Who serves you best?
Stands for Democrats 66. This party is known as a centre party and aims to provide good education, improve housing, and make Groningen ecologically sustainable.
One of the local parties; its name means something like City and Surroundings. The party wants to introduce the local referendum, plant more trees in the city, and proposes to support both large and small companies by reducing municipal taxes.
The Socialist Party. A traditionally left-wing party that promises to fight socio-economic inequality, invest in the public sector, and rethink capitalism.
The Christian Democrat Appeal is one of two Christian parties running for election. In Groningen, it wants a smaller role for the municipal government, to fight drug abuse, and to reduce loneliness.
The Sports Party is an absolute newcomer, participating for the very first time. This local party is, of course, dedicated to nurturing the value of sport in our society.
The Partij van de Arbeid Labor Party is a moderate left-wing party, seeking to overcome discrimination and poverty and ensure good medical care for everyone.
The second Christian party. ChristenUnie pays special attention to good health care and hopes to combat the psychological problems of the elderly, the homeless, and students.
Local branch of Geert Wilders’ far-right Partij voor de Vrijheid (Freedom Party). The PVV wants more social housing and it doesn’t want any asylum centres near Groningen.
Literally translates to GreenLeft; this is Groningen’s green party. It wants to realize more sustainable energy and affordable housing and to promote diversity.
A local party looking to give students a voice. They want more affordable housing and less regulation regarding cultural and sports events.
A local party aiming to involve more citizens in local politics. Among its demands are a clean city and better preventive care.
The right-wing liberal party. Its local branch intends to help local businesses, car owners, and to secure the existence of Airport Eelde.
The Partij voor de Dieren (Party for the Animals) may seem like a one-issue party, but it does not only want to advance animals’ interests. It wants to make Groningen greener, more bike-friendly, and energy-neutral by 2030.
So what am I voting for again?
On Wednesday November 21, the inhabitants of Groningen elect their municipal council. Dutch citizens aged 18 or over are eligible to vote, as are all European Union citizens, and non-EU citizens who have lived in the Netherlands for at least five years.
The municipal council holds 45 representative seats which are up for election every four years. Council candidates do not run on their own, but as members of a party. This years’ election sees no less than thirteen of those parties battling for the available seats. Most are local divisions of national political parties; four are local initiatives (Stad en Ommeland, Student en Stad, 100% Groningen, Sportpartij).
Once the votes are in, the largest party has to form a coalition with one or more other parties. They can partner up with anyone they like, as long as the resulting coalition holds the majority of the seats. The coalition parties will each put forward one or more officials. These are called ‘wethouders’ in Dutch; they’re somewhat comparable to aldermen in the United States and United Kingdom.
Wethouders support the mayor with day-to-day business. Each is responsible for specific themes, such as infrastructure, public health, sports, or culture. Their function closely resembles what ministers do on a national level. In the last elections, D66 came out as the winner; it is currently governing the city in a coalition with PvdA, GroenLinks, and VVD.
The municipal council itself meets every week to discuss policy proposals and to oversee the mayor and the wethouders. Council members can vote on matters brought up by the mayor and wethouders, and they can also propose plans of their own.
So how do you cast your vote in the upcoming municipal council elections? If you are eligible to vote, you will have received a polling card in the mail. Bring this (along with a valid passport or identity document) to a polling station on the 21st, and you’re good to go.
Do not get overwhelmed by the extensive ballot you’ll be presented with. Parties list up to fifty possible council members, making for a grand total of 457 options on one giant piece of paper. Here’s where it gets confusing. Officially, you need to vote for an individual candidate – but because council members nearly always act in accordance with their party program, who you’re voting for exactly doesn’t matter very much. Do yourself a favour and stick to settling on a party, which is hard enough.
In order to arrive at a specific candidate, try narrowing your options using simple criteria. Some people simply vote for the first candidate listed, others make a point of voting for a woman, and yet others pick the weirdest last name of the party they support. Alternatively, you might want to vote for one of your peers: many parties have student candidates.
If a flock of colourfully cloaked people approaches you this week, don’t be alarmed. Halloween is over; they won’t try to scare you. And they won’t try to sell you anything, either. But they will try to talk to you about politics. It’s election season!
This year, local politicians are finally realising that international students have a right to vote in municipal council elections – and so are students. But the right to vote is one thing; knowing what’s at stake is another. To save you the trouble, we called up candidates to see what they are doing to win international votes come the 21st of November.
