Femke Halsema

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Femke Halsema
Burgemeester halsema5 231118 (cropped).jpg
Mayor of Amsterdam
Assumed office
12 July 2018
Preceded byJozias van Aartsen
Leader of GroenLinks in the House of Representatives
In office
26 November 2002 – 16 December 2010
Preceded byPaul Rosenmöller
Succeeded byJolande Sap
Member of the House of Representatives
In office
19 May 1998 – 12 January 2011
Personal details
Born (1966-04-25) 25 April 1966 (age 56)
Haarlem, Netherlands
Political partyGroenLinks
Domestic partnerRobert Oey
Residence(s)Amsterdam, Netherlands
Alma materUtrecht University
WebsiteOfficial website

Femke Halsema (pronunciation ; born 25 April 1966) is a Dutch politician and filmmaker. On 27 June 2018, she was appointed Mayor of Amsterdam and began serving a six-year term on 12 July 2018. She is the first woman to hold the position on a non-interim basis. She previously was a member of the House of Representatives for the leftist green party GroenLinks from 1998 to 2011, and served as the party's parliamentary leader from 2002 to 2010.


Family background[edit]

Halsema was born in 1966 in Haarlem in a Dutch social democratic family. They moved to Enschede, a town in the east of the Netherlands, close to the German border (Twente). Her father W. Halsema was a sports teacher and director of the municipal service for physical education, sports and recreation (Dienst lichamelijke opvoeding, sport en recreatie) of Enschede.[1] For a long time, from 1982 until 1994, her mother Olga Halsema-Fles was an alderwoman responsible for social affairs and employment for the Labour Party (PvdA) in Enschede. Her mother was also a member of the Dutch Social Insurance Advisory Board (College van Toezicht Sociale Verzekeringen).[2]

Religious origin[edit]

Halsema and her mother are of Christian descent. Halsema's mother Olga Margaretha Bertha Fles was born in 1941 in Velsen-Driehuis near harbour town IJmuiden north of Amsterdam.[3] Olga Fles' parents Cornelis Nicolaas Fles and Truus Corbee married in 1939 in the Noorsche Kerk, Nederlands Hervormd, a Dutch Protestant church in Hilligersberg, near Rotterdam.[4] Olga lived with her husband Willem Halsema and son in Haarlem until 1966, where Femke was born. Then the family moved to Enschede and Olga became wethouder (alderwoman) of Enschede's municipal council.

In an interview with the Reformatorisch Dagblad (RD), a Dutch Protestant Christian Reformed newspaper, in 2002 Femke Halsema presumed members of her maternal family to have been "assimilated Jews", because two nephews of her maternal grandfather Cornelis Nicolaas Fles were named Abram and Izaak, whom she supposed had been tailors. Halsema referred to some families with the surname Fles in the Achterhoek around Enschede being Jewish.[5] But Halsema's own family is not related to them.

Olga Halsema-Fles’ family originates from Leiden, with a few ancestors residing in Rotterdam, amongst whom Abram and Izaak Fles, her uncles.[6] Both Abram and Izaak Fles belonged to the Nederlands Hervormde Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church). As such they were registered in the Rotterdam municipal archive. They worked as civil servants, married and died in 1961 in Rotterdam.[7]

Abram, Izaak and Jacob are common first names in Dutch Protestant churches, chosen from the Hebrew Bible, next to New Testament names. Abram and Izaak Fles belonged to the Nederlands Hervormde Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church), just like their father Izaak, a brother to Halsema's greatgrandfather Cornelis Fles, and their grandfather was. Halsema's family tree in the maternal line shows, that all ancestors in this family Fles since the start of the 18th century were baptised in Leiden, a historical stronghold of Protestantism in the Netherlands. Before, in the 17th century all ancestors were baptised in Roman Catholic churches as was their first known forefather Johannes Fles (Flessinghe), born ca. 1640 in Sarbrug (Saarbrücken, Germany), who settled in Leiden, in Holland.[8]

Several Jewish families surnamed Fles have lived in Amsterdam, Enschede en Rotterdam. They suffered heavily from the Nazi persecution of the Jews under the German occupation of the Netherlands. Most of these families were deported to Auschwitz and Sobibor and murdered. Very few returned or survived in hiding. But the family of Amsterdam's Mayor Halsema does not share in these traumatic events.

