About three years ago, during the first board meetings of Nationaal Congres Engels I ever attended, there were two topics that kept coming up: the American election with Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton, and the referendum about Brexit. The board members were unanimous in thinking that Hillary Clinton would become the first female President of the United States, and that there could be no question that Great Britain would remain a part of the European Union. We couldn’t have been more wrong, on both issues, and the news cycle from the Anglo-American world that reaches us daily is still reeling from the fallout of those momentous outcomes.

The recipient of this year’s Herman Wekker Prize also became caught up in one of these news stories, and still is. In fact, he was planning on coming to Ede today to receive this award, but because the story on which he writes and tweets almost every day, Brexit, is still unfolding, he had to stay put in London. He will reach us through Skype in a few minutes. Yet as a writer for the newspaper NRC Handelsblad, as a television journalist for RTL Nieuws, and through his own Twitter account he has been keeping various Dutch audiences updated almost 24/7 about the British decision to leave the UK for the past three years. With interviews, on-site visits in British cities and rural communities, and by answering direct questions from his Dutch readers and viewers, the winner of the 2019 Herman Wekker Prize has kept us informed at a frantic pace and through various, innovative new forms.

The Professor Herman Wekker Prize is awarded during each biennial Nationaal Congres Engels to a journalist from the Netherlands who has given outstanding service to the spread of information about English-speaking countries and cultures among the Dutch public. The prize is named in honour of the late Herman Wekker, former Professor of English Language at the University of Groningen and one of the founders of this national conference. He had an international vision and recognised the central importance of responsible and exciting journalism in sharing insight and understanding between cultures. Before his early death in 1997 he was very active among English language scholars, teachers and writers in the Netherlands, and conceived the idea of this award. It was he who conceived the idea of this award, an award which, over the years, has become widely appreciated among journalists in this country. Professor Wekker’s daughter, Charlotte Wekker, is here to award the prize that was named after her father. The winners to date are:

1995:   Hans Bouman

1997:   Tine van Houts

1999:   Charles Groenhuijsen

2001:   Peter Sierksma

2003:   Max Westerman

2005: Hans Steketee

2007: Lia van Bekhoven

2009: Tom-Jan Meeus

2011: Hieke Jippes

2013: Eelco Bosch van Rosenthal

2015: Bram Vermeulen

2017 Arjen van de Horst en Wouter Zwart

It is this year’s winner’s unique combination of new journalistic forms combined with his versatility as a journalist, and his doggedly objective newscasting that convinced the jury that he is the right winner. When Theresa May announced the start of the negotiation process with the EU in March of 2017, this journalist answered questions that readers of NRC Handelsblad had through Facebook. He bridges both old media and new media, and what has traditionally been considered highbrow and lowbrow forms of media, with remarkable ease, never dumbing down his message, but also never making the news unnecessarily difficult. He can be both serious when reporting for NRC Handelsblad, for instance about a Conservative M.P. who wants the UK to remain in the E.U. and is receiving death threats, but also humorous, for instance in in his tweets. Yet while reporting about Brexit through all these different forms, he is always respectful to the British people he portrays and interviews, whether they are Brexiteers or Remainers. He has made the contentious issue of Brexit more comprehensible and more accessible to the Dutch.


The winner of the 2019 Herman Wekker Prize is: Melle Garschagen.

Erna Gille

Diederik Oostdijk  @mgarschagen