Which parties are looking out for internationals in the first place?
Unfortunately, not all parties responded to our request for information. So for information on CDA, the Sportpartij and the PVV, we’ll have to refer you to their websites. And you’ll need a helpful Dutchie to decipher those pages, which aren’t in English.
But other parties have taken a special interest in internationals this election season. The GroenLinks faction in the municipal council proposed to accompany voting passes with information in English. The party also visits international student houses to make sure students are aware of their right to vote.
PvdA also distributes some promotional material in English. GroenLinks, D66, PvdD and Student en Stad all provide summaries of their party programmes online, and several parties have set up web pages informing internationals of their rights and voting procedures.
What do the parties have to say about the emergency housing facilities?
When it comes to internationals’ problems, all the parties were happy to address the biggest one: housing.
Jimmy Dijk, first candidate of the SP, hates the idea that private investors are making big money off the temporary accommodations at the Suikerlaan. ‘And the same goes for the hotel boat and other emergency facilities. Behind each of those projects, someone is profiting in a large way.’
But David Jan Meijer, thirteenth candidate on the list of the VVD, thinks the emergency facilities are an achievement to be proud of. ‘The Suikerlaan is a nice example of our efforts, as one of the coalition parties, to build extra housing. The specific consequences, with the short-stay contracts, remain to be discussed – but there is accommodation.’
D66 says that emergency housing facilities might be a necessary evil, but the process of providing those facilities needs to improve. So the party initiated a plan to make sure there are at least 750 emergency housing units at the start of the new academic year. ‘We are most likely going to need them, so it is important the that emergency facilities are better than sleeping in a tent or on a couch’, explains Matt Veerkamp, who is number 25 on the list.
What about the role of the universities?
SP believes that the universities should not try to attract more international students simply to make money. The party also thinks university applications should be matched with housing availability. PvdA agrees, according to candidate Julian Bushoff: ‘If the university wishes to attract new students, university registration should be coupled to housing. That way the students can never outnumber the places to live.’
The PvdD shares the concern that international students are being exploited for financial gain. Wesley Pechler, a candidate on the PvdD list, says internationals shouldn’t be treated as a ‘cash cow: I want to emphasize that we regard internationals as an addition to our city – we welcome them – but the current growth rate is starting to affect housing and the quality of education.’
Pechler thinks the municipality can exert some pressure on the RUG and Hanze through the various agreements and partnerships connecting the municipality and the universities. At the very least, he think marketing efforts aimed at future students could be toned down.
Inge Jongman, who is on the municipal council on behalf of the ChristenUnie, thinks the universities can also do a better job communicating the reality of the housing situation to incoming students.
What about long-term solutions?
Tents at Zernike is obviously not a long-term solution to the housing problem internationals face. So David Jan Meijer, of the VVD, suggests getting rid of ‘Dutch-only’ housing ads. ‘Accepting only Dutch roommates is ridiculous’, he believes. ‘We want to start a media campaign to change that.’
The VVD wants to build more housing – especially for families looking to buy in the middle segment of the market. ‘That may sound odd, but it will generate upward mobility in the housing market, ultimately making it easier for students to find a room.’
Inge Jongman, first on the list for the ChristenUnie, also stipulates the importance of building for the middle segment. ‘When the entire market starts moving, we’re hoping there will ultimately be more room for international students.’
Marjet Woldhuis, currently occupying the single council seat of 100% Groningen, offers an entirely different solution. ‘I encourage a closer relationship between the council and the private landlords, who own about 85 percent of the housing market.’
Woldhuis knows many of these landlords personally and believes that the vast majority are neither exploitative nor malicious. ‘If those private parties would be invited to offer their rooms on the At Home in Groningen web site, there would be many more available rooms. At websites like Kamernet.nl internationals have a really hard time finding a place.’
Both 100% Groningen and Stad en Ommeland think that there should be proper housing at Zernike. But how should the municipality go about realizing that? Onno de Rechteren, the number eight candidate for Stad en Ommeland, doesn’t know. But he would like to make the most of the ‘knowhow at the Academy for Architecture (part of Hanze, red.)’, he says. ‘Why not ask a group of students for their best ideas?’
I’m on a short stay lease and its horrible, what does the council think about that?
Many of the parties are critical of the short stay contracts at places like the Suikerlaan. Lieke Schoutens, of GroenLinks, thinks these contracts are discriminatory.