Dutch historian Bart Wallet included Femke Halsema in a chapter on contemporary Dutch Jewry in an entirely revised edition (2017) of “Geschiedenis van de joden in Nederland" ("History of the Jews in the Netherlands").[9] But after some genealogical research in 2020 Wallet published an article in the Dutch Jewish internet magazine Jonet "Waarom Femke Halsema toch niet joods is" ("Why Femke Halsema is not Jewish after all"), admitting his mistake, indicating he will correct this in the next edition of this book.[10] The article was reprinted in the Dutch Nieuw Israëlitisch Weekblad (New Israelitic Weekly).[11]

Career before politics[edit]

In 1983, Halsema graduated from the Kottenpark-college in Enschede with a Havo-diploma. Between 1984 and 1985 she attended the Vrije Hogeschool (teachers program for Waldorf schools) in Driebergen. In 1985 she started training as a Dutch and history teacher in Utrecht. In 1988 she left her training without graduating. After that she worked for a year in a Utrecht café. She then started studying general social sciences at Utrecht University, specialising in criminology. During these studies she had a number of jobs related to her specialisation. Between 1991 and 1993, she was an intern at the working group "police and immigrants" at the Ministry of the Interior and she was a student assistant for professor Frank Bovenkerk.[12] In 1992, she worked as an "supernumerary lecturer in scientific methods and techniques" at the Faculty of Social Sciences of Utrecht University, teaching statistics to first year students.

After Halsema graduated in 1993, she joined the staff of the Wiardi Beckman Stichting (WBS), the research institute of the Labour Party. She was seen as a rising talent in the Labour Party.[13] In 1995, she published the book Ontspoord. Opstellen over criminaliteit & rechtshandhaving ("Derailed, essays about crime and law enforcement") for the WBS. In 1996, she travelled through the United States as a fellow for the German Marshall Fund. In 1996 she became an editor for the De Helling, the magazine of the research institute of GroenLinks. In the same year, she started combining her work at the WBS with work for De Balie, a political and cultural centre in Amsterdam, where she met Kees Vendrik, who before that worked for the GroenLinks in the House of Representatives. For De Balie, she led the project Res Publica about the meaning of the Constitution of the Netherlands for the modern society. She also joined the programme committee of the Labour Party for the 1998 election. She also published the book Land in zicht: een cultuurpolitieke benadering van de Ruimtelijke Ordening ("Land ho, cultural-political essays about spatial planning") with Maarten Hajer. She was asked to be a candidate for the Labour Party in the 1998 election.[14]

In the autumn of 1997, Halsema left the Labour Party and the WBS. The direct cause was the authoritarian way in which the police had handled the protests against the European summit that was working on the Treaty of Amsterdam. The social democratic mayor Schelto Patijn had put 500 people in preventive detention.[14] Her dissatisfaction with the course of the Labour Party had grown. In her view the party was unable to renew its social democratic manifesto and use the rising economic tide to invest in the public sector.[14] After leaving the WBS, she continued to work at De Balie and also was a columnist at Het Parool and for IKON radio. She also works as an editor at the publisher Van Gennep.

Political career[edit]

Member of the House of Representatives[edit]

In the 1998 election, she was a candidate on the list of GroenLinks after being courted by Paul Rosenmöller.[15] She was the third candidate on the list, making her the highest new candidate and practically guaranteed her a seat in the House. The seventh was her former De Balie-colleague Vendrik. GroenLinks more than doubled its seat total from five to eleven. In her first period in the House, Halsema was spokesperson justice, asylum seekers and home affairs. She became well known due to her opposition to the tougher migration law proposed by Job Cohen.

In the 2002 election, she was given the second place on the list. The party lost one seat. Halsema became vice-chair of the parliamentary party and among others spoke for the party in the first debate with the First Balkenende cabinet. In November of that year Paul Rosenmöller unexpectedly announced that he would leave politics. He asked Halsema to succeed him, and she immediately agreed. Ten days before the party congress she was announced as the only candidate for the party leadership and became top candidate for the 2003 election.[16] The party lost another two seats. In addition to the party leadership she was spokesperson on areas of culture and media, healthcare, spatial planning and the environment. As party leader she had a more prominent position and put forth a number of private member's bills, including one concerning judicial review and another that sets a fixed price for books (together with the leader of the Democrats 66 (D66) Boris Dittrich).

