Edition 31 October 2019. by Femke van Iperen
Praising words, a royal award and a lot of speculation
This September, Marianne Thieme resigned as chair of the Party for the Animals (PvdD) from the House of Representatives of the Netherlands (Tweede Kamer). The cofounder of the political party that put animal rights on the political map announced her farewell during a members’ meeting in The Hague. During this gathering she did not only receive praise from the House President Khadija Arib, but was also surprised by the royal honour of being made a Knight in the Order of Orange Nassau.
Arib, who described Thieme as “driven, determined, passionate, and fiery”, said: “Never before has the parliament spoken so much about the climate and animal rights.” Addressing Thieme, Arib said: “Compassion and sustainability, in your eyes, should be the guiding principles of everyone individually, of society as a whole and here in our national meeting room.” She also said that ‘the universal declaration of human rights’, the ‘declaration of the rights of the animal’ as well as the ‘charter of the earth’ were the driving forces behind Thieme’s political actions. Arib further explained that the animal advocate had put on the political agenda issues ranging from meat consumption and use of toxic substances in agriculture to plastic packaging.
In a farewell letter written by Thieme that was read out loud by Arib, Thieme wished all MPs “a lot of imagination, and a sense of possibility”, adding that “the future of our planet depends on the decisions you make”. She finished off with her famous closing statement “and furthermore, I believe that the bio-industry must end”. Since its inception in 2006, the party has become known for being committed to ‘the values that really matter’, such as ‘compassion, sustainability and a respectful relationship between humans and animals’. Prime Minister Rutte too announced in a tweet his respect for what Thieme has achieved, whilst politicians such as GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver praised Thieme as a “great champion for green politics”.
When the PvdD was elected with two seats on 22 November in 2006, it was considered world news. In her goodbye letter, Thieme herself, who called it a historic day, said: “For the first time in political history, a party for the animals was elected to a national parliament. Nobody expected it, yet it happened.” Despite the contempt the party faced with initially, it managed to gain three more seats in March 2017, and though in the farewell speech, Arib said Thieme began ‘without political experience’, she also added ‘but with great ideals’. The NOS too described Thieme as determined, explaining: “and you’d have to be, if you want to turn a political PvdD into the success it did”. The PvdD considers current the crises in the areas of climate, food, economy, energy, animal welfare and biodiversity as interrelated, and it has claimed it will continue to advocate that they should be tackled as such. Thieme said: “We were the first political party that does not focus on the short-term interests of the individual, but on the entire planet and all its inhabitants.”
Handing over the baton
There has been speculation as to why Thieme has decided to leave the political stage, as well as to why there was only one media interview, with weekly De Groene Amsterdammer. According to some news reports, she is battling with a health issue. De Volkskrant, in a column entitled ‘How the Party for the Animals orchestrated the farewell to Thieme,’ gave voice to some of this media speculation, speaking of a potential ‘media phobia’ on Thieme’s part; the ‘parliamentary press being sidelined by the party and a weekly’, as well as referring to the resignation as ‘unusually uncomfortable’.
Thieme, who has emphasised that she has decided to remain politically active outside parliament, said in her farewell speech: “Don’t think I’m leaving….know that I will continue to work fully for our common ideals, albeit outside parliament,” adding that: “last May, after the 24th successful election since our inception, I decided that it was a good time to hand over the baton, so that I can work on my succession over the next eighteen months, until the next election.” On 9 October Eva van Esch took over her position as party chair, after Esther Ouwehand had temporarily fulfilled the role.