‘Internationals usually end up with short stay housing contracts that offer no rental protection’, Schoutens says. ‘And rent prices average about 130 euros higher than a regular room. Because no specific policy has yet been developed, GroenLinks took the initiative to start a municipal investigation into alternatives.’ The initiative had unanimous support in the council and the report should be in by March.
Marten Duit, number one for Student en Stad, wants to get rid of short-stay student housing contracts. ‘Short stay contracts should only be available to hotels. As to the Student Hotel, I think it’s fine that they use them, as long as their rooms are treated as a luxury option and not counted on as regular student rooms.”
I’m always on the road: who’s helping me?
Many of the parties agree that the number of cars in Groningen should be reduced, inxluding D66, GroenLinks, Partij voor de Dieren, Partij voor de Arbeid, ChristenUnie and Student en Stad.
But the VVD, Stad en Ommeland and 100% Groningen aren’t interested in reducing car traffic.
Wesley Pechler, of the Partij voor de Dieren, says that his party wants to give special attention to the people travelling by bike. Like Student en Stad, PvdD wants to programme traffic lights to give priority to bikes and public transportation. They also wish to increase the amount of parking spaces for bikes, even at the expense of car parking spaces.
Partij van de Arbeid supports these ideas, but stresses the fact that some people cannot do without their car and need to be accounted for as well. This summer, a GroenLinks proposal to investigate an expansion on the current traffic circulation plan was well-received by a council majority.
The traffic circulation plan is a curious piece of Groningen infrastructure history. A couple of ‘wethouders’ back in the seventies decided to divide up the city into sectors and make car traffic between these sectors impossible. As a consequence, cars have to take a ‘ringweg’, a road circling the centre. The plan reduces the number of cars downtown, but it also creates a lot of confusion for out-of-towners trying to navigate the city centre.
Many council parties would like to see this traffic circulation plan expanded to cover more of Groningen, but VVD and Stad en Ommeland are strongly opposed. David Jan Meijer of the VVD thinks that forcing people to take the ‘ringweg’ will increase the number of kilometres travelled, thereby increasing CO2 emissions.
The VVD wants to further develop the airport in Eelde, and also proposes to investigate the possibility of a ‘hyperloop’ connection with Hamburg. The hyperloop is a proposed design for a very high speed train running through partially evacuated tunnels.
Matt Veerkamp of D66 also thinks a better connection to Germany is important for local economy. ‘The current connection with German is far from perfect. The track between Groningen, Bremen and Hamburg can be improved upon in many ways. With the Wunderline project (a joint effort of Dutch and German local governments, red.), we hope to bring the cities closer. It will create jobs in Groningen and make it easier for German students to visit their hometowns.’
Are there any other hot topics in Groningen politics I should be aware of?
Yes! This only scratches the surface. And what follows is still only top-of-the-iceberg stuff, but there are many other things the municipal council can do.
For example, the council was completely split over the issue of garbage taxing last year. It denied a plan to start taxing the disposal of garbage per bag by only a single vote.
Marjet Woldhuis (100% Groningen) is proud that her single seat in the council was decisive in the matter – she thought taxing individual bags would encourage people to dump their garbage. But David Jan Meijer, says the VVD wants to re-introduce the proposal in the coming council term.
Other parties want more green spaces to increase air quality and beautify the city. Partij voor de Dieren proposes planting fruit trees all over the city and using rooftops for urban farming experiments.
GroenLinks is also interested in ‘greening’ the city. They want solar panels on all suitable rooftops and to replace gas connections with electricity. D66 sees the energy transition as a key aspect of economic policy because it will create new jobs.
And the ChristenUnie says one of their major concerns is the mental health of students, who can ‘become very lonely. For us it’s important that we look out for each other, so we want to make sure that their problems can be heard’, says Inge Jongman.
There is more: the PvdA promises to develop employment opportunities for graduates who want to stay in Groningen. Stad en Ommeland wants to introduce local referenda to allow citizens to control policy making directly. And Student en Stad wants to reduce event regulations so Groningen can continue to be a vibrant and fun cultural centre.
You will find that most of the party information online is in Dutch, but hopefully this overview has been useful as you decide on the parties you want to support. Happy voting!
Even more election info
For further reading about the elections and the parties, head over to these pages providing handy information in English:
Would you still like to know more, are you up for a challenge, or do you have a Dutch person handy? You can find all the other parties’ programmes below, in Dutch.