Halsema in 2010

Between October 2003 and January 2004, Halsema was on maternity leave. She got twins. Marijke Vos, the vice-chair of the parliamentary party took over as party leader. After her return to the House of Representatives, Halsema started a debate about the course of the left in general and GroenLinks in particular. She claimed that her party was the last "left liberal party in the Netherlands".[17] She called for increased cooperation with the Socialist Party, the Labour Party and GroenLinks, aiming at a left-wing majority government after the 2007 election. She asked Labour Party leader Wouter Bos to speak out in favour of such a cabinet, but he refused in order to allow for a possible coalition of the Labour Party and the Christian Democratic Appeal. In January 2006, she was elected "Liberal of the Year" by the Youth Organisation Freedom and Democracy, the youth organisation of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), because of her new political course, in particular where it came to reforming the welfare state.[18] In June 2006, she was the only candidate for the top spot on her party's list.[19] During the campaign, she published Linkse lente (Left-wing Spring), a book co-authored by Michiel Zonneveld, which blends her political vision and personal biography. In the 2006 election the party lost another seat.

In 2007, she took over the private member's bill of Wijnand Duyvendak, who worked together with Niesco Dubbelboer of the Labour Party and Boris van der Ham of D66, to allow for a non-binding corrective referendum. In April 2010 the party congress voted against including the referendum in the party manifesto.

In the run-up to the 2010 elections, Halsema's political profile rose: she was given the Thorbecke prize for political eloquence.[20] and she was elected by Intermediair as the best candidate for Prime Minister.[21]

During the 2010 election, GroenLinks went from seven to ten seats. The party, under Halsema, negotiated with the VVD, the Labour Party and D66 to reach agreement on a new "Purple Plus"-government, but the negotiations failed.[22]

On 17 December 2010, Halsema announced that she would leave parliament and that Jolande Sap was elected as the new leader of GroenLinks. She formally left parliament in January 2011.

In 2016, she made public in her political memoire Pluche (Plush) that after the 2012 election she was asked to consider becoming minister of Development Cooperation by Lodewijk Asscher, the Labour Party leader, but the VVD vetoed this.[23]

Mayor of Amsterdam[edit]

On 27 June 2018, she was appointed Mayor of Amsterdam and began serving a six-year term on 12 July 2018. She is the first woman to hold the position fully as Guusje ter Horst and Kajsa Ollongren held the position previously in an ad interim manner (for 14 days in 2001 and 21 days in 2017 respectively).[24]

In the Netherlands, protests were also taking place on the Dam on 1 June 2020 for George Floyd. Halsema was criticised because of the crowd gathering and the 1.5 meter (5') safety issue from COVID-19, it was impossible to manage the 1.5 meter rule between the protesting citizens which was a must for safety reasons. Halsema was criticised on the Dutch news by a lot of people in the medical field for not taking action and lack of responsibility.[25] In Den Haag and Rotterdam, there were also protests but where the 1,5 meter safety measurement had been followed and the second protest became too crowded and further protests where cancelled and stopped.[26]

On 1 July 2021, Halsema apologised for the city's involvement in the Atlantic slave trade.[27]

Work outside of politics[edit]

Halsema during a preview of her theatre-lecture Een Vrij Land in 2018

After she left politics in January 2011, Halsema worked as freelancer: she has been active as an administrator, member of advisory committees, in science, as an author and television creator.

