Willem Drees

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Willem Drees
Drees in 1958
Prime Minister of the Netherlands
In office
7 August 1948 – 22 December 1958
See list
Preceded byLouis Beel
Succeeded byLouis Beel
Minister of Finance
In office
1 July 1952 – 2 September 1952
Ad interim
Prime MinisterHimself
Preceded byPiet Lieftinck
Succeeded byJo van de Kieft
Minister of Colonial Affairs
In office
15 March 1951 – 30 March 1951
Ad interim
Prime MinisterHimself
Preceded byJohan van Maarseveen
Succeeded byLeonard Peters
Leader of the Labour Party
In office
9 February 1946 – 22 December 1958
See list
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byJaap Burger
Deputy Prime Minister
In office
25 June 1945 – 7 August 1948
Prime MinisterWillem Schermerhorn
Louis Beel (1948)
Preceded byHendrik van Boeijen (1942)
Succeeded byJosef van Schaik
Minister of Social Affairs
In office
25 June 1945 – 7 August 1948
Prime MinisterWillem Schermerhorn
Louis Beel (1948)
Preceded byDolf Joekes
Succeeded byFrans Wijffels
Leader of the Social
Democratic Workers' Party
In office
14 May 1940 – 9 February 1946
See list
Preceded byWillem Albarda
Succeeded byOffice discontinued
Additional positions
Member of the House
of Representatives
In office
3 July 1956 – 3 October 1956
In office
15 July 1952 – 2 September 1952
In office
27 July 1948 – 10 August 1948
In office
4 June 1946 – 4 July 1946
In office
9 May 1933 – 25 June 1945
Parliamentary groupLabour Party
Social Democratic
Workers' Party

Parliamentary leader in the
House of Representatives
In office
10 August 1939 – 25 September 1945
Preceded byWillem Albarda
Succeeded byMarinus van der
Goes van Naters
Parliamentary groupSocial Democratic
Workers' Party
Personal details
Born(1886-07-05)5 July 1886
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Died14 May 1988(1988-05-14) (aged 101)
The Hague, Netherlands
Political partyLabour Party (1946–1971)
Other political
Independent Social
(from 1971)
Social Democratic
Workers' Party
RelativesWillem B. Drees (grandson)
Jacques Wallage (grandson-in-law)
Alma materAmsterdam Public Trade School
OccupationPolitician · civil servant · Accountant · Stenographer · Historian · Author

Willem Drees Sr. (Dutch pronunciation; 5 July 1886 – 14 May 1988) was a Dutch politician of the defunct Social Democratic Workers' Party (SDAP) and later co-founder of the Labour Party (PvdA) and historian who served as Prime Minister of the Netherlands from 7 August 1948 to 22 December 1958.[1][2][3][4]

Drees studied Accounting at the Amsterdam Public Trade School obtaining a Bachelor of Accountancy degree and worked as a bank teller for the Twentsche Bank from July 1903 to July 1906 as a stenographer for Parliament from January 1907 until August 1919. Drees was elected as a Member of the House of Representatives after the election of 1933, taking office on 9 May 1933 serving as a frontbencher and spokesperson for Social Affairs. After Party Leader and Parliamentary leader Willem Albarda was appointed as Minister of Water Management in the Cabinet De Geer II Drees was selected as his successor on 10 August 1939. Shortly after the German Invasion Party Leader Albarda announced he was stepping down and Drees was anonymously selected as his successor as Leader on 14 May 1940. Following the end of World War II Drees was appointment as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Social Affairs in the national unity Cabinet Schermerhorn–Drees taking office on 25 June 1945. In February 1946 Drees was one of the co-founders of the Labour Party and became its first Leader. For the election of 1946 Drees served as one of the Lijsttrekkers (top candidates) and following a cabinet formation continued his offices in the Cabinet Beel I. For the election of 1948 Drees served again as one of the Lijsttrekkers and following a successful cabinet formation with the Catholics formed the Cabinet Drees–Van Schaik with Drees becoming Prime Minister of the Netherlands and taking office on 7 August 1948.[5]

The cabinet Drees-Van Schaik fell on 24 January 1951 and after a short cabinet formation was replaced by Cabinet Drees I with Drees continuing as Prime Minister. For the election of 1952 Drees served again as Lijsttrekker and following a successful cabinet formation formed the Cabinet Drees II and continued as Prime Minister for a second term. For the election of 1956 Drees once again served as Lijsttrekker and following another cabinet formation formed the Cabinet Drees III and continued as Prime Minister for a third term. The Cabinet Drees III fell on 11 December 1958 and shortly thereafter Drees announced his retirement and would step down as Leader and would not serve another term as Prime Minister. Drees left office following the installation of the caretaker Cabinet Beel II on 22 December 1958.

