Marrying minds

Marrying minds

Fried Kramer on his role persuading the Dutch that ‘lobbying is not a dirty word’.



The first time that Fried Kramer thought about working in Brussels was in 1997, when he met Cornelis Vis, then executive director of the Brussels-based Netherlands House for Science and Technology (NEST). Kramer, who had started out as a researcher and then moved into management at a consultancy, thought Vis’s post, providing a link between Dutch scientists and EU policymakers, would be just the job for him one day. He had to wait until 2003, when Vis left NEST and the position became vacant. 

“At the time it was just me, as director, and an intern,” says Kramer. Within two years, though, all of NEST’s activities had been incorporated into a new legal entity known as the Netherlands House for Education and Research (Neth-ER), which had a broader remit and a bigger budget. Kramer has been the director of Neth-ER since its foundation.

“The Dutch government wanted to support Dutch organisations in the fields of education, research and innovation, and their connection with Brussels,” explains Kramer, sitting in his first-floor office with a view of the European Parliament. This mission also chimed with the EU strategy of integrating education, research and innovation, the so-called ‘knowledge triangle’. As the European Commission’s president, José Manuel Barroso, said at Neth-ER’s official opening: “You are setting an example that I believe will be followed by many.” (Others have followed, though generally they focus less on education.)

Neth-ER’s role involves informing its member organisations about what is going on in Brussels, representing them at an EU level and identifying new opportunities for Dutch organisations and institutes. Asked to identify the major achievement of Neth-ER, Kramer highlights the way in which Dutch organisations have a much greater presence in Europe today and how they want to be a part of policy development. It has not always been an easy task, though.

“Lobbying is a dirty word for the Dutch,” Kramer says with a smile. “The Dutch have a ‘just do it’ attitude. They associate lobbying with paying to get things done. My job is to help them understand that lobbying is not a dirty word, to help Dutch organisations understand what is happening here in Brussels.”

Stress test

Kramer earned his stripes for this position with a career that started in 1981 as a researcher at the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), today one of Neth-ER’s member organisations. A biologist by training, Kramer spent eight years at TNO as part of a team researching the relationship between heart disease and stress. These days his training as a biologist is only put to use on holidays, when he often goes walking in the Alps, identifying the flora and fauna along the way.

Part of Kramer’s role at TNO was writing applications to get funding for research, and it was this aspect that became the focus of his next job as a senior consultant at PNO, a private consultancy helping clients to secure grants.

“It was very varied. One day it might be Dutch cheese, the next a medical subject,” says Kramer, who enjoyed the dynamic environment and being able to help people get the funding they needed.

Working at PNO was where Kramer became familiar with the workings of the EU. From 1992 until 2001 he was part of the company’s management team, writing applications for EU funding and in regular contact with the EU institutions. “It was a step towards Brussels,” Kramer says.

After a gap of about three years, during which Kramer founded his own advisory company (he concluded that “I needed people around me; it’s a lonely business working on your own”), he accepted the offer to move to Brussels and became director of NEST and later Neth-ER.

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What Kramer enjoys most about his work in Brussels is working closely with the Commission and the Parliament. “If Europe wants to be part of global developments, European integration is essential. It’s good to be so close to this development,” he says.

Anna Jenkinson is a freelance journalist based in Brussels.

Anna Jenkinson