“I quite like the Royal House”, says Public Management student Paul de Vries. He is a member of the Board in the Christian Democratic Appeal’s youth division in Rotterdam and is responsible for all political affairs.
“But do you know just how much money goes to the King?”, asks Thomas van der Voort, Public Administration student and secretary of Young Socialists Rijnmond. He immediately Googles the exact amount spent on the Royal House every year. “That’s for the whole family, though”, says De Vries. “For just one family”, interrupts Van der Voort. “That’s how you need to look at it.”
Farmers, climate plans and basic grant
Once the group has fully assembled, they get ready to watch the address from the throne and discuss some of their expectations. Philosophy student Thomas Kloos thinks that a number of things will be raised as a minimum. “Unless they’re going to keep Budget Day squeaky clean, the King is going to have to discuss farmers and the climate plans. But I hope that he’ll also address the basic grant and that students won’t end up being forgotten again.” Kloos is a member of ROOD, the Socialist Party’s old youth association.
“I’m in favour of the student loan system”, Youth Organisation Freedom and Democracy (JOVD) Chair Friso van Gruijthuijsen chips in. He is studying Economics and Econometrics. “Students will often go on to secure much better paid jobs.”
The other three disagree with him, but King Willem-Alexander is about to start, so there is not much time for discussion. “I’m just hoping for a Speech from the Throne that will give people a bit of hope, showing some humanity rather than just running through a list”, says Christian Democratic Youth Appeal (CDJA) member De Vries. Van Gruijthuijsen agrees: “It’s going to be one of the toughest Speeches from the Throne in years. I hope the King will be able to show that he’s really in touch with what’s going on.” Young Socialist Van der Voort is mainly hoping for a long-term vision. “They’ve got plenty of money. What we need now
is a viable plan.”
The four students take notes during the King’s Speech so that they can comment on it afterwards. “I feel a bit like a sports commentator who’s going to be talking about the match after the final whistle”, laughs Van Gruijthuijsen.
Kloos is the first to speak once the King has finished his Speech: “Just another checklist, then.” He thinks that the Speech from the Throne lacked depth. The rest agree. And yet a few positive points get mentioned as well: Van Gruijthuijsen thinks it was great that attention was given to small businesses, and Van der Voort is pleasantly surprised by the comment about taking back control of the housing market.
'Students are being forgotten'
One thing really stood out for all four of them. “Students are being forgotten yet again”, says Van der Voort. “He briefly touched on the basic grant, but I didn’t hear anything about compensation, and it’s not the first time that we’ve been overlooked.”
Although the students’ opinions on the student loan system and compensation for students vary, they do at least agree on this point: politicians give scant attention to students. “He does give hope to certain groups of people, but he’s offering very few prospects to students”, adds De Vries.
Distance from politics
This irritates the four gentlemen, but they also have clear ideas on what students themselves can do about it. “Students still aren’t politically active enough. We aren’t a major force at the ballot box. A sizeable proportion of young people don’t even vote, part of them isn’t allowed yet of course”, explains Van der Voort. The rest nod in agreement, and Van Gruijthuijsen picks up the thread, “Even though there aren’t many other places that give this many opportunities to work towards your ambitions and ideals. And I speak for all political youth parties rather than just the JOVD.”
De Vries even thinks it is logical that young people often get forgotten. “It’s all well and good that we have our opinions on the basic grant and the student loan system, but if we fail to stand up and be counted, then of course we’ll get overlooked. That is why I joined. If you want change, then you’ve got to get active!”
“I get why the threshold is so high”, says Kloos. “But actually, it’s a myth that the world of politics is remote. Sure, there’s some distance, but we need to understand that we young people have got just as much right to get involved in politics.” Suddenly, after all the disagreement, the four students are united.
As a matter of fact, they all got into politics for the same reasons. They want to make the Netherlands a better place, but it is also a way of being there for your fellow human beings. Preconceived ideas that they had about one another beforehand are discussed and debunked.
Kloos: “ROOD may be one of the few openly anticapitalist youth parties, but we often get written off as conspiracy theorists, and that’s just way off the mark.”
“And at the JOVD, I really notice that everyone believes in freedom and in getting the best out of yourself. The atmosphere there is great and open”, adds Van Gruijthuijsen. “Many of our members don’t even vote for the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). It’s really diverse.” De Vries says it’s the same at the CDJA. “We believe that society’s role is
tremendously important, for instance, but there’s a wide range of opinions and
ideas within our party. We’re actually very diverse.”
Last to speak, Van der Voort states that this is also why he likes being in the Young Socialists. “The prevailing culture on the left is extremely nuanced. I’m not one for naive leftist politics. There are plenty of good discussions to be had within my party.”
The students carry on talking long after the Speech from the Throne is over. Now and then, there are some clear differences in opinion, but they often find themselves in agreement too. The atmosphere is so good that they all head home with a feeling of satisfaction at the end of the afternoon. “I’ve been involved in a few heated debates with other youth party members, but this one was great”, says Van der Voort.