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EINDHOVEN , NETHERLANDS — Rob van Gijzel is the current Mayor of Eindhoven, the fifth largest city in the Netherlands. Rob van Gijzel went to work for the Dutch Labour Party at the European Parliament in 1980. He has held different positions for the Dutch Labour Party including chairman for the Young Socialists and chairman of the division Amsterdam. In 1989, Van Gijzel became a Member of Parliament for the Dutch Labour Party. He held positions as Spokesman for Foreign Affairs, for Spatial Planning, and for Transport, Public Works and Water Management. Van Gijzel was chairman of the standing committee of Finance. He is the chairman of the Intelligent Community Forum, which is a non-profit international organization that attempts to assist various member cities with technological tools to grow more prosperous and sustainable economies.
When did you first enter politics?
When I was a student in Eindhoven, I set up the local chapter for the youth organization of the Dutch Labour Party. It quickly became the largest chapter of the Netherlands. That was my political debut, so to speak. Politics run in the Van Gijzel family: my grandfather was the first council member for the Labour Party in Eindhoven in the 1930's.
What is your party affiliation?
I am a member of the Labour Party – Partij van de Arbeid. But as a Mayor in the Dutch political system, it is important to be politically neutral. So at the moment, I'm not actively involved in activities related to the party.
Would you consider yourself a liberal or conservative politician?
I am undoubtedly a liberal politician. As a social democrat I believe in the potential of people. You need to stimulate and empower people and to make them resilient so that they can make the most of their lives. I believe in progress. Conservatism allows people to stay in their comfort zone and to believe that if we want to, things can remain just the same as they have been for years. But that is not realistic and that attitude won’t help us to solve the current societal challenges like climate change, the financial crisis, our aging societies and the lack of food and clean water. As Albert Einstein once said: "We can't solve problems with the same way of thinking that we used when we created them."
Eindhoven has a population of about how many? And what is its economic base — industry, service, etc.? Is it surviving economically and if so why?
The City of Eindhoven has approximately 219.000 inhabitants. Eindhoven is the centre of the region called Brainport. The population of the region is about 740.000 inhabitants. Eindhoven is – especially on a European or global scale – a relative small city and region, but our economic impact is much larger than would be expected from our population base.
It is no surprise that compared to other regions in the Netherlands and in the rest of the world we are doing very well. The economic growth percentage (regional GDP) in Brainport region Eindhoven has been three times bigger than the rest of the Netherlands in the last couple of years: approximately 3% regional vs. 1% national growth. Our region's economy is based mainly on the high tech industry, research and development and design: a true knowledge-based economy. Industries in our region, like ASML, Philips and FEI, are global leaders in their field. Just to give you an idea of the innovative power of our region: after San Diego, Eindhoven has the highest patent density, worldwide.
The main reasons for our economic prosperity are:
a) An exceptional level of co-operation between companies, knowledge institutes such as our university and the government. We call this the Triple Helix. All three groups work together for a set of common goals that have been set by the community.
b) Open innovation between companies, to enlarge the research possibilities of big as well as smaller tech companies, and to increase the pace of research and development, standardizing and marketing of products. Open Innovation is a technique that involves a sharing of technology knowledge among companies that would normally compete with each other.
c) A style of working called 'from Knowledge to Skills to the Till', in which the collaborating parties actively try to improve the ability to make money with smart ideas.
Eindhoven’s ambition is to play in the top league of intelligent communities. Attracting the right companies and the right talent is key. That requires a local government that is open, innovative and stimulating, both economically and culturally. In addition local government has to have a good eye for the social needs of its citizens. This makes Eindhoven a great and exciting place to live. I am a proud mayor.
Is the Netherlands part of the EU? If so, good thing and why?
The Netherlands is a part of the European Union. I believe that's a good thing, because 'one Europe' gives us, as a regional economy, more possibilities to collaborate with regions outside the Netherlands – to think outside our borders, literally and figuratively speaking. Plus, we feel that the European focus on regional development can help Brainport region Eindhoven to reach even higher levels of success. Our major companies are working on a global scale. A strong Europe is necessary to stay competitive in the global marketplace. The rapid growth of China, India of Latin America creates opportunities for us but can also be a threat if we don’t join forces on a European level.
