Speculation over Hoogeven bid to head FAO stuns Rome's Dutch community

Hans Hoogeven: PHOTO CREDIT: ©FAO/Cristiano Minichiello

 ROME – Speculation that the ambitious Dutch agronomist Hans Hoogeveen has begun campaigning to be the next FAO director general has alarmed members of the Dutch community in the Eternal City after he was ousted from his position as treasurer of the hallowed Dutch Catholic Church in Rome, the Kerk van de Friezen, amid accusations he blundered in managing the traditional donation of Dutch tulips decorating St Peter’s Square during Easter ceremonies.

 Mr Hoogeveen, 64, the head of the FAO Independent Council, has indicated to friends in the diplomatic corps accredited to the FAO that he nourishes the hope to be elected to run the troubled UN agency when current Chinese DG Qu Dongyu ends his second term, diplomatic sources told the Insider. On March 1 Mr Hoogeveen had a private audience with Pope Francis in the Vatican, fuelling speculation he was seeking support from the Holy See for a putative FAO candidature.

 Under the UN spoils system the next DG is expected to be a European and Italy as well as the Netherlands has indicated it could be interested in fielding the Italian ADG at the FAO as a candidate, evidently spurring the Dutch former ambassador to the FAO to accelerate his advance lobbying for the post, the sources added. It is acknowledged that he has shown perseverance to head the Council together with the difficult Chinese communist DG but he is highly unpopular in the Dutch Catholic community in Rome after having allegedly entangled their finances during his period as treasurer of their church of St Michael and Magnus in the Borgo district near the Vatican.

 Discontent with his stewardship of the finances climaxed earlier this year when Hoogeveen apparently sought to take control of the traditional donation by the Netherlands of tulips and other flowers to the Vatican to decorate St. Peter’s Square during the Easter ceremonies.

 Critics accused him of ‘megalomania’ and ‘taking control of things he was unable to manage.’ There was concern that the flowers would not be delivered in a clusterfuck that would mean the Netherlands would lose the prestigious tradition of contributing its floral export to the Holy See. The colorful flower arrangements are a cherished tradition stemming from Dutch florists embellishing the square for Titus Brandsma’s beatification in 1985.

 Such a mess threatened to be embarrassing for the delegation of Dutch mainly Christian Democrat politicians who come to Rome with the flowers each year at an additional cost of some 50,000 euros to the taxpayer, the sources added.

 Disaster was averted at the last moment, Hoogy was sacked from his position at the church and his wife resigned as secretary, but there was consternation among Dutch expatriates muttering expletives when the Vatican announced he had the audience with the pontiff.

 “What’s he doing meeting the pope? What is he going to screw up now?” one veteran expat commented.

 Detractors even claimed that Mr Hoogeveen was “kicked upstairs” to the relatively unimportant job of Dutch Ambassador to the UN agencies because his colleagues at the Dutch agriculture ministry were fed up of his causing problems in the administration.  After requiring the patience of St Michael to put up with the prickly Chinese DG, he evidently feels that the top job should be a quid pro quo.