Martin van Rooij, last year FASoS European Studies, fourth on the M:OED list for the municipal elections details the newborn party’s vision and proposals in sight of the March 21st vote. M:OED means two things: courageous and “Maastricht: Open Honest Democratic”. Explanation.
M:OED: The Party’s Origins
Setting up a brand new party that represents students and the international Maastricht population was actually an old idea. “Time was yet never right for that” Martin van Rooij, at his 4th year of European Studies at FASoS, points out. Martin is the fourth name on the list of M:OED for the upcoming municipal elections. He is also a co-founder of the movement, a project that was finally launched last fall by a team of around 30 friends, including (former-)students, entrepreneurs, policy-makers and other groups. These active citizens with widely different backgrounds felt the need to take opportunities for Maastricht that were, in their opinion, left out. And, because “you only have one chance every four years”, a new vision of Maastricht’s future was thus drafted.
It is the story of people working to create an open, inclusive and outward-looking Maastricht, as Martin strongly emphasizes. An impetus for more student inclusion, democratic empowerment, for opening up to the input of foreigners. A party aiming to disrupt Maastricht’s local politics by openly challenging the current municipality, whose main actors are considered to be “too distant from the ‘normal’ people”. Sounds a bit populist, doesn’t it? “MOED” means “courage” in Dutch, and such an ambitious project requires a bold political adventure, says Martin: an M for Maastricht, O for openness, E for eerlijk, “honest”, and a D, for democratic. Open entails promoting freedom and inclusion: for refugees as well as for the European neighbours and every non-Dutch inhabitant. Honest refers to their objectives of more transparency in the Gemeente’s decisions, which they would like to re-shape. Enforcing democracy, today in Maastricht, means improving communication between the City Council and the population, thus enabling the students to engage with the councillors. “Everyone must feel well represented in the municipality” explains Martin. As well as taking many controversial stands, M:OED focuses on practical level projects. “When we see SP-VVD coalitions, we acknowledge that ideologies are sent to the background”. In the attempt to gain the most votes, especially, among the students, M:OED states that it is not guided by any ideology, although “we are a very progressive party”, as Martin highlights.
“According to me, as a student, the housing issue is the most pressing one”.
Martin van Rooij is 21. This Eindhovenaar is a member of the Maastricht Student Representatives (MSR), “lobbying for the students at the municipality” says he. Martin has been the President of the NovUM student representation party and it has been his involvement in student-related issues that led him to his political engagement, like bargaining for free language courses for the students, for instance. When Martin refers to the City Council, his words do not make any concession. “At the Markt, there is a small group of people that choose what the norm is and that is wrong, what is culture and what is not”. For Martin, the student housing issue is of foremost importance: “when you have a quota on student accommodation, you ultimately have a quota for the students themselves.”
Martin, a 4th-year FASoS student, is number four on the M:OED municipal list.
The Housing Crisis: Abolition of the quota system
M:OED has a radical solution to the question of the student housing crisis, namely the total abolition of the quota imposing an upper limit to the number of students each street can host. In touching upon this topic, Martin expresses his deep resentment towards this regulation, which has been opposed solely by VVD and D66 in the last municipality’s coalition. M:OED also believes that the current coalition imposes a maximum number of additional rules on studios and housing company accommodation allocated to the students every year. As Martin claims, moreover, if student houses are converted into normal houses (a very unlikely situation), the municipality does not take this into account. M:OED’s program comprises the suppression of this accommodation ceiling, as well as higher requirements for the landlords’ provision of decent conditions. Most importantly, M:OED favours building “strategically placed” campuses outside of the city centre. It is the party’s vision that being a more inclusive university city means being able to host every student – including a population that prefers being distant from the locals’ centre life. This, according to M:OED, overcomes the need for promoting the integration of the students within the local community – as the idea of a campus merging with the city centre originally entailed.
Bringing Entrepreneurship and Democratic impetus to the fore
The strong focus on the student body is emphasised by Martin, as well as his party’s programme. The general feeling is indeed that qualified professionals, experts, students and entrepreneurs do not see Maastricht as a permanent place to live in and, therefore, decide to leave. And with them, they bring the talents, skills and competencies that they have. These are lost to the city, which could greatly benefit from them. According to Martin, 90% of the start-ups kicking off their activity in Maastricht end up moving somewhere else. There has to be free and fair competition, but at the same time, the municipality has to support and facilitate people, in M:OED’s vision. However, this does not mean that the government should interfere with people’s freedoms in doing what they believe is right.
As the party name’s acronym suggests, M:OED strongly stand by the creation of a bottom-up and direct democracy where citizens are actively involved in the City Council’s decision- and policy-making processes. He expresses his disappointment (with a bit of anger too) when he relates that he wrote several letters addressed to the City Council members and received no response. This makes him conclude that people tend to imagine the politicians composing the City Council as too detached from themselves. In his opinion, politicians who have been sitting in the city council for too long have lost ties with their community.
According to Martin, the municipality lacks democratic standards of documents’ transparency and effective communication with the citizens. For this reason he advocates, together with his party, for the online publication of all the public documents in English. He underlines the impossibility of finding public documents on the Gemeente’s website, especially in English. The current municipal government is also accused of having cut funds for critical public media, such as for instance, RTV Maastricht.
Make Maastricht’s Nightlife Great Again
A very revolutionary proposal that the party has put forward is the 24-hrs opening of bars, clubs, shops, cinemas, theatres and more by means of a 24-Hour night license. This rather controversial plan, as it argued, would boost the economy of the city. Moreover, Martin suggests that this measure would significantly decrease the frequent number of complaints made by the locals living in the city centre due to noise. Indeed, according to him, with the current Maastricht’s nightlife location, students generally head back to their houses around the same moment of the night, at around 2 pm, when all the venues have to close by law. This exacerbates the nuisances they cause in the streets, as well as once they are home and decide to carry on with the festivities, disturbing their neighbours. When doubts were raised on the feasibility of this resolution, Martin was firm in his belief that this could represent a revolutionary change for the city, empowering its economy and solving issues such as night noise affecting the majority of the local population.
If M:OED can be praised for their successful burst into the Maastricht electoral campaign, it is acknowledged that the party’s rich political input is still in the process of its political maturation: “We have to make sure we are not getting too generic, not too much in the centre of the political spectrum”, Martin seems to admit.