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General Affairs

New Dutch draft agreement is problematic for Maastricht's future: are there also opportunities?

The Netherlands'draft coalition agreement presented by far-right party PVV, and right wingparties VVD, NSC and BBB, published last week, threatens to increase manyproblems in the city, while also containing a small number of opportunities.Although the document is generally far removed from Volt Maastricht's ideas andvalues, it is important that we as a party start looking at where those fewopportunities lie now. Poverty reduction, housing and international trainconnections are at the top of the list.

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Jules Ortjens

After reading this document, made possible by the four parties, a rangeof points remain reasons of concern to Volt Maastricht. Unfortunately, this isnot entirely surprising for a draft agreement set up under the leadership of afar-right party. The new political reality finds its foundation in xenophobicand nationalist navel-gazing. Precisely in such a political reality, Volt willhave to seek cooperation with other progressive parties in Maastricht andSouthern Limburg. It is crucial for our region that we do not turn our backs onthe other, be it asylum seekers, refugees, international students, or ourGerman, Walloon and Flemish neighbours. The coming summer is the time for SouthLimburg's progressive political forces to lobby at the national level and makeour interests audible.

At the same time, in such a broad agreement, it is not surprising that afew tentative bright spots can also be found. We will have to grab theseopportunities with both hands in order to keep our region healthy this newpolitical reality.

Poverty reduction
For instance, the agreement is committed to reducing poverty. However,low-income families will not get any more money under this plan. So, itrequires creativity from our local government to solve this. We can look forthat creativity in saving on energy bills and collecting more reusable waste atlower costs. After all, these are responsibilities that are on themunicipality's plate. But that will not be enough to effectively tackle povertyin our city. Should this policy become reality, Volt believes Maastricht shouldenergetically take up the challenge of combating poverty - without extra moneyfor low incomes - and claim a financial boost from The Hague to do so.

Making industries greener
A specific opportunity for Maastricht is making paper production atMaastricht's factory of Sappi more sustainable and making better use of thatplant's residual heat. Indeed, the new coalition wants to support industry inits energy transition. Meanwhile, Sappi wants to use electricity instead ofsteam. If, together with Sappi and the grid operators, we respond smartly tothe new policies, we get rid of a chimney in the middle of the city withsupport from the state. Moreover, we keep jobs here and the residual heat canbenefit social (lower income) housing. Currently, district heating is stillconsidered expensive, but that is the result of past policy choices. As far asVolt is concerned, we are entering a new round with new opportunities: heatingwith residual heat must become much cheaper than natural gas.

European public transport
The new coalition wants to promote cross-border train travel. Within theright-wing conservative document of this to-be-expected coalition, this is oneof the few real bright sides that could very much strengthen our region -provided the planned policies are actually implemented properly. For instance,the central government could impose on the NS (the Dutch national traintrack company) to have the intercity from Utrecht continue to Aachen(DE) via Heerlen and to Liège (BE) via Maastricht. This plan couldmake cross-border transport more profitable and attractive, connect us moreefficeintly with metropolitan areas like Brussels, Düsseldorf and Cologne, andgoes hand in hand with the green vision for Europe embraced by Volt inMaastricht and Limburg. If NS does not cooperate on this matter, the statecould also tender international connections separately. Arriva has alreadyexpressed interest in expanding the current Euroregional network between Liège,Limburg and Aachen.

Volt Maastricht noted the good intentions in the field of housing construction,but also the lack of new promising measures to achieve more housing. We arecurious to know whether the Maastricht city board ("het College")sees opportunities in the announced tax on land with residential zoning thathas not yet been built on. On the face of it, this could provide a seriousboost, provided the tax is high enough. For example, could the Zinkwitter site,which has been derelict for decades, be developed more quickly? Is this areason to change the zoning to "residential", if the landownerlingers?

Worrying developments for our city and region
Despite the rose-coloured glasses that we had to put on to conduct theconstructive analysis provided above, our general conclusive analysis of thisdocument ends with a lot of criticism. Overall, the first agreement looksworrisome for our city and region. The so-called de-internationalisation ofhigher education advocated by these parties will be disastrous for our city,its university and college, especially if the simplistic lines in the documentare followed. For instance, the parties claim to want to promote the Dutchlanguage in higher education, but do not properly explain in what way. Volt isalso in favour of more actively promoting the Dutch language at universities,but that is something that we want to do within existing multilingualprogrammes. This way, you provide international students more tools andmotivation to stay, integrate and become the Maastricht residents of tomorrow.What Volt does not want is to tear down the international DNA of our city. Thatwould mean the end for our region's higher education and the accompanyingeconomie as we know it today. Indeed, it would make our region's businessclimate anything but more attractive for new Maastricht residents andentrepreneurs to stay and develop here.

Really how loyal are the far-right PVV, and the right-wing BBB, NSC andVVD really to the high number of supportes they gained in Limburg? Theshort-term intention to experiment with border controls will be simplydestructive for the economic opportunities of our (Eu)region. The pooreraccessibility of Maastricht and Limburg will not only lead to structuralinconvenience and economic damage, but also exacerbate problems in times ofcrisis (such as a pandemic). The consequences of such border closures couldfurther strain the popularity of this new coalition. If nurses from Belgianborder towns, like Ternaaien, can no longer cycle to AZM, if farmers in theregion can no longer easily cross the border, and if small and mediumenterprise entrepreneurs see their sales market largely shut down, we will loseas a whole society. If the new Dutch coalition wants to experiment withunpredictable border controls, we would suggest they conduct such an experiment25 km around The Hague: if they do that, Volt is convinced that politicianswill quickly abandon such border plans.

In short, this agreementbrings a lot of challenges. Both for us as locally elected representatives, forthe city board, for Maastricht's civil service, but above all for ourresidents. Together with the progressive parties in our region, let us makesure to limit the damage and seize opportunities. Let us use our creativityeven more to come up with workable solutions. And let us keep working hardtogether on our progressive, inclusive, green and future-oriented ambitions for Maastricht.

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