Willem Drees

(b. 1886)

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(b. Amsterdam, 5 July 1886; d. The Hague, 14 May 1988)

Netherlandish; Prime Minister 1948–58 While attending secondary school Drees became an active practitioner of a new shorthand method developed by A. W. Groote. After serving three years as a bank clerk, he became a professional stenographer reporting for municipal councils and professional associations. He was an official parliamentary stenographer from 1906 to 1919, when he was appointed Alderman (Wethouder) of the City of The Hague (1919–33). In this office he enjoyed great prestige, as one of the great inter-war ‘municipal socialists’.

Drees had joined the Social Democratic Party (SDAP) in 1904. He became chairman of local party organization in The Hague (serving with a short intermission from 1911 until 1931). In 1913 he was elected a local councillor in The Hague, followed by election in 1919 also as member of the Council of the Province of Southern Holland (1919–41). He became a member of the National Executive of the SDAP in 1927, was elected to the Lower House in 1933, and became leader of the parliamentary party in 1939 when two Socialists became Cabinet ministers for the first time in Dutch history.

During the German occupation he was taken hostage in Buchenwald in October 1940. Freed one year later, he played a prominent role, as vice-chairman and acting chairman of the illegal Executive Committee of the SDAP, and as a prominent participant in secret interparty consultations. In 1944 he became chairman of the Contact Commissie van de Illegaliteit and a member of the College van Vertrouwensmannen which the London government in exile charged with the preparation of steps to be taken at the time of liberation. He was invited by Queen Wilhelmina to form the first post-war Cabinet, together with Willem Schermerhorn. Drees became Minister of Social Affairs (1945–8). His temporary Old Age Pensions Act (1947) earned him nationwide popularity. Between 1948 and 1958 he presided as Prime Minister over four Cabinets consisting of the transformed Dutch Labour Party (PvdA), the Catholic KVP, and two other parties.

Drees's period in office saw at least four major political developments: the traumas of decolonization, economic reconstruction, the beginnings of a welfare state, and international integration and co-operation, including the formation of Benelux, the OEEC, NATO, the ECSC, and the EEC. When his Cabinet broke up in December 1958, he was appointed to the honorary position of Minister van Staat. The Socialist PvdA appointed him a member of its Executive Council for life in 1959. Due to impaired hearing he stopped attending its meetings in 1966. He strongly disagreed with New Left tendencies in the membership and strategies of the Dutch Labour Party. He eventually gave up membership of a party he had served for close to sixty-seven years. He remained a very active observer of Dutch politics, publishing a substantial number of books, articles, etc. until the age of 97.

Subjects: Politics.

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