Gerrieke Bouwman on the organisation of social care services, the art of choosing between legal instruments and her favourite painting

What kind of mind-set is needed to carry out ground-breaking research as we do at UUCePP?

UUCePP researchers introduce themselves in brief interviews conducted by Elisabetta Manunza and Fredo Schotanus. Today: PhD-researcher Gerrieke Bouwman, employed from 2014.

Gerrieke Bouwman
Gerrieke Bouwman

Who’ and ‘what’ are you?

My name is Gerrieke Bouwman, PhD-researcher at the Centre for Public Procurement (UUCePP) at Utrecht University.

I am a person with a wide range of interests and this eventually brought me during my Masters in Private Law at Utrecht University, via an intensive Masterclass in Construction Law, to the area of Public Procurement Law. That suited me, as many disciplines intersect in this area of the law. My thesis touches EU and national Public Procurement Law, (Dutch) Private- and Public Law, but also the social legislation. In addition, as an interdisciplinary research centre, UUCePP works in close cooperation with the economic and supply management sciences. This is very enriching and inspiring for our research. Before starting as a PhD researcher I worked at UUCePP’s predecessor PPRC as a junior researcher. During those years  I carried out various scientific research projects with both a legal and economic approach. 

In my spare time I like to go skating, to visit museums or to discover new dishes in the kitchen.

What do you work on, and why?

My PhD research concerns the organisation of social care services in The Netherlands. My focus is on the European social market economy.  A proper organisation of social care services, such as Youth Care or day care services and domestic help for the elderly and disabled, is crucial for society. There is, however, much uncertainty about the dividing lines between the various legal instruments public authorities can choose to organise them, since the recent decentralisation of social care services in the Netherlands. Nowadays public authorities struggle how to distinguish between public contracts and subsidies; between public contracts and an ‘openhouse model’ or a license. The consequence is that public contracts are tendered in absence of a legal obligation and subsidies are directly given to a supplier when they should be tendered because in fact they fall under the definition of a public contract as laid down in he EU-Public Procurement Directive. A rise in new and informal commissioning models  has become more and more apparent, raising questions about their legality and whether they fall within the public procurement regime. Choosing the best solution for the goal that the public authority seeks to achieve is more complex when the dividing lines between the many legal instruments (public contracts, subsidies, permits, openhouse systems and concessions) are not clearly demarked. Therefore, my research aims to provide clarity on these demarking lines between the many legal instruments public authorities use to organise social care services.

In the context of a proper organisation of social care services, attention is also paid to a socially pressing issue: Health Care Fraud. Malicious and fraudulent entities have noticed that they can earn money in this sector. The question arises through what kind of instruments these entities can be excluded from the performing of social care services, and, whether the legal framework is sufficiently equipped to counteract such practices.

This research further develops in-depth economic research to social care services that has already been carried out within the interdisciplinary research centre. Within UUCePP, I therefore, have the opportunity to build on an interesting source of knowledge and (empirical) data that is also relevant for my own research.

Kinderen der zee
Gerrieke Bouwman: "Children of the Sea by Jozef Israëls (1872). This is one of my favorite paintings in the Rijksmuseum."

What makes you get out of bed in the morning? And is this different because of the COVID-19 crisis? Is there nevertheless something you appreciate in these changing circumstances?

From the sixth floor of my apartment in Utrecht, I have a beautiful view of Utrecht. It is great to hear and see the wake up of the city, every morning. People rushing to their jobs and about to conduct activities in society’s interest. And that's what I get out of bed for: to contribute my part to society as well. With COVID-19, I still have that view, but the city is quieter; that looks a bit sad in first instance. At the same time, however, the silence also has a bit of a reflection or a so-called “wake-up call”. I think it would be a good thing during a crisis, such as COVID-19, to review which habits we have adopted, which choices we make, and what impact they have on our society or on the life of others, for example with regard to climate change and child labour.

Should we go back to our old way of life after the crisis, or not?

Hopefully, COVID-19 will truly be remembered in history as a “wake-up call”, raising awareness on the importance of our individual choices and their societal impact.  For the European Union, I see a role in this as well, as to continue the path towards a more sustainable economy and its broader emphasis on social aspects, but also to embed this development more firmly in the legislation, for example with regard to the EU-internal market rules, which are still quite economically driven.

The question should be asked: what may sustainability or socially responsible choices cost us? In other words: is there room for more exceptions for national governments to make or encourage sustainable or social choices? Can they, or should they, for example, in certain cases favour social or local initiatives?

For governments, I see an important pioneering role in the implementation of such sustainable, social and societal choices. In this, UUCePP, can play a supporting role, as this is also an important pillar of our research.

Who or what inspires you?

Recently I read the book "Het Pauperparadijs" by Suzanna Jansen and visited the remains of the Dutch "Society of Humanitarianism” in Veenhuizen. It is shocking to read about the poverty in the Netherlands in the nineteenth and part of the twentieth century, and that - although with the best intentions - "innovative solutions" were invented to solve the poverty issue that would now be unthinkable. It inspired me to think about the function of social care services and underlined for me the importance of a good organisation of social care.

It is also interesting to realise that apparently innovative solutions can turn out to be miscalculated. Thoughts about justice and a just society are reflected in this. In that context, John Rawls' thought experiment of the "veil of ignorance" in his “A Theory of Justice”, deserves attention: suppose you don't know what your position is in society, what rules would you then consider to be fair? With the knowledge of today, we should also involve future generations in this experiment.  It would be a good thing if these perspectives were continuously involved in the decision-making processes which shape our society.

What is your biggest dream or greatest ambition?

My ambition and dream has to do with the above: a just and in that sense a better world. My choice for Law studies is partly based on that and our research programme at UUCePP is also based on such principles. Therefore, I hope to be able to contribute to this both in my research at UUCePP and beyond.