by Alessandro Pirovano

 

An elected council which in turn appoints the commissioners but only has a marginal say in the choice of the mayor – this is the mechanism of the Dutch administrative machine, an old fashioned system, strongly criticized even from within, despite several unsuccessful attempts to change it. The last local elections saw the PvdA (the Dutch Labour Party), which has run the capital’s council without interruption for over 50 years, defeated. This gave room to a surreal situation: Mayor van der Laan, in office since 2010, is now expression of the opposition. To complicate the matter, Amsterdam City Council asked the government for a reconfirmation of the Labour burgemeester whose mandate was confirmed last March- whether this is a tactical choice of the majority, or simply the lack of credible candidates is still not clear. What is sure now is that as from March Eberhard van der Laan started his second term. Everybody happy? And what about the liberal D66, the party that put an end to the over 50 years lasting hegemony of the PvdA but, nonetheless, still has to cohabit with a Labour mayor? We asked Mascha ten Bruggencate, counselor and deputy leader of the D66 to the City of Amsterdam.

The mayor of Amsterdam Van der Laan has been confirmed for a new term. What do you think of his activity?

Van der Laan has done a great job over the years and people know it and appreciate it. In general, the inhabitants of Amsterdam are very happy about his work.

Yet I remember some critical moments last year when the students’ turmoil was ended with their violent eviction…

The Mayor was in the hospital and after his release he went straight to the ‘Maagdenhuis’ to discuss with the students. Hit attitude towards them was very open and helpful. I don’t know what happened exactly, but surely that night van Der Laan’s choice to talk with the students helped to ease the tension despite the extremely closed stance of the university management.

And what are your ideas about the next term? What could be improved?

To begin with we would like to elect the mayor of our city.

Indeed: the election process of the mayor has always been one of your strong points. Could you explain a bit more?

As we have said on many occasions – even to Van der Laan – the fact that the mayor has substantial powers without any legitimacy from below is an anomaly. We want the mayor to retain these powers but we also want him/her to be elected. It’s a bit strange and it creates some tensions, when you think about it, that the parties that choose ‘wethouders’ (councilors, editor’s note) are not the same that choose the mayor. In short: it is a bit of a contradiction that the mayor is an expression of the PvdA, that is of the opposition party in the city council.

Do you remember any time when these tensions between the mayor and the majority have emerged clearly?

What comes to my mind is one of the latest issues discussed in the council, that is, whether or not social houses should be allowed to be rented out on Airbnb. On this issue the mayor and the councilors took very different stances.

Are you thinking about a proposal or concrete steps to change the situation?

At the moment we lack a clear orientation of the majority of the political forces to make the election process of Dutch mayors more democratic. This is not one of our priorities but if the conditions were there we would make this change. The real political problem is another.

That is?

The fact that citizens lack in interest and feel disaffected towards politics is our primar concern. Maybe political parties are perceived as outdated and useless nowadays, and we should rethink the entire structure and how to get people to participate again..