Tuesday 27 July 2021

It’s bye bye Binnenhof as MPs pack up and leave for five years

Photo: DutchNews.nl

The summer recess has begun but MPs and ministers and ministers will not be returning to their old haunts after the holidays, as extensive renovations to the government complex Binnenhof are about to kick off.

Some may perhaps never see the inside of the government buildings again: the project is expected to last for over five years.

It was parliamentary chairwoman Vera Bergkamp who turned off the lights for the last time late on Thursday, following the final day of plenary meetings and debates.

Soon afterwards, removal vans started trundling back and forth between the Binnenhof and the government’s temporary quarters at Bezuidenhoutseweg 67, the former home of the foreign affairs ministry.

Many of the buildings in the complex date from the 17th and 18th centuries, with the Ridderzaal (knights’ chamber) dating back to the 13th century. Parliament itself currently meets in a modern building, opened in 1992, but since then there has only been limited repair work carried out and the decision to renovate had to be made.

Wat followed were years of controversy and delays, with some pushing for the renovation to go ahead and others balking at the cost of €475m (or more).

In the last phase of the decision making process, former parliamentary chair Khadija Arib, one of the fiercest critics of the move, played her final card saying the temporary building was ‘not corona proof’.

Arib and a number of other MPs had always preferred a phased renovation which would mean parliament could stay put.

Report

As a flurry of calculations and designs rained down on MPs, a report commissioned by the lower house calculated that a phased plan would save €100m. This was later contradicted by another report saying that, on the contrary, it would cost €500m more. The renovation soap opera, as the press called it, continued.

In the end a majority of MPs voted in favour of the move, with doubting Thomases reluctantly agreeing not in the least because a hefty €161m had already been spent on preparing the temporary building for an invasion of MPs

Thursday was a day of nostalgia for many MPs as they packed their final bits and pieces, and decided what to chuck.  D66 MP Jan Paternotte, said he was definitely hanging on to two old and frayed chairs because they were the ‘thinking chairs’ of founder Hans van Mierlo, while SGP leader Kees van der Staaij reminisced about a time when beepers were still in use.

The government will not meet again at the Binnenhof over the summer, except if circumstances necessitate a recall.

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