Immediately after her political career, Halsema joined De Volkskrant, for which she wrote number of articles and columns in 2011 and 2012. In 2013, she was involved in De Correspondent, for which she also wrote articles for two years.[28] In 2016 she wrote her political memoir Pluche. In 2017 she wrote the Essay Nergensland. Nieuw Licht op migratie ("Nowhereland. A new light on migration"), where she proposed a utopian alternative to the international refugee question.[29] In 2018 she wrote the essay Macht en Verbeelding ("Power and Imagination").[30]

In 2011, she became professor by special appointment at Tilburg University occupying the Leonardo Chair for half a year.[31] She taught at the Tilburg School of Humanities. In 2012 she became a temporary professor at University of Utrecht, occupying the Peace of Utrecht Chair. She researched the meaning of social media for human rights and democracy.[32]

In December 2012, she led an inquiry into the behaviour of administrators at the school board of Amarantis. She succeeded Martin van Rijn, who had become junior minister of Health. The committee Halsema found that the board had acted within the law but that their behaviour was not desirable.[33] After that she led a committee on the governance code for the semi-public sector at the request of the Minister of Economic Affairs Henk Kamp[34] The final report of the committee concluded that a governance code would not lead to the desired culture change in the semi-public sector. The committee focused its attention on the old boys network and political cooperation.[35] In 2015 she was asked by employees and students at the University of Amsterdam to lead the committee concerning the financial policy of the University. After a month she returned the assignment. The committee felt that elementary conditions were not met for independent, careful research.[36] Since January 2018, Halsema at the request of the Council of the Judiciary chair of the quadrennial review committee.[37]

Since 2011, Halsema has been President-Commissioner at WPG Uitgevers, which is among other responsible for the publisher De Bezige Bij, Vrij Nederland and Voetbal International.[38] Since 2015 Halsema has been chair for the Trade Organisation for Healthcare for the Handicapped (VGN).[39] Because of that office she is chair of the Executive Consultation for Healthcare (BOZ), a partnership between employers' organisations and patients' organisations in the realm of healthcare.[40] In addition to this she has a number of functions in the public and private sector: between 2012 and 2014 she was chair of the Advisory Council of ASN Bank.[41][42] Since 2015 she is a member of the board the Start Foundation, a fund for people who have "distance to the labour market".[43] And since 2016 she has been a commissioner at Independer.[44] Additionally, Halsema has been a member of the executive of a number of non-profits: between 2011 and 2017 she was chair of the board of Stichting Vluchteling.[45] Since 2017, she has been chair of the board of Aidsfonds/Stopaidsnow.[46] She chairs the board of Adelheid Roosen's theatre company[47] and of IDFA.[48]

In 2014, Halsema made the six-part documentary series Seks en de Zonde ("Sex and Sin") with Hassnae Bouazza about women in the Islamic world. She interviewed activists Veena Malik and Souad al-Shammary for this. Together with Gijs van de Westelaken, she developed and produced the TV-series De Fractie ("The Parliamentary Party") about politics in The Hague. Recently[when?] she has been working with her partner Robert Oey on a documentary series on terrorism.[49] In the Spring of 2017, she made a theatre tour with her theatre-lecture Een Vrij Land ("A Free Country").[50]

Political views[edit]

Femke Halsema campaigning in 2006

Halsema sees herself as a left-liberal. In Dutch she prefers vrijzinnig (free-thinking) over liberaal (liberal) because the conservative liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy is seen as the pre-eminent liberal party. In 2004, she started a debate within her party about a new political course. Her new course emphasises two concepts: freedom and pragmatism.

With the concept freedom, Halsema seeks to connect herself with the "freedom-loving traditions of the left".[51] Like Isaiah Berlin, Halsema discerns two traditions of freedom: negative and positive liberty.[52] For Halsema negative liberty is the freedom of citizens from government interference. She wants to apply this concept especially to the multicultural society and rule of law, where she seeks to reduce the influence of government. Positive liberty is, according to Halsema, the emancipation of citizens from poverty. Halsema wants to apply this concept especially to the economy, the welfare state and the environment, where the government should take more action.

With pragmatism, Halsema has contrasted her politics with those of the new populist political right, such as Pim Fortuyn. While the right, in Halsema's eyes, had become dogmatic and tried to reform society on the basis of new principles, Halsema claimed that the left has got more feeling for the "narrow margins of politics."[53] According to Halsema, the left has emphasised equitable outcomes, as opposed to merely fair-minded principles.

