In Memoriam – Wim Kok
21/10/2018 - By Marije Laffeber, PES Deputy Secretary General
It’s with great sadness that we have learned of the passing of Wim Kok (1938 – 2018), former Prime-Minister of the Netherlands and one of the founding fathers of the Party of European Socialists.
PES President Sergei Stanishev: ‘Wim Kok was a great social democrat, internationalist and above all a true European. During the time he was party leader of the PvdA (from 1986 – 2002) and the eight years he was Prime-Minister, he has played a significant role in the establishment and advancement of European political parties and of the PES in particular. Our thoughts today are with his family, our PvdA friends and to all who have known him’.
Wim Kok started his career in the Trade Union in 1961 and was leader of the largest Dutch Trade Union – FNV – from 1976 until 1986. In that year he was elected Member of Parliament of the Dutch Labour Party, PvdA and became the successor of former Prime-Minister Joop den Uyl as leader of the Parliamentary Group and Party Leader.
In 1989 Wim Kok was elected Vice-President of Socialist International (SI), when Willy Brandt was SI President. At the same time Wim Kok became one of the driving forces of the establishment of European political parties and of the PES in particular. European Political parties were first mentioned in the Maastricht Treaty, signed in 1992 in the Netherlands. Stating that ‘Political parties at European level are important as a factor for integration within the Union. They contribute to forming a European awareness and to expressing the political will of the citizens of the Union.’
That same year Wim Kok invited all European Socialist, Social Democrats and Labour parties in Europe to the Founding congress of the Party of European Socialists on 9-10 November 1992 in the Hague, the Netherlands. During this congress the PES was founded and our founding declaration signed.
In 1994 he was involved in the launch of government fund supporting the transition and development of a plural democracy in Central and Eastern-Europe, though which among others the Dutch Alfred Mozer Foundation (now Max van der Stoel foundation) could develop a strong cooperation with sister parties in Central and Eastern Europe.
Three years later, when Wim Kok was Prime-Minister of the Netherlands, he chaired the European Union and coordinated the negotiations and signing of the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997. In this Treaty the funding of European Political parties out of the European budget was first introduced and made possible. Again a crucial step in the founding and advancement of European political parties.
PES associated LGBTI network Rainbow Rose: ‘Wim Kok was a great example of a humble and unifying Socialdemocratic leader, who paved the way for same sex marriage in Europe and the world. During his tenure as a Prime-Minister legislation was passed in 2001 making Netherlands the first country allowing same sex marriage in the world. We are sad about his passing and wish his family a lot of strength.’
During his premiership, his cabinets were responsible for implementing several social and economic reforms. He was known for his abilities as a manager and negotiator. Back in the nineties he was one of the promotors of the so called ‘poldermodel’.
PvdA Leader Lodewijk Asscher: ‘Wim Kok was a man of great integrity. He was passionate, loyal, compassionate and he radiated authority and had charisma. He was a serving leader, even before that style came into fashion. He was modest and an incredible hard worker, in particular when it could be to the benefit of those who are most vulnerable in society. He had explicit opinions on the topics he was most concerned about. Social economic development and maintaining peace in our societies. We are sad to have lost him and will remember Wim Kok with gratitude and respect’.
First Vice-President of the EU Commission Frans Timmermans: ‘Wim Kok could tear down walls and built bridges over cliffs with the same stones. A ‘pontifex’ in the classical Roman sense. He could be surly, but that was just on the surface. Who got to know him would see a modest, shy, warm and friendly person, always committed to those less privileged who do not receive life presented on a silver platter. The Trade Union turned him into an internationalist, politics turned him into a European.’
Wim Kok has worked together with many leaders of our progressive movement, such as Willy Brand, Francois Mitterand, Mario Soares, António Guterres, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Felipe González, Mary Robinson, Gerhard Schröder, Franz Vrantitzky, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, Louis Tobback, Tarja Hallonen, Willy Claes, Guiliano Amato, Göran Persson, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela (who he had actively supported in his fight against apartheid when he was Trade Union leader) and many, many others.
After he resigned as Prime-Minister he withdrew from active politics and became lobbyist for the European Union and occupied a number of seats on supervisory boards in business and industry. In 2003 and 2004 he lead several High Level groups at request of the European Commission on the ‘Enlargement of the EU’ and on ‘Growth and Employment (Lisbon Stategy)’
He amongst others also served as President of the Club of Madrid, strengthening democratic leadership and institutional capacity to tackle major global challenges.
He kept on following European and party political developments closely. With the passing of Wim Kok yesterday an era in Dutch politics has ended. We will remember and honor the work he has done continuing the further development of European political parties. Promoting diversity, democracy and a strong progressive European cooperation. He will be missed.