Sigrid Kaag (Rijswijk, 61 years old) is one of the most powerful women in the Netherlands. The deputy prime minister, finance minister and leader of the liberal Democrat 66 party, is used to being at the centre of the hurricane. Before entering the government, she had worked as a diplomat in countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Sudan. But for what happened on a television set on May 28, I was not prepared. College Tour is a show known for its different interviews than usual. She expected to receive bold questions about her childhood or some joke about why she doesn't know how to cook. But instead, he found his two daughters, ages 25 and 19. There, live, while images were broadcast of the minister surrounded by a crowd with lit torches, they told her that they were very worried about the death threats she had received since the family returned to the Netherlands in 2017. And they told him they would like him to find another job.
Bloomberg headlined: "Netherlands' first female finance minister considers leaving government after death threats." She denies the major. "My daughters had never asked me to quit my job. And now they have. But I will be the one to decide how and under what circumstances I do it, not others. And of course I will not do it on a television set, "he tells EL PAÍS at the residence of the Dutch ambassador in Madrid. In addition, she warns of the obvious risks to democracy posed by the messages of hatred that she, and many people like her, receive more and more frequently. "We live in a very polarized political climate, hijacked by radical right-wing extremist groups. It is a threat to democracy that we must take very seriously," he says.
In Kaag's case, misogyny is mixed with racism. Because this woman is married to a Palestinian and her daughters have dark skin. They reminded him of the case of Els Borst, a former Dutch minister who in 2012 was murdered by a man with psychiatric problems. And they said they feared it would end up the same. "When we arrived, we thought Dutch society was much more tolerant. Now we don't think the country is ready for someone like our mother," they said, saying they couldn't walk the dog for fear of verbal or physical aggression.
Sigrid Kaag, during the interview in Madrid. Luis Sevillano
The minister responds that the most radical voices are using the discontent and indignation of the people as a weapon: "There is a politician who constantly calls me a 'witch'. You may think it's simply misogyny and disrespect. But it's about dehumanizing the political opponent and thus making the whole atmosphere unbreathable."
The minister sees something good in all this: the program served to ignite a debate. And he warns that this polarization can set back many people, especially women or people of color, who are thinking about entering politics. "Moderate voices must transcend party lines and unite. Much more is at stake here than an electoral victory or defeat. Mutual respect and dignity are fundamental requirements for a democracy."
"Moderate parties suffer from a confidence deficit. We try to do the right things, but that's not how broad layers of the population perceive it." What is the answer to reach these sectors? "I don't have it. I don't think anyone has it. If anyone has it, please tweet it," he says with a laugh.
European democracies face the challenge of how to deal with far-right forces. There is the German and Dutch model – where these parties meet with rejection from the rest of the parliamentary arc. And that of countries like Italy and soon Finland (and perhaps Spain), in which the center-right governs with the ultras. What is the right model? "Every country is different. In the party I lead, Democrats 66, we have always been very clear: we will never collaborate with Geert Wilders' Freedom Party, because we have irreconcilable values. They are Islamophobic, which goes against the fundamental value of choosing your religion."
Sigrid Kaag, this Monday, June 5, in the garden of the residence of the ambassador of the Netherlands in Madrid. Luis Sevillano
Kaag sets a criterion that he believes the rest of the formations should follow: "If there is a difference with your basic principles, you have to make it clear before the elections. In my party we have always been very clear, others doubted. I think we've been proven right."
Praise for Nadia Calviño
Kaag did not travel to Madrid on Monday to discuss these issues. Before the interview with this newspaper, he met with his Spanish counterpart, Vice President Nadia Calviño, with whom he has a great harmony despite being from different political families (she is a liberal, and Calviño a socialist).
"I like working with her. He is very capable and has a lot of international experience. He knows how to navigate between differences. He knows the issues he deals with very well. She is highly respected, not only by me, but by many other colleagues," he says. The Dutch minister does not want to comment on internal Spanish affairs, but acknowledges that she would regret not working with Calviño again if she leaves the Government after the elections on July 23. "I would miss her a lot, yes," he admits.
On the impact that the Spanish elections may have on the agenda of the presidency of the EU, which Spain assumes in the second half of the year, he prefers not to comment. "I trust in the professionalism and commitment of the Spanish presidency to fulfill the agenda," he simply responds. When reminded that it is unusual for the EU presidency to coincide with an election, she insists on her neutrality: "I am sure it has been taken into account. Politics is full of unexpected facts. The stakes are high with negotiating fiscal rules. So let's trust that the Spanish government will know how to move forward."
No to "artificial stereotypes"
EU tax rules are one of the hottest issues Kaag and his colleagues now have on their hands. "We need to reduce our debt and have room for reforms and investment. And for this we seek a balance: if we give more flexibility to each country to adjust its accounts, we also have to set numerical targets. We need to have oversight capacity, including the use of sanctions," he says in a room at the ambassador's residence.
Are the divisions between north and south, between hawks and doves, that tore it apart during the euro crisis, returning to Europe? " I don't believe in artificial stereotypes. They are detrimental to achieving sound fiscal rules. This is the EU's last chance to show that it can reach such a deal. My fear is that, if we do not succeed, we will return to the old Stability and Growth Pact, which has been shown not to have worked," he replies.
Kaag distances himself from predecessors such as Jeroen Dijsselbloem and Wopke Hoekstra, who outraged many southern Europeans with comments that fueled that division. Now, the Dutch Finance Ministry, one of the toughest countries in its demand for fiscal rigor, has a different tone. But is it also a change of content? "Tone is one thing, but more important is the effort to reach an understanding. Don't be distracted by superficial elements," he replies. The minister does not want to make predictions about the chances of reaching an agreement this year: "If it is achieved, it will be a strength of the Spanish presidency. We have to do our part. But now it's hard to anticipate."
On Ukraine, Kaag insists that it is necessary for the EU to do "everything necessary and for as long as necessary" to support the country invaded by Russia. "I am very happy to see how Europe has engaged. We have done much more than expected. But we have to continue, regardless of the political changes or the elections that come." Do you fear citizen fatigue? "Politicians must anticipate and ensure that the population continues to support decisions in favor of Ukraine. And don't feel that this is done at your expense. That would only play in Russia's favor. We must do everything necessary in our countries to avoid this division. But the most important thing is to continue to support Ukraine, restore its territorial integrity and defend European values."
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