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Dolf Willigers retires from FEMA – A true motorcyclist says goodbye

Today, 1 November 2023, FEMA’s General-Secretary Dolf Willigers (66) officially retires from his job.

Dolf was a volunteer with a Dutch motorcyclists’ organisation since 2000, where he was a member of the board from 2006 to 2013 and from 2016 to 2017. He was also an editor of this organisation’s member magazine from 2011 to 2014 where he focused on European issues. Dolf represented the organisation as a delegate to FEMA from 2013 to 2015, when he applied for (and got) the job of FEMA’s General-Secretary.

In the past eight years we have come to know Dolf as a person that has a deep knowledge of all dossiers concerning motorcyclists’ issues. That, combined with his engaging but strong-willed personality, made him well-respected and liked in the European and even global community of defenders of riders’ rights, as well as in the community of lawmakers, road safety experts and other stakeholders.

“I joined FEMA first as a delegate from the national organization of which I was a Board member. In 2014, the FEMA Committee decided that several things in FEMA needed to change and focus more on lobby work than at that moment was the case. This change also involved a change of staff. To be honest. I did not consider myself as qualified for the job but one of the Board members suggested that I should apply for the job, and this is how I became FEMA’s next general secretary in February 2015.”

“What I found was an organization that needed a good clean-up. In some respects, even literally as I discovered when I started with the office. But not only that, but a strong focus on research projects had also left the impression that the lobby work was neglected. This wasn’t really the case, but what people do not see, does not happen. Meetings of the Committee were mostly about internal affairs and not about the policy we should follow. The job I had to do was making FEMA lean and effective again. Save costs and bring back the focus to lobbying. For myself I saw another job to do too: to bring back the content in the Committee meetings and make an end to endless discussions about money and how we should work. And next to this all, I had to find a new office and find my way in Brussels. Both literally and as a manner of speaking because I had never really bothered with the workings of the European legislation machine.”

“It was a busy time. It was also an exciting time with new contacts every day, much learning and discovering, and with a lot of satisfaction when you saw the effects of your work. The first year I worked partly with the old staff but after about half a year I was on my own. It was only after a while that Wim Taal joined me as communication officer. It was in the third year that we fell in some sort of routine that we kept until the end. Or better, would have kept had not Covid-19 come around. From one day to the other, the work was completely to be done from home. With only virtual meetings, no opportunity to have a chat at the coffee table in the break of a meeting. That changed my work a lot, and not to the good. When Covid-19 was no longer a problem, the EU and many organizations stayed in Corona-mode for a long time. People had gotten used to remote meetings and webinars and saw no reason to change back to physical meetings. For a part, this is still the case. As for FEMA itself, I think that we managed to put FEMA more on the map thanks to an effective combination of lobbying and communication. FEMA is more effective than many organizations that have much more resources and staff than we have.”

“It is hard to say what we have achieved in that time, because that is not always visible. Especially what did not happen and would have happened without your interference and actions. But in general, I can say that we have made motorcycling safer, because infrastructure that is also safe for motorcyclists is now on the agenda of all road authorities thanks to the inclusion of motorcyclists in the Road Infrastructure Safety Management Directive. We also have advocated more focus on higher skills in the motorcycle training. In the new 4th Driving Licence Directive (4DLD) you will see that back, although not as well as we had hoped for. This 4DLD is still being discussed by the European Parliament and the Council and therefor it is not possible to tell yet what influences we had and will have on the outcome. Perhaps the main achievement in safety matters is the inclusion of motorcycles in the test requirements of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and the test protocols of Euro NCAP. One of the things you cannot see is lower sound emission standards for motorcycles. Not that we like motorcycles to make a lot of noise, to the contrary, but lower limits would have made no difference in the noise annoyance from motorcycles (and other sources) that many people experience but would have made motorcycles more expensive for no reason. I could go on much longer about this, but it gives an idea of what we have done and have achieved.”

“I hope that FEMA can continue what we have started. For myself, I will keep on doing some small jobs in line with my work for FEMA and perhaps do some more riding my bike, but mostly I will do things that have nothing to do with motorcycling. Since several years I’m involved in local organizations that deal with history, nature, energy and politics and they all need more manpower. There’s always work to do. The difference is that I get a bit more freedom now.”