On a more philosophical level, borders between people, between countries, and even between continents are rapidly losing their importance in this world that is moving more and more rapidly to a global community. I think the European Union is an example of a positive movement in that direction. Also the importance of the European Union for peace and prosperity of the member states cannot be underestimated. The organization of the Union is not perfect, it's not optimal, but it's a good beginning.
According to some reports, Eindhoven is one of the least safe cities in the Netherlands. Would you agree?
I do not entirely agree. Eindhoven is one of the bigger cities in the Netherlands. And usually the bigger the city, the bigger the problems, this applies to every metropolitan region.
But in Eindhoven the municipal government as well as police – also strongly believe in transparency. We don’t look away from crime. To solve problems, we first have to create insight and we make visible what is going on. This can sometimes be a bit painful, because it could be that some unflattering figures are communicated. We do not hide our problems and so we may appear to be having more problems than some other communities. But stating the problem is the only road to real solutions.
In general, people in Eindhoven feel safe in their own city, and love living here. It's a city with lots of parks, surrounded by nice rural landscapes, with great facilities to work, play sports, go out, experience cultural events or go shopping.
What do you think the ICF Foundation can accomplish?
The ICF Foundation has found fantastic ways for communities to work together worldwide. It's a highly respected and influential group of regions that have proven they belong to a league of extraordinary frontrunners when it comes to technology and innovation. Many of the strategies we have used to build our success in Eindhoven are based on the key criteria the Intelligent Community Forum knows will build opportunities for citizens.
Intelligent regions want to stay intelligent, keep ahead and maintain their leading positions. However, none of us is capable of inventing all the solutions we need on our own. We need each other. We need to combine our skills and crafts and inspire one another. We need to share our experiences and best practices and convince other intelligent cities and regions to join forces with us and bring in their knowledge and skills, to help each other and to help the rest of the world. I consider it my job and duty as chairman of the Intelligent Community Forum Foundation to strongly contribute to that.
When people talk about Europe from the U.S. side, the Netherlands really does not rank in the top 10 in conversations. Does that bother you or are you comfortable with that?
It is logical that the most well known countries in Europe are the largest countries. Germany, France, Italy, Spain, England, they all have many more citizens than The Netherlands. On the other hand the companies and brands from our region are well known. When the conversation hits topics like innovation, high tech or design, our Brainport region pops up more frequently in the top 10 lists. For instance, in a business article by Fortune magazine in September 2012, Fortune named Brainport as a potential new Silicon Valley. Our region came in seventh on the list of ‘Best new global cities for startups’. That is of course a satisfying conclusion for a Mayor.
Do you have term limits in Eindhoven? If so, what are your personal future plans?
There are term limits in Eindhoven. One term lasts 6 years, and a term can be extended by 6 years if the City Council and the Minister of the Interior agree. My current term ends in 2014. My wish for the future is to stay for at least part of a second term as Mayor of this great city. We are in an exhilarating flow at the moment and I want to capitalize on. Now is the time to strengthen the foundation for our global success. After I finish as mayor I don’t have concrete plans yet. My only professional goal and my focus right now are to work hard for the city of Eindhoven. I also encourage other communities to join the ICF movement and submit a presentation to the annual ICF awards program. The process will bring your community together and force you to examine how your community can adapt to the demands and seize the opportunities presented by information and communications technology (ICT).
What’s your favorite restaurant in Eindhoven and your favorite meal? And if it's anything but steak and we in the States won't know what it is, please explain.
I am a vegetarian and so I'm afraid my answer will not be 'Steak'… I love to eat at Radio Royaal, a restaurant situated in an old factory building. It is part of Strijp-S, a neighborhood that used to be a production plant for the Phillips Corporation, but now is becoming the creative heart of our city. When I eat there it's usually a salad, for example with goat cheese, honey and pine nuts. Delicious!