By Jan Douwe Krist and Stéphanie Hamel
February 28, 2022. Municipal elections will take place on March 16 in Groningen. The municipality and the Student Association for International Relations (SIB) tell 9to5 how they are working together to reach out to international residents, a population that often seems unaware that they can vote. For this occasion, an election debate will take place next Monday night at Forum.
On February 28, Forum will host Groninger Votes!, a debate night in English about the upcoming municipal elections. “During the first round, there will be the topic of the housing crisis, and how political parties see the solution to this problem,” tells Dominika Łykowska, organizer of the event and member of SIB. “The second round will be about how parties see the internationalization of Groningen, and the third round will be a Q&A with the parties.“
This event is the first of its kind and is the result of a collaboration between Forum and SIB. When Łykowska was told that international residents of Groningen were allowed to vote to municipal elections, she decided to do something to spread the word: “We thought it would be a nice opportunity to organize a debate, especially in English, since Groningen is becoming more and more international. Lots of people who live here don’t speak Dutch.”
International residents of Groningen are allowed to vote in the municipal elections. For EU citizens, the only prerequisite is to be registered at the municipality; while for non-EU citizens, they must have lived in the Netherlands for at least five years. The municipality does not know exactly how many internationals vote during the local elections, because of confidentiality.
The municipal elections (Gemeenteraadsverkiezing) determine which party members will have a seat in the municipal parliament (Gemeenteraad), the legislative side of the municipal government. On the online platform StemWijzer (available in English), Groningers can already have a peek at the different parties’ stances on a vast range of issues – many of them directly concerning international residents and students, like the housing crisis or limiting the admission of students to local universities.
Hans Coenraads, a spokesperson for the municipality of Groningen, told 9to5 that the municipality sensed it could improve their outreach to internationals. “Seeing the size of the group and as it is growing, we think it is important to involve them as well.” The municipality actively promotes events such as Groningen Votes! as part of the effort to include internationals. “The request to do this came from the municipal council and their supporters. That is the reason why we have put a committee on this,” Coenraads explained.
A municipal term lasts four years, which is often the time it takes for a student to complete a Bachelor’s. A quick survey sent by 9to5 to a dozen international students at the RUG showed that many were unaware they could vote. Among those who did, however, the majority was unsure they would go to the polls on March 16.
Justus Niebling (24, Germany) is one of them. He has lived in in Groningen for 3,5 years now and had not heard about the election until 9to5 brought it to his attention. When asked if he is considering to vote, he replies: “I do not think I should, because I am going to leave. People who are here for two or three years should not have too much power to mingle with regional politics, except when it has to do with student housing, maybe.”
As far as Annika Klinkenberg (25, Germany) is concerned, she was not aware that she could vote in local elections. She moved to Groningen in 2018 and is not planning on moving away soon. “Honestly, I would probably vote if I managed to inform myself about it. If it is reasonably easy to do so, sure. But so far, I have not heard much about it.”
Out of the 16 political parties running for office, 11 will present their program at the event and answer questions: GroenLinks, PDA, D66, VVD, CDA, PvdD, ChristenUnie, SP, PVV, Student en Stad, and Stadspartij 100% voor Groningen.
The internationalization of Groningen and the student housing crisis will be at the heart of the debate on February 28. Whether they decide to vote or not, decisions affecting their lives will be made.
Tickets for the event can be reserved free of charge directly on the Forum website.
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