Here is what others have to say about Dolf:

“I first met Dolf Willigers when we were both attending FEMA Committee meetings on behalf of our respective national organisations, so he wasn’t a completely unknown quantity when he came to be interviewed by members of the FEMA Board for the General Secretary’s role. On that occasion it was clear that he had the breadth of vision that would enable him see and understand the motorcycling issues across all of Europe. If he didn’t, at the time, have huge experience of lobbying he soon made up for it and I have never regretted that we chose him to work for us. Dolf has done sterling work on behalf of European motorcyclists and maintained an excellent reputation for FEMA. Good luck Dolf – I wish you all the best in your retirement.”

Anna Zee
FEMA President

“Over the years, since he was appointed to his role as FEMA General Secretary, I was often in contact with Dolf regarding motorcyclist safety and road safety barrier European standards issues. I always knew that, in Dolf, I had a contact who could present the motorcyclist’s perspective and we had many constructive and positive discussions on the subject. It was always a pleasure to meet up with him both on a personal and professional level. I wish him all the best and a happy and well deserved retirement.”

Martin Page
Convenor CEN TC 226/WG 1 European Working Group on road restraint systems

“I got to know Dolf as a professional whose knowledge and observations about European developments have always been spot on.”

Maarten Mastop
Sector Manager Bicycle and Motorized Two-Wheeler Companies at BOVAG

“I have had the pleasure to cooperate with Dolf from 2001-2022. At first as FEMA delegates and later I’ve seen Dolf as my colleague in Brussels. I was in the board when we decided to ask Dolf to apply for the job as General secretary, which one of the best decisions we made! We’ve achieved a lot during these years, especially after Dolf started working (more than) full time for FEMA, some examples are stable finances and organisation, improved contacts at all levels and with all other stake holders in Europe. I’ve always been impressed by his knowledge, his expertise, his efficiency and that he, as well as me, is willing to read thousands of pages of motorcycle related documents in order to react on behalf of the riders in Europe. I’ve really enjoyed to work together with Dolf over the years. Now when we’ve both retired, I look forward to meet Dolf as a friend. At the same time I wish FEMA all the best for the future. ”

Maria Nordqvist
Former political officer at SMC, Swedish Motorcyclists Association

“The Swedish Motorcyclist Association SMC is the largest member of FEMA, and most likely also one of the most technical members when it comes to digging deep into law making, which is a subject suiting Dolf very well, and we have appreciated this. When you are competent and have high work skills and also are a nice person, lifelong friendships evolve. And this is what happened for us in the Swedish team who have been working with Dolf during the years.”

Jesper Christensen
General Secretary at SMC, Swedish Motorcyclists Association

“When I got to know Dolf years ago, I was impressed by how passionate he was. Since then, we had many exchanges. I always found a very knowledgeable and constructive person. FEMA and he EU are losing a real gentleman. That is a real pity. I hope to have the chance to exchange with you still, Dolf. And wish you all the best for the many things (and trips) ahead of you. A presto, Claire”

Claire Depre
Head of Unit DG Mobility and Transport & Road Safety at the European Commission

“During the many years in the FEMA General Secretary position Dolf has been bringing forward the perspective of motorcycle riders in a direct way, seeking to use facts backed up by data whenever possible. He always did so with an open mind, listening to all perspectives – from different riding and policy environments, national and European, from industry and from other stakeholders. He always fitted those perspectives as part of the background underlying any issue impacting motorcycling, operating effectively and in a genuine, friendly manner. It has been a pleasure working together, happy retirement to a true riding gentleman.”

Antonio Perlot
Secretary General ACEM, European Association of Motorcycle Manufacturers

“I worked with Dolf for several years, and have the greatest respect for him. He has the unique quality of both being a controller and a visionary.”

