Saskia Klosse Saskia Klosse Harry Heuts

Social in heart and mind

In People
Written by  Femke Kools Thursday, 05 February 2015 12:43

Her parents founded the Michelin star restaurant De Echoput in Apeldoorn, now run by her brother. As a child she helped out by washing dishes, and from the age of 14 she ran the souvenir shop with her sister. She learned from her parents the value of hard work and independence. “And from my father I learned to be authentic. To stand up for your beliefs and stay true to yourself.” Rather than follow her brother into the family business, she decided to spread her wings. Now professor of Social Law specialising in labour and social security law, Saskia Klosse was appointed to the Dutch Social and Economic Council (SER) in August.  


“I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My parents took over De Echoput in 1955. Five years later, when I was three, it burnt down. They rebuilt it and gave it a whole new direction. Because we lived in the largest wilderness area in the Netherlands, they decided to specialise in wild game.” The restaurant received its first Michelin star in 1967. When he turned 55, her father handed the reins over to her brother, Peter, who expanded it with a luxury hotel. “My father wanted to do other things. He enjoyed passing his knowledge on, just as I do now at Maastricht University and Peter does as a lecturer at the hotel school.”

Leaving the village
Klosse enjoyed working in the hospitality industry, and continued to do so during her student days in Utrecht. But she was less keen to join the family business. “I wanted to branch out from the beaten path, and in those days I saw Apeldoorn as a tiny village. I wanted something international.” She spent time in England and France learning the languages, and chanced upon the idea of studying law. “It was boring at first, but I enjoyed the electives in the last phase: labour law and things like that.”

She obtained her PhD in Utrecht with her thesis ‘Human damage: to compensate or restore?’, which compared the Dutch with the German situation. “In 1989 society wasn’t yet ready to involve people with occupational disabilities in the labour process. These days it’s a hot topic in the Netherlands. What really appealed to me in social security law and labour law was this idea that you can contribute to human development.”

She recently had a conversation with her mother about the people with occupational disabilities her parents had employed. “Johnny sorted the empty bottles, because that was something he could do. And Joep, who washed the dishes, had an alcohol problem. That’s why we kids sometimes had to help out with the washing up, because Joep didn’t show up. It was never discussed, the fact that we gave those people a chance, but of course I saw it.”

Romantic idea
She climbed the career ladder in Utrecht to the level of associate professor, then decided it was time for something new. After a sabbatical in England, she headed for Maastricht in 2000, becoming part-time professor of Social Security Law. “I had, and still have, a great love of being abroad. I enjoy the international collaboration in my work too. But I discovered that it’s a very romantic idea, the notion that you can be as much at home in a different country as in your own culture. There’s more to it than that. Maastricht and I are a good match. And of course the location is beautiful, with lovely walks in the country and foreign cities within easy reach.”

Circus horse
Klosse became full-time professor of Social Law at UM in 2005. It was in this capacity that, three years later, she received a call from Piet Donner, then Minister of Social Affairs and Employment. Was she willing to join the Bakker Committee, which would advise the government on labour participation in the Netherlands? A photo of the committee shows a group of men and a lone woman. “That’s pretty common in these situations, but I don’t see it as relevant. I’m not a circus horse that behaves differently in different circles.” She looks back with pleasure on the seven months she spent with the committee members. “Developing ideas from different disciplines was great fun. When everyone pitches in, the wheels start turning and the sparks flying, and you come out of it with a nice plan.” The plan was based on the assumption of labour shortages, but shortly after it was presented, the crisis broke out. “Still, some parts of the report were taken on board, such as increasing the retirement age.”

Sustainable solutions
Last year, another prestigious opportunity came knocking: would she join the SER? “It’s a fantastic opportunity, working with social partners to advise the government on important social themes. You’re at the forefront of policymaking. Many topics are now being viewed from the economic perspective of cutbacks and efficiency. You have to link the economic with the social, and come up with sustainable solutions. The SER can play an important role in this. And it gives me another new opportunity for personal development, together with new people.”

Her partner of 10 years is a Maastricht native. “So I’m now firmly rooted here. These days when I go to Apeldoorn I think, you know what, it is pretty here. I’m slowly reaching the ‘old’ age that the teenage me thought you had to be to appreciate the place”, she laughs. “But I’m more than comfortable here in Maastricht.”  

Saskia Klosse (1957) is UM professor of Social Law. She studied and worked at Utrecht University before relocating to Maastricht in 2000. She has been a member of the SER since September 2014.

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