‘Politics is a tough job, I know that. But at a certain point the lack of respect becomes too great,” former Open VLD chairman Gwendolyn Rutten wrote in a post on Facebook a few weeks ago. She felt humiliated to the core by the party leadership after the choice of Paul Van Tigchelt as Vincent Van Quickenborne’s successor. ‘I love democracy and society too much to cynically participate in a game that is not my own. It has been nice, but now I am turning the page,” she said goodbye to national politics.
Now, barely three weeks later, Rutten is already returning to national politics. And even as a minister and deputy prime minister in the Flemish government, this will be explained at a press conference at 8 p.m. From next Monday she will succeed Bart Somers, who will retire and become mayor of Mechelen again.
Rutten’s choice for a return is striking for several reasons. To begin with, it’s a hard sell for Rutten himself. Like Somers, she also initially wanted to withdraw from national politics to devote herself fully to being mayor in Aarschot. ‘Being mayor is the best antidote to the cynicism in Wetstraat, it makes me a better politician. The decision-making is not anonymous, the next day you are at the bakery and you have to explain why you are doing something,” she previously told The standard. Now she can go to the bakery to explain why the ministership takes precedence.
But it also feels like a belated consolation prize. Rutten was already overtaken by Maggie De Block as State Secretary in 2011. But the 2019 government negotiations in particular remained a major concern for Rutten. She then seemed to be on her way to becoming Prime Minister of a purple-green cabinet, but the trio De Croo, Lachaert and Van Quickenborne (with their WhatsApp group La Résistance) put a stop to that. Rutten eventually retired to the Flemish Parliament, where she immediately profiled herself fiercely on the nitrogen issue, sometimes to the dismay of the liberal deputy prime minister Bart Somers.
The same nitrogen dossier is still high on the agenda of the Flemish government. Somers liked to position himself as a bridge between N-VA and CD&V. But Rutten seems to find it difficult to simply take over that position after her statements.
A few weeks ago she argued for it The appointment on Friday to tackle the nitrogen dossier differently. She also wanted to get rid of overly strict rules. “You have to dare to see whether what we want is feasible,” he said. The rules regarding nitrogen emissions have been drawn up in the past by Flanders itself at the request of Europe to better protect nature reserves.
‘No one had in mind at the time what the effects of that decision at the end of the 1990s would be today. The way in which we converted those nature objectives into regulations now means that we will decline or stand still economically. We cannot risk our prosperity for fragmented pieces of nature here and there.’