Row over new Ombudsman heats up

The resistance against the appointment of candidate Guido van Woerkom as Ombudsman in The Hague has heated up after a new racism claim. His appointment was set for today, but has stalled. 

Political reservations against Van Woerkom's appointment have intensified, and incumbent Ombudsman Frank van Dooren also issued a warning on Nieuwsuur yesterday. He said that "trust is essential for the functioning of the National Ombudsman."

MP for GroenLinks, Linda Voortman, is going to request for written votes, so that every Member of Parliament can vote secretly, or demand the decision be pushed forward. She has openly questioned whether Van Woerkom can be trusted. "I have serious doubts whether Van Woerkom can be Ombudsman for all Dutch people."

There are also doubts within the fractions of PvdA, D66 and ChristenUnie. The issue is up for debate in The Hague today. First in the various fraction meetings, and then in the plenary session of Parliament.

In 2010, candidate Van Woerkom (59, VVD) said at a congress that he would rather his wife not take a taxi, because "a Moroccan could be behind the wheel every now and then." He apologized for the remark, and has considered the matter over, as his apology was accepted.

Now, however, his racially insensitive comment is back in the national eye after the Cooperative Union of Dutch Moroccans (SMN) have called on all MPs to reject Van Woerkom, when it became known that he was the only candidate up for appointment as National Ombudsman. Other Moroccan interest groups have also spoke out against Van Woerkom.

The previous Ombudsman, Alex Brenninkmeijer, openly distanced himself from the public racism he observed in politics last year. Brenninkmeijer left temporarily in January to the European Court of Auditors. Now, diverse MPs have to deal with this "difficult and unpleasant" situation, as the D66 puts it. "The last Ombudsman called racism the biggest problem. And then Parliament will give the signal to appoint Van Woerkom?" a PvdA member said.

Van Woerkom was recommended by the Parliament Commission for Internal Affairs, which constructed an application commission from five internal people. Magda Berndsen (D66, president), Astrid Oosenbrug (PvdA), Ronald van Raak (SP), Madeleine van Toorenburg (CDA) and Pieter Litjens (VVD). According to Berndsen, Van Woerkom's racial slur did not make it to the table when considering candidates.

Thirty people applied for the open National Ombudsman position. The commission spoke with six of these. Although three candidates can be brought forward for Parliamentary consideration, only Van Woerkom was chosen as single candidate. Parliamentary tradition states that such an appointment be ratified by the entire Parliament without much debate.