Intervista a Claude Van Rooten

Presentiamo un’intervista di Leonardo Annese a Claude Van Rooten, Presidente uscente di PIARC .


LA: Hello everyone, we have a very special guest today that I would like to introduce to you. It’s Mr. Claude van Rooten President of PIARC, the World Road Association. It’s really an honor to have a small chat with him today. Claude, I would like to welcome you in this very informal interview, and I would really like to know your impression and ideas here. You have been President for many years, and besides that, you have a long experience in the association. So, the first thing I want to ask you is to please introduce yourself in a few words. Who you are and what is your life like?

CVR: Good morning, everybody. Well, it’s a pleasure to meet again with you. I am a civil engineer and a hiker, and I like the mountains, …also in North Italy. And I have always had a love for collaboration on the international level. I am living in a very small country, Belgium, that means that you need collaboration to have everything. And that was my most important strategy when I became, 21 years ago, director general of the Belgian Road Research Centre.

At that time, I realized collaboration was necessary first on the European level, of course, but I almost directly jumped in the activities of PIARC  because the President of my institute, was in the Executive Committee of PIARC. You see the result, 20 years later, I am ending my mandate as President.

I really like collaboration and working with everybody on the scientific level, because that’s, for me, the first extremely important topic. We are a-politic. We support the governments and administrations in charge of the roads and the transport sector. Of course, there has been a big evolution in the 20 years I have been involved in PIARC, and never forget that PIARC is a 110-year-old association.

LA: PIARC has led you to a very long experience. But what is the most valuable thing you carry with you after finishing your mandate as President?

CVR: Family spirit and friendship. Those both elements are, for me, essential when you are supposed to work together.

Due to COVID, we need to work only virtually, which makes those contexts diminished. With our Executive Committee, we have worked five years together. Fortunately for us, we have worked three years normally and this helped us to know each other. And that is the base for me, for the future. We will probably work more remotely but we never may stop the physical contact. Please do not have a wrong interpretation, but to meet face to face, to be together, to be able to talk about something else, that is the issue. And to be honest, that’s exactly what I always found when I had the pleasure to come to Italy and to your National Committee. There is always a friendly contact, and it doesn’t prevent us to work very hard, even more.

LA: If that is true, actually, even the Technical Committees are working much more virtually than before because we’re meeting more often than every six months, so that is a good thing, a good thing out of a bad thing.

CVR: I think we have to be very, very thankful to all the Technical Committees, as you know, in my position of President. I am not a technical expert, even if I have my own expertise of course.  We definitely need to listen to the input of the Technical Committees We need to encourage them, and we do not need to put them to big constraints on the administrative levels. We have to dialog with them and then they will be motivated because all the experts are motivated to do that as volunteers and also their work. And the first thing their boss says is:  “PIARC is not your first task, you need to work for me first!”.

LA: Now we are in a world where digitalization and connection are more overwhelming. How do you see the role of PIARC in this new world?

CVR: Well, I think that PIARC follows that trend and certainly will persevere. Tomorrow (Oct 27th)  I will introduce a seminar about connected vehicles and road safety. You know, we have worked for road safety for 110 years, and there is an evolution in technologies as well for infrastructure as for vehicles. Life has changed, but is it better than before? I don’t know. Of course, we need to follow that evolution. And what is for me, very important to remember is that the evolution of mobile phone is very quick. Well, the evolution of the infrastructure is slower because when we build it, we hope it will keep for many more years.

LA: One thing about Italy. The Italian National Committee is very present in PIARC. What is your impression on the technical level and the human level of your Italian friends?

CVR: Well, I gave already a part of the answer to the human level. Certainly, you are so friendly, smiling and so am I. Some people in Belgium say today I am Italian, but I am not. I’m sorry. But I like your efforts and your events. Your national committee has members of the public sector, but also of the private sector. And I am sure that this boosts your work. And As former director of applied research centre, I can confirm that the innovations mostly come from the private sector. Then you have to analyze, to validate and to implement them,  and that is the role of the public administrations. You may never give a preference to one or another competitor, but you can well compare the quality of their work, the quality of their innovations, the quality of their research and of course of their performances. And that is somehow why, for me, the key role of PIARC is growing. I was mandated and I wanted to open more and more the door to the private sector. It doesn’t mean that we give up the governance by the public sector, because we do not need to give that up. But the work, the scientific work and the collaborations need to be at all levels.

LA: Well, Claude, you have answered my next questions. I will jump exactly to what I want to ask you. The new President elected is Nazir Alli, who is from South Africa, and it is the first time someone from the African Continent becomes President of PIARC. It is a shift in the policy, and I think it’s a recognition to the effort that has been put into involving more the little low- and-middle-income countries. How do you see the role of Nasir Alli, the President elect? Do you see a change in the policy, or do you think is a continuation?

CVR: Well, to be very honest with you, please do not exaggerate the role of the President that I am now. I will be past President for the next years and stay in the Executive Committee as such. It is a very interesting matter that we have for the first time an African President. Nazir has a tremendous experience. We may not forget that he was the organizer of the 2003 World Congress in Durban. I was there. Nazir has tremendous experience in Africa, also as consultant. And yes, it will certainly bring new strengths and new trends. I don’t want to say that I was not interested in LMIC’s, but his experience on that level is a key aspect for the future.

You were in the working group about those countries[1]. Well, all topics you have identified they are really relevant. He will follow them, and he is certainly interested. And the fact is that we elect a new personality of another Continent, another culture by each cycle. Well, yes, it gives another colour. I do not mean of skin of course, but another lighting on our activities. That will certainly be positive! I know him for already 20 years. He was eight years involved in the Executive Committee together with me in the past. It will make my job as past President very easy. That’s true.

LA: Well, Claude, thank you so much for this very friendly and interesting interview. I wish you all the good luck for your life. And of course, not as retired, but you’re going to be fighting with us for the next  years, even in the back rows.

CVR: I promise you. Perhaps you would like it, but I am not leaving PIARC. I hope to have more input with my experience. Yes. And I really think of coming up as soon as possible.

LA: To end this interview, PIARC motto is “Sharing knowledge and connecting  people” so that is exactly as you said before, friendship and family are the main soul of PIARC.

CVR: Thank you, Leonardo. It was a pleasure, really.

[1] PIARC working group on LMICs involvement