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Raging Bull

Raging Bull

‘Bold people own half of the world’, that is how a Dutch saying goes. Lobbying often requires that boldness. Guts and daringly going for your goals. And sometimes it is the exact opposite. Dutch are often perceived as crude when abroad. In combination with a big mouth, they often miss their goals. Even more so in the sensitive, diplomatic environment of Brussels. Being right is not always the same as being right. Here it is definitely not.I now know that the strength is to combine goal-oriented Calvinism with Mediterranean flexibility. Those two ingredients combined make the best lobby cocktail. But at that time, I was not aware of this. I was still wet behind the ears, fighting like a Frisian bull to get my career off the ground. In retrospect, this turned out to be by far the most important lobby in my life. But I was not aware of that neither. I did not even know that this was called lobbying.

After my fiasco with La Plooij, I returned to Groningen. Intoxicated by Brussels, I had almost forgotten to finish my studies. Not unimportant though. I finally managed to do so, but my hangover was not gone yet. I was spit out by Brussels and when something like that happens, getting back in is not easy. When you’re in, you’re in but when you’re out, you’re out: the Brussels bastion closes itself. I had a taste of paradise, now I was outcast in Groningen. Moreover, there was an economic crisis and unemployment was on the rise. I applied for pretty much every type of job, even city councils. How low could I go? Apparently very low because even the city council of Tytsjerksteradiel (community of small villages in the Friesland province) turned me down. I wrote no less than sixty letters and kept them all as a souvenir of my deepest depression. But it got worse still. I started to run out of money. I will never forget that one visit to the social security office. So humiliating; never again. Possibly, that experience gave me the strength I needed most at that moment.

Willy De Clercq still owed me one. This was due to my internship with the European liberals (see 2.2). The miracle happened all of a sudden. I was lying on my cold student mattress, dazed by booze and deception. The phone rang. Mr De Clercq’s assistant. He had gotten a job at the European Commission and the Minister was looking for a new staff member as soon as possible. They thought of me. They asked me to apply and I did so imminently, this was my dream job! No Tytsjerksteradiel, but Brussels, back to the holiest of the holy: the Minister’s cabinet, the centre of power. During the interview, I was tense, very tense as there was a lot at stake. I perspired profusely. De Clercq wanted to give me the job, but there were a lot of counter forces. My previous employer (see 2.4) had given me a bad reference.

He found it difficult, it was bad news, I saw that. De Clercq thanked me and told me that he needed more time. I was so close, yet still so far. The miracle had not happened yet; I was almost back to square one.

Coffee at Place du Luxembourg. At that time there was not much happening there. There were not more than two men and a dog. Let me think. I happened to be in Brussels. I called my former VVD colleagues. No one answered the phone. No one had time. It did not come at a good time, but I did not give up. Maybe tomorrow. I called a friend where I could stay overnight.

The next morning, I was able to meet Jan-Kees Wiebenga, the soon to be State Councillor. Florus Wijsenbeek (see 2.9) had also freed some time to see me. They were willing to put in a good word for me with Willy. Did it exist after all? Friendship in politics? Maybe my lobby was a bit thin, but my motivation was enormous. I kept constantly thinking about the social security office and of her.

Back in Groningen, waiting near the telephone. Desperate. Depressed. He would call this week, but had not called yet. I was slowly going mad. It was Strasbourg-week, so I called his office in Ghent. The Minister would be back on Friday and would possibly have some time for a short phone call. It was not a done deed; unemployed student calling swamped Minister. The bull was gathering steam.

Dead serious, I told Linda, the secretary: “I have to speak to him, it is a matter of life or death.”

Out of sheer fright she booked an appointment in his agenda. Friday 15.00 pm. I did not sleep that night and lived intoxicated on coffee and cigarettes. It was all or nothing. Time seemed to be slowing down. I had a severe headache but my Frisian Fire was back. I thought of her and knew that this was the job I Had to have. I felt that this was going to be a turning point. It was 15.00 pm sharp. With trembling hands, I called Ghent and Linda put me through. It was the Minister himself. I fought like a lion, every word counted.

I gave everything I had, I showed it all. I would give everything. Work myself to death.

He should not think of her, but of the others. And… When I had finished my rage, it was quiet for a moment on the other side. This is something that the triple Deputy Prime Minister had never seen. So bold. He told me that the others had called him as well and that he appreciated my dedication, but that he needed some more time. He informed me that I would receive a call on Monday and wished me a nice weekend. I was wrecked.

It was all but an enjoyable weekend. I had gone really deep. Sleepless and insecure. Had I gone too far? Had I blown it all? More booze, coffee, cigarettes, staring at the phone without interruption. It was the longest weekend of my life, time seemed to have stopped. The decisive Monday. All of a sudden it happened so fast. The phone rang. Linda. She had good news. He had picked me and I could start next week. I was dreaming. Hallelujah! The lobby of my life. Linda also mentioned that the Minister had appreciated the Dutch bull in me. She laughed. I called pretty much everyone: my parents, friends, half the world. It turned into a big fat Greek wedding; we celebrated for three days and nights.

It was accomplished. The feeling of justice and revenge was very strong. A useful lesson that would come in handy later on: sometimes, bold people rule the world.