Plas of the Boerburger Movement. Now its up to him to convince critics who think hes automatically on the side of the cabinet that they see ghosts.