Geke Hasperhoven (on the left) is 8th on the GroenLinks list and Janna Willems (on the right) is 15th. Geke studies at FHML and Janna at UCM. (©Camille Servais)
For Geke & Janna, two Bachelor and Master students and GroenLinks candidates for the municipal elections, the students’ vote would ensure their democratic representation for present and future generations. In light of Wilders’ PVV participation in the election this time, Geke argues that the duty to make our voice heard is even more important.
Geke Hasperhoven, 23, steps in the UCM green entry hall just like she would have done a dozen of months ago, when she still attended the college. The courtyard swing has been demolished by the storm –this cannot be! Geke, now a student in master’s at the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences (FHML), still feels very concerned about what her UCM academic year received, at graduation, as a trophy for their imprint over the University. She is now running as the 8th candidate on the GroenLinks (GL) list for the Municipality Council. “Did you know that the first coffee machine at UCM serves fair-trade coffee and that the one right next to it does not?” Janna, UCM third-year student, 15th on the GroenLinks list, responds with a grin of satisfaction. She too can look back at her footprint in UCM with the feeling of having made things move forward: UCM owes her a great deal for the work as student body president and the feedback form assessing the student representation. Unfazed, the UCM common room cogitates in its usual chilled out atmosphere and the sound of clicks that the assignments afflict on the keyboards fills the room. What is there that would get hold of these students’ attention, and of their vote, for the two contenders to seat at the Town Hall Council?
“Students, you can do so much”
Janna Willems is the director of communication at GL and a sociology and political science UCMer. Originating from Amsterdam –where she was a member of the Young Greens at high-school, she has since her arrival in Maastricht devoted herself to many causes outside college. Just to mention one of her political achievements, she has successfully lobbied with the Feminism Society the municipality and UM to pro-actively make sexual consent a key topic in town. Finishing up with UCM while entering in office at the Markt will flow naturally for her: taught ideas are not meaningful if not fought for, right?
That is particularly crucial when you feel that equality is persistently neglected in the environment you evolve in: for Geke “there are a lot of things that aren’t fair, I get upset about that. I’m talking about women, but also about poor people, or about refugees. I really take these inequalities personally, and I want to do something about them. I have these ideals, and I want to get something done.” Geke is studying to become a GP and sees enough room for improvement in the field of medicine, in which she deems political involvement to be a must. After having travelled through the Middle East to learn Arabic and to discover the culture, she is now back in Maastricht for a 4-year research Master programme in biomedical science. She intends to become a doctor, which would enable her to assume responsibilities and have a social impact on sociological and ethical issues. Her political engagement dates back to when she sat on the board of the national student union (LAKS) representing high school pupils. Since then, she has always strived to voice out students’ interests. Last year, she worked as a policy-maker in The Hague focusing on the primary and high-school curriculums. In Maastricht, her fight for equality got hold of the resentment that labels students and locals in an ‘us-and-them’ mindset, causing prejudice and injustice and widening the city’s social divisions.
An Open Household for both the municipality and the student body PARTY (Eng.)Number of seats in the municipality councilSenior Party of Maastricht (SPM)6Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA)5PvdA (Labour Party)5D66 (Democrats 66)5SP (Socialist Party)5GreenLeft (GroenLinks)4VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy)3TON / PVM (Proud of the Netherlands/ Safe Maastricht Party)3SBM (Interest of Mestreech)1LPM (Maastricht Liberal Party)1CVP (Christian People’s Party)1Total39
Every four years, the 39 City Councillors or raadsleden are elected according to an open party list system of proportional representation: a vote casted for a candidate on the list of a certain party also counts for the party as a whole and the percentage of the votes a party gets is the percentage of seats it will receive. All of the residents with EU citizenship are called to the polls, as well as the non-EU citizens and registered resident for at least 5 years. Given that there are about 22 000 students within the city’s 122 500 inhabitants, students will decide upon circa 7 seats in the Council. The first party in Maastricht, the Senioren Partij Maastricht (SPM) holds 6 seats –this is to say what a change the students can make in local politics. Plus, the municipality rules upon remarkably significant issues in the Netherlands, whereas for the provincial elections (for which only nationals may vote) very few policy fields are at stake in comparison to the neighbouring European countries. In fact, municipalities enjoy a legal “open household” that leaves it free to take on any competences as long as it does not infringe on national policies and constitutional bounds. Land management, transports and local infrastructures, social affairs, employment and welfare, education, environmental policy and local economy are thus within the wide range of the municipal government’s competences. There are, of course, many reasons hindering the students’ involvement into politics. Geke and Janna identifies the core reasons for that to be the fact that students do not integrate enough (reading about the local political debates requires speaking Dutch, notably) and –for this reason or another (feeling like a foreigner, not being registered to the Gemeente –the deadline to fulfil this legal obligation is on the 5th of February if you want to vote!), students do not feel legitimate enough to cast their vote.