From 1948 to 1958, his four cabinets were mostly praised and supported by the largest parties in the Netherlands.[6]

Drees retired from active politics at 72 but continued to be active as a valued historian and prolific author and served on several state commissions and councils on behalf of the government. Drees was known for his abilities as a skillful team leader and effective manager. During his premiership, his cabinets were responsible for several major social reforms to social security, welfare, Child benefits and education, overseeing the decolonization of the Dutch East Indies following the Indonesian National Revolution, the fallout of the annexation of former German territory and dealing with several major crises such as the North Sea flood of 1953 and Hofmans-scandal. Drees was granted the honorary title of Minister of State on 22 December 1958 and continued to comment on political affairs as a statesman until his death in May 1988 at the age of 101. He holds the record as the third longest-serving and longest-lived Prime Minister at 101 years, 314 days and his premiership is consistently regarded both by scholars and the public to have been one of the best in Dutch history.[7][8][9]

Education and private career[edit]

Willem Drees was born in Amsterdam on 5 July 1886. After completing his secondary education in 1903 at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam, he worked until 1906 for the Twentsche Bank in Amsterdam. This was followed by a period as a stenographer with the Municipal Council of Amsterdam and then between 1907 and 1919 with the States General of the Netherlands.[citation needed]

Political involvement[edit]

Early career[edit]

In 1904, Drees joined the Social Democratic Workers' Party, which later was absorbed into the Labour Party in 1946. From 1910 to 1931 he was chairman of The Hague branch of the Social Democratic Workers' Party and between 1913 and 1941 a member of the municipal council of The Hague. During that period he was alderman for social affairs from 1919 to 1931 and for finance and public works through to 1933.[5]

For 22 years, between 1919 and 1941, Drees also held a seat on the Provincial Council of South Holland and for 19 years between 1927 and 1946 one on the Social Democratic Workers' Party executive. Between 1933 and 1940 he represented the Social Democratic Workers' Party in the House of Representatives and from 1939 as leader in the House of Representatives

During the German occupation Drees was taken hostage in Buchenwald concentration camp on 7 October 1940. On 7 October 1941, he was moved to Kamp Sint-Michielsgestel [nl], and released on 11 May 1942 due to poor health.[10] After release, 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 government in exile charged with the preparation of steps to be taken at the time of liberation.[11]

Thereafter, from 24 June 1945 to 7 August 1948 Drees was Minister of Social Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister in the Cabinet Schermerhorn/Drees.

Prime Minister of the Netherlands[edit]

From 7 August 1948 to 22 December 1958, Drees was Prime Minister of the Netherlands in four successive cabinets: First Drees cabinet, Second Drees cabinet, Third Drees cabinet and Fourth Drees cabinet.

His period in office saw at least four major political developments: the traumas of decolonisation, economic reconstruction, the establishment of the Dutch welfare state,[12][13] 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 of State, the Labour Party 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 Labour Party. He eventually gave up membership of a party he had served for close to 67 years.

Drees was an Esperantist and addressed the 1954 World Congress of Esperanto, which was held in Haarlem.[14]

Belgian Prime Minister Paul-Henri Spaak and Drees at a Benelux conference, 10 March 1949

A wide range of social reforms were carried out during Drees's tenure as Prime Minister. In social security, the Occupational Pensions Funds Act of March 1949 made membership of industry-wide pension funds compulsory, while the General Old Age Pensions Act of May 1956 introduced universal flat-rate old age pensions for all residents as a right and with no retirement condition at the age of 65. The Retired Persons' Family Allowances Act of November 1950 established a special allowance for pensioned public servants with children (abolished in 1963), a law of November 1950 extended compulsory health insurance to cover other groups such as old-age and invalidity pensioners, and a law of December 1956 introduced health insurance with special low contributions for old-aged pensioners below a certain income ceiling. A law of August 1950 established equal rights for illegitimate children, and introduced an allowance for disabled children between the ages of 16 and 20. This law also introduced monthly (previously annual) fixing of the number of children for whom allowances are claimable. The Temporary Family Allowances Act for the Self-employed of June 1951 entitled self-employed persons with low incomes to family allowance for the first and second child (abolished in 1963), and a law of February 1952 introduced an allowance for studying and for disabled children until the age of 27.[15] In 1949, an unemployment insurance act was passed that came into effect in 1952. This contained redundancy pay insurance "for an initial short period of unemployment and the actual unemployment insurance for the period thereafter."[16] In 1952 a Social Security Scheme for the Unemployed entered into force on 30 June 1952. It applied to unemployed persons "who, in principle, do not fall under the Unemployment Act or who, in principle, do fall under the said Act, but do not(any longer) receive benefits under the said Act." The scheme therefore distinguished 2 groups of employees and had 2 benefit schemes.[17]