Morten Hansen
Former General Secretary of NMCU, the Norwegian motorcyclists’ association

“I first met Dolf many years ago when we were both national representatives to FEMA. He was a formidable lobbyist even then, passionately and capably arguing the position of his federation amongst a room of his peers. Since then, he has grown to become a respected representative of all motorcyclists across Europe, often in challenging situations such as Brexit or the recent pandemic. His work in bringing FEMA and FIM closer together has been incredibly effective to the stage where we now have joint positions and regularly consult on matters of detail, a position unthinkable a decade ago and a testament to his ability to focus on what is best overall for motorcyclists. We will all miss him and hope he isn’t a stranger to the wider motorcycling community.”

Christopher Hodder
Public Affairs Manager FIM, Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme

“I first met Dolf not long after he became FEMA General Secretary. This was at a meeting in the ACEM offices where various fine points of an issue of the day were discussed. I remember being very impressed with his command of the issues and his thoughts about these. Our relationship became much closer after the NMC was founded and Dolf was a key part of the discussions which led to the extension of the FEMA/FIM partnership to the NMC, creating probably the most significant of international motorcycling partnerships. His considered and thoughtful approach to the major motorcycling issues of our times along with Wim’s support, has given both credibility and authority to FEMA and I will very much miss our discussions about these. Dolf has made an enormous contribution to motorcyclists advocacy and I wish him well for a very well deserved and earned retirement.”

Craig Carey-Clinch
Executive Director NMC, National Motorcyclists Council

“I have known Dolf professionally since about 2012 and have always enjoyed working with him. In the beginning he was a bit cautious, but over time I saw how well he represented the motorcyclists and that his interventions in Commission meetings and other decision makers always attracted great interest. They realize that the voice of the consumer is only truly represented by a few organizations and FEMA, with Dolf as leader, is certainly one of them. Dolf has always done his work for FEMA with passion and conviction, which I admire very much. I hope that he can now enjoy being a motorcyclist again and spend the necessary time on it, which will probably have been insufficient due to his busy work for FEMA, and that he can also celebrate life in good health.”

Guido Gielen
Technical Director, Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Region I

“Dolf was there always for us, supporting us to find the correct information about laws/regulations regarding motorcycles. He helped the Cyprus motorcycle world enormously. He was calm and kind in his actions which led always to good results. We respect his professional career and good results he always achieved. We also shared good moments and laughs with Dolf outside working hours. We hope Dolf will have the best retirement ever, to enjoy it and visit Cyprus too. Our warmest regards here from Cyprus.”

Marios Constantinides
Chairman Cyprus Motorcycle Rights Club (CMRC)

“I wonder if my story is one, which should be told considering the fact that I am using the term ‘decency’, which to my opinion is the most important factor of being successful in terms of defending or extending riders’ right. Some people might not like that, but this is how I feel about it. Interests of road safety and riders’ rights are not always in line, on the contrary. Talking to Dolf Willigers never felt that way. To my opinion, Dolf was and is the perfect symbiosis of tough and decency, supported by comprehensive competence and a great feeling for diplomacy. He has my highest appreciation both at professional level as well as from my private point of view as a rider. It’s a pity, we never managed to take a ride together!”

Martin Winkelbauer
Kuratorium für Verkehrssicherheit (KFV)

“Dolf’s retirement as General Secretary of FEMA is a watershed in European Motorcycle lobbying. Dolf has, over the last eight years, had a galvanic effect on what had become a rather sleepy research organisation, heavily dependent on EU funded research projects. He was successful in re-focusing the direction that FEMA was traveling in, with a 100% focus on connecting with policy creators, both politicians and more importantly, officials. Much of this work requires attending working groups and committees which is where fundamental EU policy is developed. Dolf was extremely effective in picking FEMA’s way through these processes, requiring vision and patience. The BMF’s Anna Zee, as President of FEMA, on the lobbying side and Jim Freeman, on the organizational and administrative aspects of FEMA, have worked closely with Dolf throughout his time as General Secretary, as a very valued colleague, both as a leader, analyst, and administrator. We wish Dolf a happy retirement, with time for reflection and new directions.”

Jim Freeman
Chairman BMF, British Motorcyclists Federation

At the FEMA Committee meeting in October 2023 the delegates from the FEMA member organisations said their goodbyes (click here).

Written by Wim Taal

Top photographs by Wim Taal

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