There are two Dutch politicians who have made a name for themselves internationally and who have been in a duel for some time in the Netherlands: Mark Rutte, acting prime minister, right-wing liberal, and Geert Wilders, leader of the far-right. The former, who is running for his fourth term since 2010, has gained fame for his resilience. The other has become the most threatened and protected man in the country because of his rejection of Islam and immigration. But if it weren't for this and because the pandemic has conditioned everything, in the electoral campaign for the elections this Wednesday the name of Sigrid Kaag would have sounded louder (Rijswijk, 59 years). Left-wing liberal, diplomat, Acting Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation and candidate of his party, (D66, in its Dutch acronym) has been the only one capable of speaking of tolerance, the national nerve par excellence.
And he has said what almost no one wants to hear: that the word tolerance is more superficial than it seems and that it opens the door to populism. He has also ensured that the commitment, the pact, in plain language, cannot avoid making difficult decisions because the consensus cannot be downward. D66 has been rising in voting intention in the polls, and Kaag's tone – away from the manager for everything, like Rutte, or the always angry Wilders – has gained integers without losing his personality along the way.
Sigrid Kaag's professional biography is full of relevant positions. He has represented the United Nations Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East in Jerusalem, and worked in Geneva for the International Organization for Migration. She has been a UN Senior Advisor and UNICEF Regional Director General for the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Director of the Office of Foreign Relations of the UN Development Program and special coordinator of the organization for Lebanon.
Despite this trajectory, her face reached the general public in January 2014, when she was appointed coordinator of the joint mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations to eliminate the Syrian arsenal. In a world dominated by the military and men, in the middle of groups rebels and terrorists, she earned the nickname of the Iron Lady. It was put on by the drivers who took her when she arrived in The Hague from Moscow, New York and Damascus, as she explained in 2020 to the Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland. Kaag speaks six languages, including Arabic and Spanish, and his reports reflected the positions of all parties, something highly appreciated by his bosses at the time.
Has your international experience benefited you in the race to La Torrecita, the prime minister's office in Parliament, in The Hague, which has that shape? In any other country, the answer would be yes. It would be seen as a highly prepared politician who has smashed several glass ceilings and has managed to maintain two essential traits: her identity and the family privacy of a mother of four, married to a Palestinian dentist and diplomat.
In the Netherlands, however, Kaag's long absence from the national political scene has forced him to emphasize that she is as Dutch as anyone else, and that her wish is to be in her country. These kinds of misgivings are not new to her. Her marriage to a Muslim, she being Catholic, and their home in East Jerusalem have led her to explain that her children study in Holland and that "no woman should be questioned about her husband's origin or employment." His resume has also earned him comments on whether he will not be too elitist to understand the problems of the average citizen. But she insists that there are bakers and hairdressers in her family, that she studied with scholarships, and that when she was a minor she was in foster care for two years when her mother died because her father was ill. And above all, that her work as a senior UN official involved making decisions in adverse circumstances. Just what is expected of a prime minister.