As part of the 20th anniversary of Public Matters, we have developed a book which includes interviews with various public affairs experts. In the interviews they provide their views on lobbying and public affairs trends. The book will soon be presented, but in the meantime we will share several interviews via this website.
For this interview, we spoke with Ilse Kaandorp, director of VGM NL, a trade association for property and property owners’ associations (VvE) management in the Netherlands.
Real estate and VvE managers manage buildings on behalf of private and social property owners with a long-term horizon. They operate in an overheated housing market and a hectic decision-making process in The Hague that changes in composition at least every four years. Advocate Ilse Kaandorp therefore focuses on building sustainable relationships for the short and long term.
What place does Public Affairs have within your organisation?
By sharing information and views with politicians, civil servants and market players, we position VGM NL as an expert discussion partner. We have a committed board and a small organisation with less than three full-time employees. We therefore choose carefully the issues that are important to our supporters. For us, Public Affairs is the art of acting as a discussion partner for the government on the basis of knowledge and insight in order to influence political and official decision-making.
How do you build relationships with the government?
The government and the business community need each other to draft future-proof legislation and regulations. Reliable information, insight into different interests, an eye to the future and building personal relationships with politicians and civil servants form the basis for this. VGM NL invests in consultation with the government, because this consultation is the key to forming a basis of support and understanding.
The relationship with both politicians and civil servants will intensify in the coming years. You will increasingly see officials working on legislative proposals that affect property and owner-occupier managers finding their way to VGM NL. In addition, VGM NL is represented in a number of project and working groups in which it brainstorms with policy officials about documents that prepare policy, whether or not commissioned by a minister. This creates a breeding ground on which constructive cooperation can thrive.
The consequences of the fragmented and polarised political landscape are very noticeable here. We now have so many political parties that it can be difficult to oversee everything and keep everyone on the same page. Politicians sometimes seem to want to be more outspoken and less nuanced in order to stand out. If you look at how political decision-making, with a four-year political cycle, comes about and what major problems need to be solved, then that attitude is a challenge. I find it exciting to see, certainly in the longer term, what choices will be made. VGM NL has successfully made an effort to get and stay in touch with the ‘housing’ spokespersons of the political parties. Hopefully this will be the start of constructive cooperation for both the politicians and VGM NL.
This cooperation is dynamic. On the one hand, you have to get to know the politicians and know what is important to your supporters. On the other hand, we invest in relationships with the civil servants who are working on the bills. Because in the end, it’s all in the details. How it appears on paper is ultimately important. The civil servants are more of a continuous factor of the politicians. They do their work, from their own perspective, ultimately in the service of the politicians, of the coalition agreement and the serving ministers and state secretaries.
How does digitisation affect your relationship with politics and other stakeholders?
Where do people get information and the necessary data from? After all, there are more and more sources and each time it is a question of from which perspective this information is made available. Our communication strategy ensures that we are increasingly becoming a knowledge platform that is also available to the government.
Digitalisation is further affecting the way we meet. The pandemic has reinforced that. Because we can now speak to each other on a screen, we can find each other faster and more easily. VGM NL takes part in various working groups from, among others, the Ministries of Justice and Security and the Interior and Kingdom Relations. By using digital meetings, among other things, it is possible to consult more frequently – sometimes on a monthly basis. This would be less feasible if everyone had to drive to The Hague each time for the consultations. Thanks to the online sessions, we now get things done more quickly. Digitalisation is a fantastic tool on the one hand, but on the other hand it also makes contacts a lot more distant. It’s nice to be able to look each other in the eye physically again. I think that eventually a balance will be found between digital and physical meetings, and that cooperation between stakeholders, the government and sector organisations such as VGM NL can be intensified.
What developments in society have the greatest impact on your relationship with the government?
More legislation and regulation, locally and nationally, is often seen as the solution to problems. In our opinion, we achieve more by jointly looking for structural solutions to the causes, each from their own role and responsibility. We see it as our task, as an advocate, to continue to inform politicians from our perspective and to prevent over-regulation.
In addition, there are a number of major issues, such as the energy transition and increasing the sustainability of existing property, that require a joint approach. In addition to informing politicians, we also have a role to play in informing our members and coordinating implementation so that the wheel does not have to be reinvented by everyone.
The fragmented political landscape of today and the polarisation of views have an influence. In order to reach the media, nuance is sometimes hard to find. The tide will have to turn. Even more political groups in parliament will only complicate solving the major problems. Without losing sight of the democratic process, we will, in my opinion, have to work on solutions for future generations and not just on short-term successes.
‘We achieve more by working together to find structural solutions to causes’
Which Public Affairs skills will be important in the coming years?
In my opinion, the key lies in adopting and communicating clear and well-founded positions and investing in maintaining contacts with both politicians and civil servants. At the same time, we ourselves must keep abreast of everything that is happening and will continue to happen in political life in The Hague. In practice, a reaction in a specific file is certainly not always required within 24 or 48 hours. On the other hand, need of course breaks laws, as was shown, for example, by the COVID-19 Justice and Security (Interim Measures) Act, where VGM NL was able to quickly brainstormwith a number of officials about specific necessary measures for property owners’ associations. It is nice to see how the government and VGM NL then work together to achieve a well thought-out and supported final product.
Everything takes time and speed is relative. The real estate that VGM NL members manage has a long-term horizon. The housing market, energy transition, charging stations, owner-occupied homes – these are all long-term processes. By knowing what is going to happen early on in a legislative process and being allowed to think along, influence can be exerted and support created.