“Lots of students know little about politics and the difference between the parties,” was a conclusion drawn by the Rotterdam Student Corps. Consequently, it invited Members of Parliament from respectively the VVD (Pieter Duisenberg), CDA (Stijn Steenbakkers), D66 (Salima Belhaj) and GroenLinks (Suzanne Kröger) to come and debate some of today’s current issues. However, the students posed very few critical questions.
Under the chairmanship of Professor Wiep van Bunge, the representatives presented their cases from the wobbly stage of the cosy members’ club. Dressed in student-like attire, the audience of about 150 looked on.
Duisenberg, from the VVD, explained that he wanted to lower the rate of tax charged on company profits, which seemed to please the economic students in particular. However, the debate only became really interesting after a question about tax avoidance was raised. Steenbakkers, from the CDA, took this as an opportunity to sneer at Duisenberg: “VVD State Secretary Eric Wiebes is in a dreadful mess with the tax authorities. We must tackle tax avoidance.” Duisenberg’s reaction was evasive but apt: “Wiebes is an excellent chap and a valuable member of the VVD, it’s just a pity he’s from Amsterdam,” said the EUR alumnus, giving a wink.
The issue of ‘coal-fired power stations’ might have been written for Kröger, the GroenLinks representative. According to her party and D66, the power stations should be closed as quickly as possible. “Do you really want to see the Netherlands as a global frontrunner in environmental issues, or are you simply keen to have a completely different environmental policy?” wondered one of the few critical students. Kröger responded by citing Denmark as an example, and explaining that she thought the Netherlands could also play a leading role.
The abolition of the basic student grant was the subject closest to the students’ hearts. Here CDA scored points, as it wants to reintroduce the scheme. “The fact that increasingly fewer students are living away from home since the grants were abolished is bad news,” according to Steenbakkers.
D66 and VVD are unenthusiastic about the basic student grant and would rather invest in education. In response to a question about specific improvements, their response was ‘more lecturers, less crowded lecture theatres and better equipment’. The VVD believes that Erasmus University should combine its strengths with those of Delft and Leiden so they measure up to international competitors (something which, to a degree, is already happening in the LDE-project).
Pauluskerk (St Paul’s Church)
To conclude the debate, Van Bunge raised the subject of the ‘migration crisis’. While the VVD and the CDA emphasised that they wanted to deport any asylum seekers who had exhausted all their appeals as quickly as possible, both D66 and GroenLinks accepted the possibility of keeping refugees for longer. According to Belhaj, at least three hundred asylum seekers who have exhausted all appeals are wandering around Rotterdam. “We welcome them to the Pauluskerk and we talk to them; we try to help them find a way of eventually going back to where they came from,” concluded the former member of Rotterdam’s municipal council.