The career of ... Eva González Pérez
1975 Arrival in the Netherlands
2000 Graduated from Utrecht University and sworn in as a lawyer
2007 Establishes own law firm in Helmond
2014 From 2014 she gets involved with the childcare benefit scandal, in 2015 she wins the first case
2022 Knight in the Order of Oranje-Nassau. Other awards for her role in the childcare benefit scandal: Issue Award, the Don Justo José Manuel Maza prize, the Puñetas de Plata prize and (together with Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt) the Coornhert Prize
2023 Alumnus of the Year Utrecht University and member of Staatscommissie Rechtsstaat (Dutch State Commission on the rule of law)
I want to be a lawyer, said the twelve year old Eva González Pérez in Year One of domestic science school. Teachers looked at her with pity, but she didn’t let that discourage her. On the contrary.
For anyone for whom the name Eva González Pérez rings a bell but they can’t really remember why: she played a key role in the childcare benefit scandal. The public interest lawyer and Alumnus of the Year exposed structural problems at the Tax and Customs Administration, which led, in 2021, to the collapse of the government.
Eva was two years old when she left her grandparents in Spain to relocate to Eindhoven, where her parents struggled to build a life for themselves. Like many children of migrants at that time, on leaving primary school, she had to attend domestic science school.
My father in particular was astonished that I had baked a cake at school. ‘Cake-making?! What kind of school is that?’ After the first year I was allowed to move on to mavo (lower general secondary education). She smiles:
I should have paid more attention because I still can’t bake a cake. After mavo came havo (higher general secondary education) and vwo (pre-university education). It was a long and not always easy road.
But I wanted to study law, so I persevered. And it paid off: she got a place to study Dutch Law at Utrecht University.
In the first two years I didn’t do well at all. After that, I passed everything. If I were to go back to studying now - and this is a tip for current students - I would go and sit in court for half a day a week. Attend hearings, talk to lawyers and the messenger, and ask for copies of statements of defence and conclusions. If I’d done that I would have realised far earlier just how enjoyable the subject is. I didn’t have what you’d call a normal student life but I didn’t miss it. At that time I was still living at home in Eindhoven and wasn’t part of a student association. My husband and I were already together. We found work soon after we graduated and got married.
People stopped me from giving up
Look for the similarities
In different offices - with different vibes and learning opportunities - Eva became familiar with a wide range of legal fields.
I can’t do divorces, I prefer to bring people back together. The way I see it is this: don’t focus so much on the differences, look for the similarities! My husband is Turkish, I’m Spanish but we have a lot in common and we’ve been happy for thirty years. Encouraged in part by the entrepreneurial spirit of her husband, in 2007, Eva decided to set up her own office with colleagues. In the years that followed, she concentrated on employment law, social security law and psychiatric patient law.
But then, in 2014, came the onslaught.
Childcare benefit scandal
I noticed that my husband, who had a childcare agency and nursery, was often being checked by the Tax and Customs Administration. I myself was never checked. And suddenly his clients stopped receiving childcare benefits. They were told they had to submit information and at the time I thought: just send everything in, then the problem will be solved. But it wasn’t solved and nobody told us why. I knew this wasn’t good. Ultimately, it would lead to the childcare benefit scandal. For years Eva lurched from one shock to another and, to this day, she is still helping parents who are victims of the scandal.
Don’t you become cynical in that situation?
It’s terrible when a government body breaks the law but other people in the government played a positive role. And there were always people who stopped me from giving up, such as the first judge who agreed with me, the whistleblower who made me realise that the judge was only getting half of the documents, and Pieter Omtzigt who helped make clear the seriousness of the case and the ombudsman who spoke out. I couldn’t have done it without all these links in the chain.
As well as a Royal honour for her tireless efforts, she received many prizes. But when asked what she is most proud of, Eva says with conviction:
My children. Everything else is unimportant. It’s not about status or money, I do things to set an example to my children, so they too learn to persevere.