The Groningen municipal elections are just around the corner. On the 21st of November, the constituents of Groningen have the power to decide who takes a seat in the local council. If you are an EU citizen, have registered with the municipality or have been living locally for five years, you have the right to cast a vote. There are over 50,000 students living in Groningen, many of whom are eligible to vote. The Stand caught up with two political parties; Student en Stad (Student and City) and GroenLinks (Green Left) to discuss the election, their campaigns and their vision for Groningen for the next four years.
Marten Duit (29), is the leader of Student en Stad, a party that has served the local community for 25 years. Marten has been a member of Student en Stad for over a year. As a citizen of the youngest city in the Netherlands, Marten was inspired by the party’s desire to represent not only the students of Groningen but also the city’s youth. Marten also works as a freelance photographer in Groningen.
Jasper Been (23), is a member of GroenLinks, a party that boasts more than 1000 members in Groningen and has held seats within the council for the last 14 years. Jasper, the former chairman of DWARS (Green Party Youth Faction), holds the fifth position on his party’s candidate list. He studies economics at RUG and became politically active three years ago.
The following dialogue is a combination of two separate interviews, the first with Marten and the second with Jasper.
*TS = The Stand, MD = Marten Duit, JB = Jasper Been
*Photo – (L-R) Marten Duit & Jasper Been
TS: What is your party doing to make themselves known to students?
MD: Our website is available in both Dutch and English. We felt it was very important to translate our website as this benefits the international student population. We have also set up a website called canivote.nl which has been designed to help users discover whether they are eligible to vote and secondly, how they can vote.
JB: We do a lot of campaigning door-to-door and have been making ourselves known on campus and through social media. Our manifesto is available in English for the internationals. We don’t target students specifically but there is a tendency for youths to vote for the Greens. Student en Stad plays the card of identity politics which encourages students to vote for them. The Green Party like to focus on shared values and ideas.
TS: Is your party doing anything to tackle the housing problem?
MD: We have been petitioning for more housing to be built in Groningen and against short stay rental contracts. With a short stay contract a landlord can kick out a tenant, any time or at any moment. We want to get rid of such contracts as they have a negative impact on students’ security. It is important for students to have normal housing contracts so that they have the security of knowing that they have a roof over their head for the duration of the academic year. We have also focused our attention on the quality of landlords here in Groningen. There are a lot of bad landlords who rent out rooms or properties that are in disrepair. There are others who refuse to carry out maintenance work or are not there for their tenants. It is important that tenants are looked after and respected. Students have as much of a right to live here as anyone else.
JB: The Green Left has been one of the most vocal parties when it comes to the housing crisis. It affects all students and especially internationals. There is no easy solution but what is vital here is that internationals are not discriminated against or treated differently to Dutch students. Some parties believe that there is a demand for short stay contracts, we however disagree. We need regular rental contracts for regular long-stay students and short term contracts for exchange students only. We need to distinguish between long-stay and exchange students when it comes to allocating housing and not between Dutch and international students. In order to facilitate the demand, we need to keep building more housing!
TS: Sustainability and the environment are big things right now for students, what is your party doing to benefit sustainability?
MD: Student en Stad regularly work with the different student associations and discuss all sorts of things. We discuss how things might change for the better and sustainability is a big part of that. We work with ESN a lot and we have actually been working with Vindicat as well. Some of these associations have a bad reputation for various reasons but we are trying to show a positive side. We want to demonstrate that these associations believe in sustainability and are looking to implement change. For example, this soup that I’m eating right now has been supplied to this café by a company called Oma’s Soup. This company was a Vindicat initiative set up by two girls in the association and it provides jobs for the elderly in Groningen. These two girls wanted to help the ageing population in Groningen especially those who are lonely and living in isolation. The soup is prepared by elderly and is made from vegetables that would otherwise be thrown away at the end of market hours. Ultimately, it is sustainable, provides jobs for the elderly and is made from old authentic recipes. Vindicat have received a lot of negative press and have a bad reputation as a result, but they do so much more than what they are known for. If people knew about these initiative, their perceptions might change. All this bad publicity contributes to the negative reputation that students have here in Groningen and this divides the city. We don’t want the city to be divided. We want for everyone to be able to work together.
JB: GroenLinks have been working in the municipal council for 14 years now and our continuous efforts were rewarded just two weeks ago when the European Commission awarded the Lighthouse City Prize to Groningen. This prize came with a financial incentive of €7 million as a reward for the city’s efficient energy transition in fighting climate change. Last year we managed to double the amount of solar panels used in the city. We also plan to build more windmills in industrial areas and we are looking to transform lost energy into effective energy use in our communities. In the next four years we would like to tackle the issue of energy isolation in student houses to make them more energy efficient. We are devising a scheme that will encourage landlords to invest in making their properties more energy neutral. We believe that this will save a lot of energy and bring about a more sustainable environment in our city.
TS: How do you feel the campaign is going so far?
MD: I feel it is going the right way. We used Facebook a lot in our campaign four years ago but now we have expanded. I believe that what we are doing this time around is far more effective. Of course, we cannot predict how many seats we will get in the council. There was a poll recently and based on the results it looks like we will retain our two seats within the council. So we are hoping we will at least get these two and then in addition to that we are aiming for a third and maybe a fourth. There are close to 60,000 students here in Groningen, we need roughly 2000-2050 votes in order to get a seat. Therefore if every single student voted, hypothetically speaking, we would hold more than half the council. This is never going to happen, obviously, but it just shows how much potential there is.
JB: The campaign is going great, we have received a lot of attention from voters. We had 150 volunteers join our campaign just last Saturday. We have participated in many debates and we are delighted with how these debates turned out. We are positive for the future and open to working with most parties in a prospective coalition, including Student en Stad. But now, the main priority is to let people know of their voting rights. The bigger the turn out, the better.
TS: Which party is your biggest competition right now?
MD: I think the Green Left are our biggest competition right now, but I am comfortable with that, we have a lot of similar ideas so that’s really positive.
JB: I am not sure, voters are still deciding who they will vote for. We can’t heavily rely on the polls so it’s difficult to formulate expectations when it comes to competition.