MaasX Student Debate: An Analysis (Part One)
Introduction- The Debate’s Structure The Franz Palm Lecture Hall is packed. 400 students, or even more, have come to the Student Debate with the candidates, organised by MaasX, The Maastricht Student Council, Kaleido, and Starters Valley. The sky-high turnout for this event testifies that the UM student population wants to cast an informed vote on the 21st of March and its impact has the potential of shifting the votes’ balance and making waves in local politics. The feeling from the very beginning of the evening, however, was that of being part of an audience in a live TV show, much like an American comedy show, where every once in a while there is a chorus of indistinct voices laughing in the background. The two moderators of the night, Arie van de Lugt and Teun Dekker, perfectly personified their roles as entertainers and managed to create a playful atmosphere, compromising the supposed seriousness of this informative event. As they were openly showing off their knowledge by quoting Napoleon and Marx with very forced links to the presented topics, the two UM Professors failed to stay down to earth and were not able to promote a fruitful debate between the candidates.
This was clearly visible in the debate, during which students were not involved at all, apart from the ‘yes or no’ that could be expressed by showing the red or the green side of the provided booklet. Local politicians, with the exception of some, proved very distant from the student body and in some cases found themselves in awkward situations, where either they did not know what to say or how to say it in English, or both. The presented topics were four: the possibility of giving licenses to bars, clubs, pubs, etc. to stay open 24 hours, a vacancy tax applied on abandoned buildings, free Dutch language courses and housing quota system. During the roundtable and the one-to-one debates, the candidates advanced their arguments by expressing their agreement or disagreement with the statements that were put forward to them, on which the students could not either propose them or express their opinion on them during the debate.
Chart- The Political Parties’ Stances on Issues PartiesSustainability measures for monumental buildings24h license for bars & clubs Vacancy taxFree Dutch Courses by the municipality Quotas system CDA NoNoNoNoYesD66YesYesNoNoNoGroenLinksNoYesYesNoYesLPMNoNoNoNoYesM;OEDYesYesYesYesNoMVYesYesMehYesNoPdVANoNoNoYesYesPVMYesYesNoYesYesSPMehNoYesYesYesVVDMehYesNoNoNo
1st Topic- The 24 hours licenses
One of the most nonsense and inconsistent statements on which the candidates discussed read as The municipality should allow 24-hour licenses for pubs, bars and clubs in the city centre.
It was nonsense because Maastricht is not a metropole like New York City, meaning that during sleeping hours the city is, of course, empty of people, including students and young people. Inconsistent because, according to the current regulation, venues in the city centre have to close by 2 am to allow the neighbourhoods to rest peacefully. Who would be willing to take such a risk, without any assurance of its payoffs and benefits? The infeasibility of this proposal stems from the very simple fact that the noise-related nuisances from locals would more numerous. Moreover, this measure would not even guarantee an increase of profits for the city’s economy, as owners would have to pay their employees more due to their night shifts. The VVD (Nicky Beckers) and the PvdA (Maren Slangen) faced each other in the duel sort-of-debate, which showed the difficulty of talking about something belonging to the imaginary world. The lack of arguments was more evident on the part of the VVD candidate that simply kept repeating “Let’s try it and see if it works!” like a broken record. On the other side, the PvdA representative emphasized that the demand for night licenses is very low. Moreover, the argument was that Maastricht nightlife at present is already quite diverse, as the upgrading of clubs such as Complex and Muziekgieterij prove. We are students, we enjoy drinking and partying but we are normal people too and for few hours we also need to get some sleep. And no, we don’t buy these empty promises. Oops, sorry for spoiling this secret.
2nd Topic- Vacancy Tax
Statement: There should be a vacancy tax on empty and unused buildings in Maastricht.
The issue of a vacancy tax on the many empty buildings in the Maastricht area provided a semblance of the real political issue in this debate, especially when considering that many students have a strong opinion and feeling towards the housing problem. The panel of parties was split roughly 50/50 on the topic, with the Christian Democrat Association (CDA) and Maastrichtse Volkspartij (MV) given their chance to stand up and present their platform on the matter. Gabrielle Heine (CDA) argued against the tax, claiming that many home and office block owners have empty rooms and buildings that are not creating revenue and so to burden them further with a tax is only going to escalate the financial issue, creating a destructive cycle of high tax and high rental rates. Pieter Diepenhorst of the MV had a different but exactly the same stance. Confused? Not surprised. Instead of choosing a side to this debate, as was rightly expected of him, he decided to stand with a foot on either side of the river. Hedging his bets? He argued that the MV stood against the tax for much the same reasons as the CDA but also stood for the tax because of the local need for spaces, for housing as well as cultural centres, and so the tax is an incentive for property owners to create usable spaces out of the available Maastricht property. By taking this unique stance on the topic, Diepenhorst then used all of his available time in attacking Heine on her stance rather than furthering his own party’s argument. The ultimate result of this was that the CDA looked weak because Heine, a young woman in the party who is clearly a novice in local politics, could not stand up to the much older and more experienced, and frankly far more aggressive, Diepenhorst. However, MV did not come out on top because by the end of his polemic no one could possibly know what his platform was on the topic anyway. Zero sum game, and for what?
3rd Topic- Social polarisation and free Dutch language courses
Statement: The municipality should offer free Dutch courses for university students.
Dutch is undoubtedly a difficult language for everybody, (maybe) with the exception of Germans. Us as students live in our university bubble, prompting us to interact almost entirely with our colleagues rather with local people. The only few interactions I have had with Maastrichters were when the neighbors shouted at me while I was throwing a house party, when a wheelchair-bound old women and I crashed into each other, and when I parked my bike for few minutes in front of a house and the resident that lived there became really upset with me. This is about it, more or less. The social divide between local people and the students is visible to us all and needs to be tackled in some or another. Although the A1 level is free for all the students, the expensive fees that need to be paid for more advanced courses discourage many students to continue studying Dutch. The one-to-one debate on this topic, in which the Liberal Party and the Party for Security faced-off, probably reached an all-time low of all the political debates I have witnessed. The candidate representing the Liberal Party, who stood against the motion, was not even able to form constructive English sentences and should take part in language courses herself. The Party for Security, who proudly marketed themselves as “chauvinistic” in their campaign leaflet, even managed to make an overall good impression due to the poor arguments presented by his counterpart.
The most striking fact was that many candidates claimed that learning a language is a responsibility for the students coming to Maastricht. I would argue that providing the means for international students to learn the language is a responsibility of the Universities and municipalities that host them, a task that many Dutch universities have already owned up to. This, in turn, could create a sense of welcome for foreign students coming to Maastricht, that they are wanted here by the local population and municipality, which could, in turn, lead to more students remaining in Maastricht after completing their studies. Currently, refusing to help the international population learn the local language is not going to reverse the current rate of 96% of students leaving within four months of graduating.