Berliner Tageblatt - Dick Schoof: Ex-security boss tapped for Dutch PM

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Dick Schoof: Ex-security boss tapped for Dutch PM
Dick Schoof: Ex-security boss tapped for Dutch PM / Photo: © ANP/AFP

Dick Schoof: Ex-security boss tapped for Dutch PM

Dick Schoof is a veteran spy chief known for running tight ships within the Netherlands' immigration and secret service communities -- roles that now landed him the nomination for the country's top job.

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On Tuesday, four right-wing coalition parties tapped Schoof, currently the justice ministry's top official, to follow outgoing Mark Rutte as the country's next prime minister.

At a press conference where he was formally introduced, Schoof said he aimed to "decisively" carry out the policies decided on two weeks ago by the coalition partners in a draft government agreement.

The draft, which experts said needed substantial fleshing out, included the "toughest" immigration policies yet seen in the small country of around 17.6 million people.

Schoof said his candidature meant "getting a grip on migration and asylum, giving people including farmers security of living, and looking at international safety".

"That's why I am here," he said.

Observers said Schoof, who is supposed to retire this year but opted for three more years in the corridors of power in The Hague, is a veteran and sensible choice.

"The top official knows all the nooks and crannies of The Hague and is an expert in the field of immigration and security," the popular Dutch news weekly Elsevier Weekblad said.

"He believes in a healthy relationship between civil service and politics," while always respecting that politicians had the last say, the magazine added.

As a civil servant you "have to guarantee your neutrality", Schoof told De Groene Amsterdammer magazine in a recent interview.

- 'Wealth of experience' -

Schoof's main role until now was mainly within the Dutch security sector, and observers say he has played a "major part" over the last decade during crisis situations in the Netherlands.

It was especially after the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in July 2014 over war-torn Ukraine that Schoof took the lead in a Dutch crisis team investigating the crash.

All 298 people on board the flight -- 196 of them Dutch -- died when the Boeing 777 was downed by a Russian-made BUK air-to-surface missile fired from territory held by pro-Russian fighters.

"He has a wealth of experience with various cabinets, the parliament as well as safety and crisis issues including MH17," the RTL private broadcaster said.

But Schoof later came in for criticism in a report on the government's handling of the probe, saying his counter-terror agency (NCTV) "was too internally focused and had little focus on cooperation".

Schoof himself also courted criticism, allegedly for having too much of a personal hand in the government's final MH17 report.

He also came under fire when the authoritative NRC newspaper reported in 2021 that the NCTV followed various politically active citizens by using fake accounts.

- 'Wilders's candidate' -

Schoof is a "loyal and committed civil servant", GreenLeft-Labour opposition leader Frans Timmermans said.

Schoof was a member of the Labour Party (PvdA) but resigned for undisclosed reasons in 2021.

But Timmermans added that even though Schoof was ostensibly the candidate of all the right-wing coalition parties, he was "emphatically Wilders's candidate".

Despite a stunning election victory in November, far-right leader Geert Wilders gave up his ambition to lead the European Union's fifth-largest economy amid widespread unease over his anti-Islam and anti-European views.

Hendrikus Wilhelmus Maria "Dick" Schoof was born to a Catholic family of seven in Santpoort, near Amsterdam, on March 8, 1957.

He studied urban and regional planning at Nijmegen's Radboud University and became a civil servant in 1988.

He was appointed chief director at the Dutch immigration services in 1999, before taking over as a top official at the Dutch counter-terror agency (NCTV) in 2013 and the Dutch Secret Service (AIVD) in 2018.

Opposition politicians from the DENK party, which represents a mainly Muslim voter base in the country, voiced fierce opposition to Schoof's candidacy.

Party leader Stephan van Baarle said the NCTV under Schoof helped keep a close eye on mosques and Islamic organisations during the war in Syria to monitor for radicalisation -- something the Muslim community said had damaged the trust in the authorities.

"By putting such a person forward, you send the signal that you do not take the concerns that Dutch Muslims have seriously," he told the public broadcaster NOS.

Schoof has a partner and two adult daughters from a previous marriage. He enjoys running marathons in his free time.

M.Odermatt--BTB