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Epicentre of the Groningen gas drama: NAM Earthquake hit municipality Loppersum

Loppersum vibrates below the surface. From gas extraction and restrained anger. The earthquake of a year ago in the three kilometres away Zeerijp gave the last push for the Cabinet decision to close the gas tap in Groningen.

House in Loppersum that has been damaged by the gas quakes and whose façade needs to be supported.ROBIN UTRECH / HOLLANDSE HOOGTE

Printed below is an English translation of an article published today by the Dutch Financial Times, Financieele Dagblad. NAM is the Shell/Exxon Joint Venture company responsible for the earthquake blighted Groningen Gas Field and consequential potential bill for untold billions to deal with damaged residences.

‘I was not prepared for the intensity of the quake file’

By Ulko Jonker: Bas Knoop

Hans Engels is D66 party leader in the Senate. He is also mayor of the municipality of, in the epicentre of the Groningen gas drama. Interview about administrative failure, yellow vests and the Senate. “Raise it.”

The lovely Groningen Loppersum seems to be a song of praise for eternity. But the settled peace and quiet are deceitful. Where you expect the Groningen tongues in the local hotel restaurant ‘Spoorzicht’, you will hear Eastern European and Irish sounds. The menu is English. ‘They work in the Eemshaven and stay here’, says the hostess about the men who eagerly eat their bouncers and twelve hours.

Loppersum vibrates below the surface. From gas extraction and restrained anger. The earthquake of a year ago in the three kilometres away Zeerijp gave the last push for the Cabinet decision to close the gas tap in Groningen. Spoorzicht, a monumental recreation (anno 1887), will soon close for a year, to be strengthened and immediately rebuilt and expanded. NAM is contributing to the millions investment.

Opposite is the town hall. Only ten years old. But the municipality of Loppersum is almost a thing of the past.

The man who is allowed to turn off the light is also not who you would expect in a small rural municipality in Groningen.


Prof. dr. Mr. Hans Engels (67) is a former professor of municipal and state law in Leiden and Groningen. He is also the chairman of the Senate party of D66, a party that is not even represented in the city council of Loppersum. Engels has been acting mayor since October, until the municipality in 2021 merges with Delfzijl and Appingedam.

He knew what to expect and was surprised. ‘I know that I must bring in Santa Claus and be active at the fire department. What I was not prepared for is the intensity of the earthquake file. It is far more complicated administratively, politically and legally than I thought of some distance. ‘

The perception of the gas drama by the 10,000 inhabitants can also be felt daily. ‘You find that psychosocial context in the radicalized arrangement of directors and council members. They are involved in it themselves, have damage themselves or are being called upon. The reclassification here is much more and much less than gas production. ‘

English is therefore in an administrative split. “You want to stand next to the residents. But you also have a public office and the responsibility to keep the tasks that have gotten out of the way, along with the region and towards the minister, a bit in the right direction. ‘

‘Waiting a hundred years’

Pastor Albert Roodenboog (CDA), who served Loppersum for fifteen years, said at the announcement of his retirement in May: “Every moment of departure is difficult, but if I want to wait until everything is well organized, I can wait another hundred years. ‘

The echo of it sounds again.

‘People are constantly confronted with changes to the rules of the game and in the meantime it is still’, says Engels. ‘The damage is still not reimbursed, houses are not reinforced. You can try to justify this intellectually and abstractly from the government, but the point is: you can not explain that. ”

He is not here to defend the national policy, according to Engels. ‘But we can not just show that we are behind the inhabitants. That view that an administrative role consists of: put on a yellow vest and go in the bus to the Malieveld, slam your fist on the table and just force it off, does not work in a decentralized unitary state. There is a hierarchy. ”

The ‘activist part’ of the population is not very big according to English. ‘There is a much larger part that makes me worry a lot more: many and often older people who have really been dented and have been beaten up because they no longer understand what is happening. And then there is the part that is indifferent: it will all be. That is not a good climate. And that turns to all governments, and also to local government. We have to consider that. ‘

Complex relationship

‘Governmental failure of un-Dutch proportions’, said Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Eric Wiebes the Groningen drama. And administrative inability? Engels: “I think so. It is also a lack of powers at provincial and local level, the complex relationship between local government, provincial government, minister, cabinet and House of Representatives. What also does not help is that the file is politicized because it is election time. And how fast parties hit the drum also depends on whether they are in the opposition or the coalition. ‘

Is it still possible to restore confidence? ‘We are not yet in a situation of anarchy. For that it is not broad and structural enough. But if we continue like this, things will not get better, I’ll say very carefully. ”

Social dissatisfaction is broader than Groningen and part of a political culture ‘in which the nuance and the contradiction resemble the retreat’, Engels noted in his last General Political Considerations in the Senate. According to him, the core is ‘a loss of legitimacy for political institutions and especially of office-bearers’, he said.

Cosmetically modernized

According to him, the political system has never adapted to the changes in society since the sixties, characterized by what D66-fractional fellow and former director of the Social Cultural Planning Office Paul Schnabel identified as individualization, informalisation, intensification, internationalization and computerization. “The constitution has been cosmetically modernized, but the order and the working of democracy have remained the same,” Engels notes.

According to him, many political parties have an interest in the status quo. ‘The less you adjust, the more space they think they have to think about what’s good for them from their own ideology. In the meantime you see that those middle parties get smaller and the flanks get bigger. My former promoter Jan Vis said more than twenty years ago: political parties are old elephants on their way to their final resting place. But the paradox is that it must come from there. ‘

For changes in the system and democratic renewal such as a corrective referendum, the Constitution must be revamped and a two-thirds majority is needed. “And you do not get that, because you only need a third minority in the Senate to block that. And that happens. Systematically. ”

Political Room

Engels is clear about the role of ‘his’ Senate: to abolish. ‘It is primarily a political Chamber. That “chamber of reflexion” is especially a frame for the conservative parties to disguise the fact that politics is primarily done. ” In the end, the House of Representatives is responsible for directing the vote in the First, he notes. “I was there,” says Engels about how that went under Rutte II. Puppet show? English evades: ‘There is a political reality that one sometimes tries to conceal.’

The Senate should be exchanged for English for an institution that looks at the legality and consistency of legislation. ‘Democracy and the rule of law are two different concepts. One is about participating and protecting the other about it. If you want to protect the citizen against an overly enthusiastic legislator, you need an independent authority or a judge such as the Supreme Court, where not every party has a party label. ‘

But is it also going to convince the citizen that he does not need such a yellow vest? ‘We are no longer citizens, citizens who are taken seriously by the public administration and who, conversely, want to make serious contributions and want to be co-responsible. People increasingly think that everyone is going over them. ‘

Listening to the citizen means, according to Engels, more than doing what the citizen says. “It is not a jukebox democracy.”

Interest groups

Modernization of the constitutional order will have consequences for the political process and political parties and how they operate, expecting English. ‘They are challenged to deal differently with feelings, thoughts and wishes from society. Only working with interest groups, such as in the polder model, is no longer of this time. ‘

But according to Engels it is ‘very difficult to let go of power or use it differently’. What once was recorded at the CDA, ‘We run this country’, he now sees at the VVD. “Successful in the elections, the biggest, the Prime Minister. That does something. Then it is very difficult not to go after the facts but to be ahead of them. Then comes the change anxiety. Afraid of losing positions. But you have to change to keep the power. And for the good to bet, I’ll say it. ”

Hans English, renewing senator for D66 and recently also mayor in earthquake municipality Loppersum. Photos: Corné Sparidaens for the FD.


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