In 1949, an Artist Subsidy Scheme was introduced, under which artists "lacking sufficient income from their profession received a financial provision for a certain time allowing them to continue working."[18] A Law of 22 June 1950 established the Praeventiefonds with the task of making funds available "to take measures aimed at preventing disease or promoting health."[19] From 1950 to 1957, the Praeventiefonds received a separate budget "from the Equalization Fund for supplementary nutrition for TB patients curing at home."[20] Under the Accident Pension Supplement Act of 26 May 1950, "in certain cases persons who received an annuity or benefit under one of the Accident Acts were granted a supplement to their annuity or benefit."[21] One journal at that the time commented on the provisions of this law: "The law supplementing accident benefits came into force on June 12, 1950. Pursuant to this law, a contribution of 25% is granted on annuities under the Accidents Act 1921 and the Agriculture and Horticulture Accidents Act 1921, which annuities are calculated on the basis of a loss of fitness to work of more than 25%, if these annuities have been or will be awarded. in connection with an accident. that took place before January 1, 1947 and the person affected was compulsorily insured on the day of the accident. The same allowance is given on the annuities under the Maritime Accidents Act, if these benefits have been or will be awarded in connection with an accident that took place before January 1, 1946. Furthermore, the Minister of Social Affairs has determined that a married woman who is the breadwinner for her husband or for one or more children under the age of 16 is entitled to the allowance. unless her husband already derives rights under the law. The supplement does not apply to those who had an accident after the above dates. Their basic wages, on which interest is calculated, are higher."[22]

Newly appointed Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Drees at the Ministry of Defence, 11 January 1951

The Pension and Savings Funds Act (PSW) of 1952 improved the vulnerable position of employees in private companies "by obliging the employer who had promised a pension to his employee to cover the pension risk he assumed, either with a pension fund or with an insurance company." However, the Act "does not oblige the employer to promise a pension: in contrast to the salary, to which the employee is entitled in all cases (cf. Article 1637 g of the Civil Code), the employee is only entitled to a pension if this has been promised."[23] An Act of 29 September 1955, Stb. 456, amending the Poor Law, introduced an amended regulation regarding the domicile of social assistance, or for the payment of the costs of nursing or care of the sick, disabled and elderly in the appropriate institutions. The aim of the amendment was to provide a more satisfactory arrangement for liability for costs.[24] In 1956, a Hungarian Refugee Assistance Scheme was introduced,[25] along with Provision for the Blind (Voorziening voor Blinden). This provision recognized the blind as one of the groups in society entitled to a special benefit.[26] In addition to the normative benefits, benefits tailored to the individual case could also be awarded, "such as expenses for the mental and cultural development of the blind person, costs of education or training and medical treatment or nursing of the blind person in his family."[25] In 1957 a new social health insurance scheme for indigent pensioners was set up called bejaardenverzekering (elderly insurance).[27] In January 1958, legal aid was introduced.[28] The General Widows and Pensions Act was also drafted, which was passed under the Cabinet Beel II[29]

In terms of working conditions, safety Regulations for Electric Passenger and Goods Lifts with a Cage that can be entered were introduced on 15 June 1949.[30] A Decree further amending the Safety Decree for Factories and Workplaces, 1938 Dated January 1950 "adds seven new Sections, 212-212 F to the Safety Decree of 1938. The new sections deal with construction, repair or demolition of buildings, foundations, water works, underground conduits and roads. In addition to general safety provisions, there are provisions concerning the construction and use of scaffolds, floors, gangways, stairs, gangplanks, etc., and hoisting appliances."[30] Other decrees were issued concerning working hours for various groups.[31] The Silicosis Act of 1951 sought "to prevent and combat dust lung diseases, such as silicosis, caused by inhalation of finely divided quartz dust, e.g. from sandblasting or sandstone processing, and asbestosis, caused by inhalation of asbestos dust."[32] The Law on dangerous tools of 5 March 1952 contained safety regulations with regard to dangerous tools and protection equipment.[33] In the legislative amendment of 19 January 1955, after a number of failed attempts, the regulation of working and rest times in agriculture was realized in the Labor Act 1919.[34] The Act of 18 June 1953 (Stb. 421) amended the provisions of the Labor Act 1919 on the night work of women and young persons. For instance, the time of commencement of the daily working hours for blue-collar workers under the age of 16 was raised from 5 to 6 hours, and the minimum night's rest for young people from 11 to 12 hours.[35] A law of 6 August 1954 established a legal ban on industrial work for 14-year-old girls.[36] In 1950, works councils were established,[37] requiring all enterprises with more than 25 employees to allow their employees to elect representatives.[38] The Industrial Reorganization Act of 1950 made it mandatory for workers to belong to an industrial organizations, which were bipartite associations that represented labor and management interests. These were primarily responsible for administering occupational security programs like disability and pensions. According to one study, "by making participation in the associations mandatory, Drees was able to vastly expand the scope of the workforce covered by social security programs, guaranteeing a greater degree of uniformity in the benefits workers received."[39] Dismissal law was reformed in 1953, with a scheme introduced "that not only created the possibility of claiming compensation after a manifestly unreasonable dismissal, but also the so-called 'restoration of employment'."[40] In 1957 the dismissal of female civil servants upon marriage was abolished.[41]

