Obituaries: Maarten van Traa

Click to follow
Maarten van Traa, politician: born Oegstgeest, The Netherlands 18 May 1945; International Secretary, PvdA 1979-86, foreign affairs spokesman 1986-97; member, Tweede Kamer 1986-97; twice married (one son, one daughter); died near Amsterdam 21 October 1997.

Maarten van Traa was an important figure in the politics of the Netherlands and played a major role in the development of social democratic politics in Europe and internationally over the last 20 years.

A fluent speaker of several languages and a thoughtful activist intellectual, van Traa was elected as International Secretary of the Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA - the Netherlands Labour Party) in 1979 and held that post until 1986 when he was elected to the second chamber of the Netherlands parliament.

The 1980s were difficult years for the traditionally pro-Nato and Atlanticist PvdA. As International Secretary van Traa played a pivotal role in the debate in the Netherlands on the "Euromissiles". Labour under its veteran leader Joop den Uyl had moved left after it went into opposition and a mass peace movement grew up to stop deployment of US Cruise and Pershing 2 land-based nuclear missiles in Western Europe to counter the perceived threat of Soviet SS20 missiles.

Van Traa sought both to encourage a constructive dialogue between democratic left parties and the peace movement and also to build an international campaign and a common position amongst European labour, socialist and social democratic parties. This was not easy given the cautious nature of the German SPD, the negative attitude of the French President Francois Mitterrand and the internal divisions of the British Labour Party.

Van Traa was instrumental in establishing the so-called "Scandilux" group of small Northern European Labour, Socialist and Social Democratic parties where the British, French and Germans were invited as observers. He was a regular visitor to Britain and visited the Labour Party Conference on several occasions. He also spoke at a massive CND demonstration in Hyde Park.

Van Traa was strongly committed to human rights and political change in Central and Eastern Europe. The contacts he had established with opposition and "dissident" groups and individuals were invaluable as European social democracy adjusted to the rapid changes there in the post-Gorbachev era. He also played a major role in the work of the Socialist International and the Confederation of Socialist Parties of the European Community.

In 1986 he was elected to the second chamber of parliament and very soon after was made Foreign Affairs spokesman under the new PvdA leader and later Prime Minister Wim Kok. He was very influential within his party in the discussions around the future of the European Union and the need to widen as well as deepen its focus.

In discussions with vis- iting Labour and Conser- vative politicians on our Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this year he emphasised his hope that we in Britain could stop being so cautious about EMU and political union and recognise that the rest of the EU were not going to wait for us. Maarten van Traa was above all an internationalist.