On 9 December 2016, it was precisely 25 years ago that the EU Summit commenced which would lead to the much-discussed Maastricht Treaty. On that day, various leading politicians and academics participated at a special ‘EU Summit’ in Maastricht. Also present, though not as a speaker, was journalist and commentator Kees Boonman, who in 1991 took his first steps in Maastricht on the path towards the ‘Brussels reality’.
Kees Boonman lives and breathes politics, according to his colleagues in The Hague, where he has been working for decades as a political reporter and commentator. Born in 1954 in the Dutch Province of Zeeland, he is an old hand at journalism. Former Prime Minister Wim Kok once said that he was ‘tenacious as a terrier’.
Boonman also featured prominently during the Maastricht summit in 1991 as a journalist for the leading Dutch public broadcasting organisation NOS. He was already aware at the time that even for a well-informed reporter ‘Europe’ was a difficult subject that was not always easy to grasp.
Being at the centre of the action was a relative expression even then, he says looking back on his first European summit. “It was rather like having to report on a huge monstrosity. We were sitting there in the MECC, the newly built Maastricht exhibition and conference centre. I was one of hundreds or perhaps thousands of journalists. We were not in the chamber where the negotiations were actually taking place, so we simply had to believe what we were told. You are having to deal with twelve spokespersons who all say something different.”
For many viewers, Kees Boonman is a familiar face. From 2001 to 2005, he was chief editor of Network, which was then a leading current affairs programme. Prior to that, he had been a veteran reporter for NOS TV News.
Like many journalists in broadcasting, Boonman started out as a newspaper reporter, in his case at the Haarlems Dagblad. He then went on to work for various opinion magazines, including De Tijd and Elseviers Weekblad, before moving to radio in 1987, four years before the Maastricht summit. Up until 1993, Kees Boonman worked as an editor and reporter for the VARA public broadcasting association.
At present, Kees Boonman is also active in education. He teaches journalism and new media at Leiden University. He also chairs the advisory council of the Centre for Communication and Journalism (CCJ) at Utrecht University of Applied Sciences and is secretary of the Council for Journalism. Boonman is also much in demand as a guest speaker and he chairs the jury of the De Tegel prize for journalism.
According to Boonman, it is now even more difficult to grasp the ‘monstrosity that is Europe’ than it was 25 years ago. “There are now 28 countries and therefore 28 versions of the negotiations. And where there were once 12 realities, there are now 28. No easy task.”