This new course has been integrated into several practical proposals on the economy, which together form Vrijheid Eerlijk Delen ("Sharing Liberty Fairly"). These proposals have led to considerable debate.[54] Halsema proposes that the main goal of the welfare state should be the emancipation of citizens from poverty.[55] To ensure this, she proposes a new model for the welfare state, which is modelled on the Danish welfare state. In her perception of the welfare state, the government should endeavour to ensure full employment by cutting taxes on labour, increasing labour flexibility and creating more government jobs. If there is more work, so this theory goes, everybody can get a job, after a maximum of one year of unemployment. She also called for the implementation of a partial basic income.

Personal life[edit]

Halsema lives in Amsterdam with her two children and her partner, the documentary maker Robert Oey, who among others made the film De Leugen (The Lie) in which Halsema participated amongst others by singing.


  • 1995 – Ontspoord. Opstellen over criminaliteit & rechtshandhaving
  • 1997 – Land in zicht. een cultuurpolitieke benadering van de Ruimtelijke Ordening (with Maarten Hajer)
  • 2005 – Vrijheid als ideaal (edited by Bart Snels)
  • 2006 – Linkse lente
  • 2008 – Geluk! Voorbij de hyperconsumptie, haast en hufterigheid
  • 2010 – Zoeken naar vrijheid
  • 2016 – Pluche. Politieke memoires
  • 2017 – Nergensland, Nieuw licht op migratie
  • 2018 – Macht en Verbeelding. Essay voor de maand van de filosofie