Greek Prime Minister Alexandros Papagos, Drees and Greek Foreign Minister Stefanos Stefanopoulos, 2 February 1954

In the field of housing, the Implementation for Rent Act (1950) fixed rents and rent increases, while the Regional and Town Planning Act (1950) regulated the planning of house building. In addition, the Reconstruction Act of 1950 established housebuilding programmes,[42] and legislation was passed on house building standards (1951), the uniformity of buildings (1954), and uniform building standards (1956).[43] In 1953, a premium scheme for home improvement was set up by the government.[44] From 1956 it was possible for low-income groups to obtain a mortgage guarantee.[45] In education, measures were carried out such as increased expenditure on the system, a reduction in registration fees at State universities and at the institute of technology,[42] and the granting (in January 1956) of a special benefit to primary school teachers and to certain categories of vocational teachers, "particularly those who risk being unemployed and who cannot lay claim to a retaining fee."[46] From 1951 onwards government grants were provided to 'impoverished young people from very good study aptitude that met reasonable requirements of general development and civilization' (De Looper, 1997).[47] A doubling of the deduction of costs for learning and studying children aged 16 to 27 from income and wealth tax was achieved, followed by a triple deduction for income, wage and wealth taxes for parents with studying children aged 16 to 27 who lived away from home and who were largely supported by their parents.[48]

Other initiatives included secondary schools for girls and special primary education in 1949, teacher training colleges in 1952,[49] the extension of compulsory education to 8 years in 1950,[50] the Nursery Education Act of 1955, which introduced the option of kindergarten for children from the age of four upwards, while also establishing regulations for nursery-school teachers,[15] and the Schoolfees Act of 1955, which abolished all fees up to the school-leaving age.[51] 

A department of social welfare was also established (1952),[43] employment facilities for the disabled were expanded and care for the blind received money.[52] In 1952, a policy framework was set up for dealing with "problem families," such as subsidies for pillarized family care and social development work in the cities.[53] That same year the Ministry of Social Affairs began granting subsidies "to promote the employment of the blind, on the one hand through contributions for individual cases (purchase or conversion of equipment, transport, etc.), on the other hand through subsidizing the work facilities of the blind." Following on from schemes for the blind, equal provisions for other handicapped persons were established in 1955 and 1958.[54] From 1953, subsidies to voluntary agencies serving the physically and the mentally handicapped were included in the budget of the Ministry of Culture, Recreation, and Social Welfare 3, when they were introduced as an experiment that year.[55] In addition, "Government care for passengers on inland vessels started with the establishment of the Social Commission for Boatmen in 1956."[56] The Water Supply Act of 1957 sought to achieve sanitation in terms of drinking water quality.[57] In 1957, "the task of the CCCA (Central Commission for Cultural Work in Labor Camps) was modified and expanded and at the same time the Provincial and Local Committees were abolished. The task of the CCCA was formulated as the promotion of the cultural interests of workers, group-housed in housing estates whose operation and/or management falls under the care of the minister and, if necessary, other groups of workers, group-housed outside their places of residence."[58] The Health Act of 1956 contained new legal regulations concerning regarding the organization of public health care,[59] while the Medicines Supply Act of 28 July 1958, contained new regulations "regarding the supply of medicines and the practice of medical preparation."[60]

In addition, a number of 'regulation laws' were passed through parliament including the Insurance Brokerage Act, the Shop Closing Act (including some twenty amendments), development plans for disadvantaged areas and the Credit System Supervision Act.[61]

Personal life[edit]

Drees in his house in The Hague, 2 July 1981

On 28 July 1910, Drees married Catharina Hent (6 May 1888 – 30 January 1974)[62][63] and had two sons and two daughters, Both his sons Jan Drees and Willem Drees Jr. were active members of the Labour Party, but left the party around 1970 to join the Democratic Socialists 1970. The cause was a row with younger party members who wanted to plot a more radical left-wing course for the party. Drees himself left the Labour Party in 1971 leaving them without their icon, but he never joined the Democratic Socialists 1970.

