Go to main navigation Navigation menu Skip navigation Home page Search

Jan Litjens

Meet Jan – Personal Adviser to the Minister for Climate and Energy of the Netherlands and MSc in Economics alum.

Describe your role and what it is that you do overall and on a day-to-day basis.

At the moment, I am a Personal Adviser to the Minister for Climate and Energy of the Netherlands. As a Personal Adviser, I advise the Minister on climate mitigation policy and nuclear energy. On a day-to-day basis this means that I check all briefings intended for the Minister to make sure they are well written and take all relevant considerations into account. During meetings, I advise the Minister on how to coordinate policy decisions both within the government and with parliament. For the latter, I ensure that the Minister is well prepared before a parliamentary debate and is provided with the necessary information during a debate. Together with the political adviser and the spokespeople, we form a team of around 8 colleagues around the Minister. We liaise constantly with the rest of the department that has in total about 10,000 civil servants including the executive agencies. In general, I am what could be called a ‘fixer’, helping to alleviate a large variety of issues for the Minister and the top civil servants. This makes my work very dynamic, every day I wake up not knowing what the day will bring till someone calls or emails me with a pressing issue.


How did you become interested in economic policy?

It was in high school I became interested in economics. I was fascinated by how a simple function could describe everything (material) happening in a country. Then I became curious how to make the model more complicated to describe the world more accurately. To use those models to enact or enable changes in the economy and country fascinates me.

My work now with the government is abstract and on a systemic level, this makes it hard to see the actual results you realize for people. But I believe that I can realize the most impact on the greater good using my talents and efforts in this field. Finally, working close to the core of our democracy and on issues that are in the news or make the news on a regular basis gives me a rush.


What is exciting about your field at the moment? What are the challenges given the current climate?

The day that I am writing this, a new government in the Netherlands is forming. I will probably hear in a couple of weeks who my new boss will be, making it an uncertain, but exciting time. The expectation is that the new government will make significant changes with regards to climate policy and nuclear energy plans. The civil service will have to adapt and the new government will have the challenge to convert promises into concrete actions in a very complex policy arena. I am very excited to see if I can help both of them. By making sure that the Minister gets constructive advice on their ideas, even if at first sight they seem impossible or impractical in the current circumstances, and the department gets enough room to explain the nuances of policy.

One of the challenges at the moment I would say is the so-called compensation culture that is on the rise in politics and society. The expectation is that the government compensates for any external effect or misfortune. Compensation is sometimes economically justified, for example because you want to prevent (human) capital destruction. But often it is a counterproductive waste of public funds, for example excessive business support during the covid crisis exacerbated labor shortages and disturbed productivity growth and subsidies to lower energy costs during the Ukrainian war work against our efforts for sustainability and decreasing our energy dependence.


How do you see your work/role developing in the next 5-10 years?

I’m currently in a young, dynamic and ambitious team. It is often described as a learning school within the government and that is exactly how I would like to use it. I am learning plenty on the job because I’m working on a diverse set of topics and with growing responsibilities. Over time, I would like to move up within the government to a position where I will be working on the basis of the advice of others. As more and more policy discussions happen at the EU-level, this might also be where my future lies.


What is the one thing you would like people to understand about economics/policy?

People and politicians will always want policies that are custom-made for each occasion and for each person. This is also what would be best in economic theory, but in practice it’s impossible and, when tried, it leads to unintended consequences and accidents.


What was so appealing about the SSE Masters in Economics program when you were considering what do choose for your Masters degree? Or what was so appealing about Stockholm/Sweden?

There were three considerations for my decision back then. I wanted to go to a good program, I wanted to do a two-year masters, and it needed to be affordable. That left only a handful of universities in Europe. A professor from my Bachelor program I admired told me that the SSE program was one of the best, a good friend I trust told me Stockholm is beautiful and fun, so off I went!


How did your time/education at SSE help guide you to the career journey you have embarked on?

First of all, the program at SSE gave me a solid foundation of economic knowledge that I benefit from every day in my work. Also, the degree opened doors for me. Even in the Netherlands, many of the people in my field are familiar with SSE and the quality it provides.

During my time at SSE I came into contact with many fellow students from different backgrounds who had different plans and dreams. Also there were many opportunities to meet with companies and other organizations. Even though I ended up going back to the Netherlands and work for the public sector, this really helped me to see what else was possible and helped me in choosing my path.


Following your time studying, do you have any words of wisdom or advice you would like to share with our current students?

Do the things that interest you and you will find your path, or it’ll find you. Don’t take everything too seriously, life is not a competition and money isn’t going to make you happy (although as a civil servant I cannot be sure about this).


What are three words that sum up your time at SSE?

Knowledge, multicultural and Hirschenkeller!