Former infrastructure minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen had regular meetings with energy sector companies and was part of a special energy and climate commission even though she knew at the time she was leaving to become an energy sector lobbyist, broadcaster NOS said on Wednesday.
The broadcaster bases its claims on documents obtained using freedom of information laws after a lengthy legal process.
Van Nieuwenhuizen’s presence at the meetings is notable because she justified her move from the ministry to the energy lobby sector by saying she had not been involved in devising energy policy and there were no possible conflicts of interest.
She also claimed at the end of July 2021 that she had arranged all matters relating to energy would be dealt with by a colleague. Nevertheless, NOS said, she still received regular energy-related civil service documents and twice took part in meetings with the energy and climate policy commission, even though she knew she would be leaving.
During the period in question, officials worked out how coal-fired power station operators were to be compensated for their closure. Four days after that meeting, Van Nieuwenhuizen was appointed chairwoman of the energy sector lobby group Energie Nederland.
Van Nieuwenhuizen was infrastructure minister from 2017 to 2021 and left her job in August with immediate effect, while Mark Rutte’s third cabinet was operating in a caretaker capacity.
The rules for ministers moving to the private sector have been tightened up since then but legislation which will require a formal system of checks has not yet been implemented.
MPs have asked Rutte to explain why Van Nieuwenhuizen was allowed to be present at so many meetings when he knew she was joining a lobby group.
The former minister told NOS that during the meetings she was only concerned with the interests of her own ministry: “In no way did I have input in the meetings from the specific interests of my possible future members,” she said.
Nevertheless, she admitted that there is an appearance of a conflict of interest. “My political antenna was not sharp,” she said. “I regret that very much and my reputation has been hurt because of it.”
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