Drees was a Teetotaler. Willem Drees died on 14 May 1988 in The Hague, two months before his 102nd birthday.[64] From 22 August 1986, when former Turkish President Celâl Bayar died, until his own death Drees was the world's oldest living former head of government.

In 2004 he ended in third place in the election of The Greatest Dutchman.[65][66]

Further reading[edit]

Four Volume Biography Willem Drees 1886–1988, in Dutch:

  • Jelle Gaemers, De rode wethouder: De jaren 1886–1940 (Amsterdam: Balans, 2006).637 pp. ISBN 90 5018 760 9.
  • Hans Daalder, Gedreven en behoedzaam: De jaren 1940–1948 (Amsterdam: Balans, 2003). 528 pp. ISBN 90 5018 6157.
  • Hans Daalder, Vier jaar nachtmerrie: De Indonesische kwestie (Amsterdam: Balans, 2004). 548 pp. ISBN 90 5018 639 4.
  • Hans Daalder en Jelle Gaemers, Premier en elder statesman: De jaren 1948–1988 (Amsterdam: Balans, 2014). 640 pp. ISBN 978 94 600 3715 3.
  • W. Drees, Gespiegeld in de tijd. De nagelaten autobiografie (Amsterdam 2000). (Memoir by Willem Drees, Jr.)


Ribbon bar Honour Country Date Comment
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Netherlands Lion Netherlands 22 December 1958
Grand Cross of the Order of Leopold Belgium 10 March 1949
Grand Cross of the Order of the Dannebrog Denmark
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Holy Trinity Ethiopia 3 November 1954
Grand Cross of the Order of the Legion of Honour France 10 July 1954
Grand Cross of the Royal Order of George I Greece 2 February 1954
Grand Cross of the Order of the Star of Africa Liberia 10 December 1956
Grand Cross of the Order of Adolphe of Nassau Luxembourg
Grand Cross of the Order of the Oak Crown Luxembourg 12 July 1951
Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav Norway
Grand Cross of the Order of Vasa Sweden
Knight Grand Cross (First Class) of the Order of the White Elephant Thailand 26 September 1955
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George United Kingdom 24 July 1958
Medal of Freedom with Gold Palm United States 7 April 1953
Honorific Titles
Ribbon bar Honour Country Date Comment
Minister of State Netherlands 22 December 1958 Style of Excellency


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  58. ^ Sociale Voorzieningen deel 2 Een herzien institutioneel onderzoek op het beleidsterrein sociale zekerheid ten aanzien van de sociale voorzieningen, (1940-) 1996 – 2004, P.136
  59. ^ BWBR0002202 – wet Gezondheidswet
  60. ^ Artikel 1 Wet op de geneesmiddelenvoorziening
  61. ^ Het kabinet-Drees II In de schaduiv van de Koreacrisis J.J.M. Ramakers (ed.) P.743
  62. ^ "Graftombe.nl – Informatie over Catharina Hent". www.graftombe.nl.
  63. ^ "SeniorPlaza – Willem Drees". seniorplaza.nl.
  64. ^ "Willem Drees Dies at 101; Postwar Dutch Leader". The New York Times. 19 May 1988.
  65. ^ (in Dutch) 'Pim Fortuyn toch niet de Grootste Nederlander' NU.nl
  66. ^ (in Dutch) Zoektocht naar ‘Grootste Nederlander’ begint Geschiedenis24

External links[edit]

Media related to Willem Drees at Wikimedia Commons

Party political offices
Preceded by Parliamentary leader of the
Social Democratic Workers' Party
in the House of Representatives

Succeeded by
Leader of the Social
Democratic Workers' Party

Party merged into
the Labour Party
Preceded by
Office established
Leader of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Office established
Lijsttrekker of the
Labour Party

1946 • 1948 • 1952 • 1956
With: Jaap Burger (1946 • 1948)
Marinus van der
Goes van Naters
(1946 • 1948)
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by
Office established
Deputy Prime Minister
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Social Affairs
Succeeded by
Preceded by Prime Minister of the Netherlands
Succeeded by
Minister of General Affairs
Preceded by Minister of Colonial Affairs
Ad interim

Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Finance
Ad interim

Succeeded by
Preceded by Oldest living state leader
22 August 1986 – 14 May 1988
Succeeded by