  1. ^ [1] Zin, p. 109, "het Jansensoog", about her paternal grandmother Rika Jansen (not the Dutch folk singer)
  2. ^ [2] parlement.com
  3. ^ [3], born 22 December 1941 at Driehuis-Velsen Olga Margaretha Bertha Fles, daughter of C.N. Fles and T. Korbee, Rotterdams Nieuwblad 23 December 1941.
  4. ^ [4], Centraal Bureau Genealogie, collectie Familieadvertenties (Central Bureau for Genealogy, collection family-advertisements) on C.N. Fles and T. Korbee, at Hilligersberg.
  5. ^ „Ik kan heel venijnig zijn”, Reformatorisch Dagblad, 15 November 2002 (interview). "Mijn moeder heet Fles, dat is een Joodse naam uit de Achterhoek. Waarschijnlijk zijn mijn voorouders geassimileerde Joden. De broers van mijn opa heetten Abraham en Izaäk, kleermakers te Rotterdam."
  6. ^ [5], Familytree of Johannes Fles (Flessinghe), born ca. 1640 in Sarbrug, moved to Leiden, published online.
  7. ^ [6], Stadsarchief Rotterdam, burgerlijke stand, overlijdensregisters, overlijdensakten (Municipal Archive Rotterdam, civil administration, death certificates)
  8. ^ [7], Family tree of Johannes Fles, born ca. 1640 at Sarbrug, forefather of family Fles, resident in Leiden.
  9. ^ [8], Hans Blom, David Wertheim, Hetty Berg en Bart Wallet (eds.): "Geschiedenis van de Joden in Nederland" (completely revised edition; Balans, Amsterdam 2017); review by Jonet 17 June 2020.
  10. ^ [9], Bart Wallet on Jonet dd 11 July 2018 / 22 January 2020 "Why Femke Halsema is not Jewish after all".
  11. ^ [10], Nieuw Israëlitisch Weekblad (New Israelitic Weekly), 12 July 2018,“Femke Halsema toch niet joods”.
  12. ^ ‘Ik kan hard zijn’ op Groene.nl
  13. ^ Opnieuw lijnrecht tegenover elkaar
  14. ^ a b c "Femke Halsema deelt nu groene rozen uit" in Vrij Nederland, 6 December 1997
  15. ^ Linkse lente, p. 29
  16. ^ Linkse lente, p. 50
  17. ^ "Halsema kiest voor liberalisme" in NRC Handelsblad, 11 oktober 2005
  18. ^ Halsema Liberaal van het Jaar on JOVD.nl
  19. ^ Niet versmelten met het pluche in de Volkskrant, 30 oktober 2006
  20. ^ Femke Halsema wint Thorbeckeprijs, NU.nl, 13 April 2010
  21. ^ Vacature Minister-president in Intermediair
  22. ^ Balen als een gieter, afgaan als een stekker op nrc.nl
  23. ^ PvdA wilde Femke Halsema als minister, VVD lag dwars at volkskrant.nl
  24. ^ Amsterdam to have first woman mayor Halsema Retrieved 31 July 2018. BBC.com
  25. ^ "Halsema zou demonstratie op de Dam met kennis van nu hebben verplaatst". NU (in Dutch). 3 June 2020. Retrieved 3 June 2020.
  26. ^ "'Burgemeester Halsema heeft het verkeerd ingeschat'". 2 June 2020.
  27. ^ "Amsterdam mayor apologises for city's past role in slave trade". the Guardian. 1 July 2021. Retrieved 1 December 2022.
  28. ^ Femke Halsema op decorrespondent.nl
  29. ^ Nergensland nieuw licht op migratie op amboanthos.nl
  30. ^ Macht en Verbeelding Archived 8 April 2018 at the Wayback Machine at FemkeHalsema.nl
  31. ^ Femke Halsema Leonardohoogleraar UvT in 2011 Archived 8 April 2018 at the Wayback Machine at uvt.nl
  32. ^ Femke Halsema gasthoogleraar aan Universiteit Utrecht on parool.nl
  33. ^ Commissie-Halsema mild voor voormalig bestuurders Amarantis at nrc.nl
  34. ^ Halsema gaat gedragscode semipublieke sector opstellen at binnenlandsbestuur.nl
  35. ^ Een Lastig Gesprek
  36. ^ Commissie Halsema geeft opdracht terug, foliaweb.nl, 24 juni 2015
  37. ^ Instellingsbesluit Visitatiecommissie gerechten at officielebekendmakingen.nl
  38. ^ Femke Halsema gaat voor WPG Uitgevers werken at volkskrant.nl
  39. ^ Femke Halsema nieuwe voorzitter VGN at vgn.nl
  40. ^ Femke Halsema nieuwe voorzitter BoZ at brancheorganisatiezorg.nl
  41. ^ Halsema nieuwe voorzitter raad van advies ASN Bank at ad.nl
  42. ^ Ivo Bökkerink; Halsema weg bij ASN Bank, Financieel Dagblad, 29 September 2015
  43. ^ Femke Halsema Archived 8 April 2018 at the Wayback Machine at startfoundation.nl
  44. ^ Raad van Commissarissen van Independer at independer.nl
  45. ^ Femke Halsema wordt voorzitter Stichting Vluchteling, de Volkskrant
  46. ^ "Femke Halsema voorzitter Aids Fonds-STOP AIDS NOW!-Soa Aids". Archived from the original on 8 April 2018. Retrieved 31 May 2018.
  47. ^ "Bestuurder". Femke Halsema. Retrieved 9 May 2018.
  48. ^ Nieuwe bestuursleden IDFA at idfa.nl
  49. ^ Femke Halsema Archived 27 June 2018 at the Wayback Machine at Femke Halsema.nl
  50. ^ Een vrij land at theater.nl
  51. ^ a reference to the GroenLinks declaration of principles made by Halsema in Halsema, F. "Van Angstpolitiek naar Kanspolitiek" Archived 24 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine (6 September 2006) (in Dutch; "From the Politics of Fear to the Politics of Chance")
  52. ^ Halsema, F., “Vrijzinnig Links” Archived 6 February 2007 at archive.today in De Helling 15:2 (2004) (in Dutch; "Free-thinking Left")
  53. ^ a reference to a book written by Labour Party Prime Minister Joop den Uyl in Halsema, F., “Vrijzinnig Links” Archived 6 February 2007 at archive.today in De Helling 15:2 (2004) (in Dutch; "Free-thinking Left")
  54. ^ Halsema, F. (2016) "Pluche", pp. 172–173
  55. ^ Halsema, F., Vrijheid Eerlijk Delen ("Sharing Liberty Fairly") can be obtained "Archived: Vrijheid Eerlijk Delen" [Sharing Liberty Fairly] (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 July 2014. Retrieved 28 July 2014. (in Dutch)

External links[edit]