The EU’s New “Terrorism Czar”

I really wanted to use this weblog entry to continue my coverage of the Danish newspaper Politiken’s great “Europa XL” series of cultural portraits of the current EU member-states. (Portugal was up next.) But 1) Politiken has changed its on-line format since I last looked (check it out), and in that new format I’m having a hard time finding anything about “Europa XL” (although that was supposed to be an on-going, long-running series that was going to segue into covering the ten new EU member-states); and 2) There are a heck of a lot of important things going on now, like the just-ended EU summit, not mention changes of government in both Spain and Poland (the key states blocking progress on approving the proposed EU Constitution back last December, you may recall).

So OK, let’s take one of those important new developments – namely the appointment of the Dutchman Gijs de Vries as Europe’s newly-created “terrorism czar” – and see what we can find out from the Dutch press about this guy and what he’s supposed to do.


First of all: My, he certainly does have a distinctive Dutch name, doesn’t he?, one that is quite a challenge for non-Dutch commentators to pronounce. (I’m referring specifically to the “Gijs,” of course; his name stands in contrast to distinctive Dutch names which, however, are quite easy for foreigners to pronounce, such as “Wim Kok,” the former prime minister.) You could say that his name is not so much Dutch as it is Frisian, for “de Vries” actually means “the Frisian” – but it means “the Frisian” in Dutch. In all, a distinctive Dutch name indeed, and it will be fun to hear what reporters on the radio can make of it.

Het Parool, in its article Gijs de Vries Almost Certainly “Terror-Pope”, offers the best summary of the man’s CV. (Leave aside, if you can, the unfortunate choice of that term “terror-pope” – terreurpaus – by Het Parool’s unnamed writer.) De Vries is now 48 years old, was for many years a member of the European Parliament for the VVD, the Netherlands’ “liberal” (i.e. conservative, free-market) party, and was in fact chairman of the EP’s at-the-time 52-member liberal faction. Most recently, he represented the Netherlands at that European Convention, chaired by the Frenchman Valéry Giscard D’Estaing, which drew up the proposed European Constitution. (This got a new lease-on-life at that just-concluded EU summit in Brussels, something we can return to in a future posting.)

But what qualified De Vries for this sort of security-related position? Well, in 1994 he was offered the position of Dutch state-secretary of Defense (i.e. not as the Minister, but rather as the head of the bureaucracy who works under the Minister, the state-secretary), but he declined in favor of staying in the EP. More relevantly. from 1998 to 2002 he was state-secretary for the Ministry of Internal Affairs – i.e. the Interior Ministry (closest American equivalent: Department of Justice). He was there particularly responsible for instituting a nation-wide system for communications between the various public-order services: the police, fire, emergency medical services.


The quality daily NRC Handelsblad also steps here in with a contribution about De Vries (De Vries European Terror-Fighter), but can’t help itself from throwing in a sharp observation from a closer examination of his record in that late-90s Dutch cabinet under Wim Kok. There in Internal Affairs Ministry the he was specifically tasked with rampenbestrijding – i.e. with setting up measures to deal effectively with rampen, catastrophes. And catastrophes did strike the Netherlands during his term in office, namely the huge fireworks explosion which devastated the eastern city of Enschede in May, 2000, and the disastrous fire in a café in the North Holland town of Volendam during celebrations of the 2001 New Year. The NRC suggests that the authorities’ preparation for, and dealing with, those incidents hardly can be considered flawless.

Finally, and curiously, the best coverage in terms of actually deviating from what all the other newspapers say comes from the Dutch Christian newspaper Reformatorisch Dagblad, in its article The Netherlands Kills Two Flies with One Blow at EU Summit. “Two flies” refers to the fact that, in addition to De Vries, another prominent Dutchman (Wim Kok – him again!) was assigned a plum EU job at this summit, namely to head a commission to investigate what has gone wrong in the execution of the plans set forth at the Lisbon summit of the year 2000 to make Europe the world’s most competitive, knowledge-intensive region. (Believe me, a lot has gone wrong.)

But back to De Vries, or actually to the question of what the EU is finally doing to try to come to grips with the terrorist threat. The Reformatorisch Dagblad reports that at this summit the European leaders decided to set up a European-wide database of information on terrorists and suspected terrorists. They also agreed on measures that will make it easier to more quickly freeze the bank accounts of terrorist organizations.

Also, European leaders at this summit designated 11 March (the day of the Madrid train-bombings) as “International Day of the Victim in Europe.” Isn’t that great? And you at least have to give some credit to the Madrid terrorists’ sense of symbolism, since that date is after all exactly one-half year after September 11.

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