Clash at European Election Debate in Groningen

By Edward J Szekeres and Rebekah Daunt

D66 accuses the SP of nationalist fear mongering, as an all-female candidate panel initially demonstrates solidarity, but ends up colliding on major policy issues facing the next European Parliament.

“Social Europe is too important to be left to the Socialists,” said D66 candidate Raquel García Hermida at a European Election Debate held last Monday in front of an international audience in the Aula Magna of the University of Groningen’s Academy building.

Ms. García Hermida, who is running for a seat in the next European Parliament under the banner of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe, was joined in the richly decorated hall by three fellow candidates: Kati Piri (PvdA, Socialists & Democrats),Tineke Strik (GroenLinks, Greens/European Free Alliance), and Sara Murawski (SP, European United Left/Nordic Green Left). Major parties on the right side of the Dutch political spectrum failed to respond to the hosts’ invitation while the Christian Democratic Appeal party declined at the last minute, according to the event’s organisers.  

The all-female panel discussed pertinent issues, such as climate change, the labour market and the refugee crisis. While seemingly in accord on the necessity to tackle global warming, the four progressive candidates exposed gaping rifts between their positions on free trade and migrant workers as the evening drew to its conclusion.

The undermining of this apparent unity between left-wing parties adds another layer of complexity to the looming election. Voters in the Netherlands will choose 26 candidates from 16 parties to represent Dutch interests at the Brussels-based European Parliament on Thursday 23 May 2019. The Netherlands will be assigned three extra seats at a later date following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.

Locals First

“National solidarity trumps international solidarity,” said Ms. Murawski of the Socialist Party in her fierce critique of the “free market system” that she blames for “exploiting workers”. The SP wants more regulation of the labour markets to prevent exploitation by encouraging the hiring of local workers. “We want a system of working permits, that way companies are encouraged to look for local workers, so people in the neighbourhood [get priority],” said Ms. Murawski.

Ms. García Hermida of D66 challenged the socialist candidate and questioned the effectiveness of work permits as Europe already boasts the free movement of workers across state borders. In a passionate defense of the value of “individual liberties”, the D66 politician accused the Socialist Party of seeking to protect the rights of Dutch workers while disregarding those of international workers. “This identity based message of ´us against them´ only feeds into the discourse of the extreme right and that is why socialist voters are now voting for PVV [Party for Freedom] and Forum for Democracy,” concluded Ms. García Hermida.

Paying the Climate Bill

The implementation of an emissions tax on airline tickets was high on the agenda for GroenLinks on the night. “It is very strange that people pay tax for train tickets but not for flight tickets. We really want to create incentives for customers to make the right choices,” said Ms. Strik on the topic of climate change.

“Clean air is not a luxury, without it, we would all have a problem,” said Ms. Piri in agreement. But the Hungarian-Dutch politician was against the idea of enforcing an emissions tax. She emphasized that large corporations – rather than the customer – should pay for climate damage. “Airlines are the biggest polluters, it would be totally unfair not to tax them,” added the PvdA candidate.

Vote, Vote, Vote

Conflicts between the candidates underlined the debate’s central theme of setting the priority for the next European Parliament. Is it going to promote increased nationalism or increased globalisation? And what is the EU’s role in this unpredictable power field?

Ms. Strik urged the audience to be conscious of who they vote for next week. “It all depends on who is in the European Parliament, who has the power and what governments we are dealing with. So it is not about more of less [foreign policy within Europe] but whom you are voting for next Thursday,” concluded Ms. Strik.

Divide Between Dutch and International Students?

By Sophie Pizzimenti


The academic year has started, and Groningen University is welcoming thousands of international students who have mixed feelings towards blending into Dutch society and integrating with their fellow students.

A debate was sparked last year from the publication of the UKrant article “When Dutch ‘directness’ hurts” by Megan Embry, in which she discussed discrimination received by internationals from local students. The article highlighted the divided views of students regarding the relationship between the two groups.

Interviewing Dutch and internationals at the RUG campus regarding the topic of discrimination and how they feel about their relationship with their classmates, different opinions came out.

Sitting outside the library, speaking Spanish among themselves, bachelor students Xenia Ramos and Carla Heterington said that, not only do they not feel welcomed, they feel highly excluded by the Dutch students.

“I think it is difficult if you are international student here in your first week because Dutch people are very close to each other and they don’t welcome other people. She is my friend and I am glad I know her because, if not, you really have to find another international student,” said Carla, who has just arrived and is in her first year of her bachelor.

Xenia and Carla also addressed the issue of discrimination, saying they did receive comments about their identity as Spanish which made them feel uncomfortable among their fellow Dutch students.

When confronted with the topic, a few Dutch students highlighted the tendency of Dutch and internationals to stay among their respective groups, resulting in a strong division.

Dutch student M.M.* studying international law, said: “There is a huge gap between a Dutch student here and internationals. We experience it ourselves, because in the first year and second year for our bachelor we were put in a class with international students and there was a huge gap, because all the international students knew each other, and we [Dutch students] were there thinking ‘what to do?’; and you kind of isolate yourself then.”

Similarly, Dutch student Lianne Pit, studying for a Masters in German Education, said she believes the interaction is limited as knowing the Dutch people in her class leads her to stick with them.

Most of the students indicated language as the main cause of the divide.

Tjitske Kommerie, a Dutch student studying with Lianne, said “it can be hard, especially when your English isn’t that good or when you are nervous about speaking in English because you think it’s not good enough to make yourself understandable.”

Wouter Baas, a Dutch student from the same course, is also bothered by the necessity of using English with internationals as they do not learn Dutch. “My opinion is that, when you come here to study you also have to show some interest in the country you are moving to. Not a lot of international students do this, learning the language and not stay in their international bubble and not expecting everybody to speak in English,” he said.

Lianne Pit, Wouter Baas, Tjitske Kommerie and Niklas Kingman

Arno Hegedus, a Hungarian student of International Law, hopes to be able to create long lasting friendships with Dutch students and to connect with their culture.

However, on this matter Wouter Baas replied, “These kind of relations can only exist if you can master the language very well. We talk now in a very formal way […] but if you talk about personal feelings and so on, it’s very difficult, for me at least, to do this in English.”

Arno Hegedus and Ife Bolaji, a fellow classmate from Nigeria, believe this division could be reduced if international students were given more chances to learn Dutch. “Language is the way to someone’s heart,” concluded Bolaji.

*Chooses to remain anonymous