It is possible to bypass the cabinet's policy concerning alcohol
MAASTRICHT. Student associations and debating societies are trying to recruit new members, but the COVID-19 measures don’t make it easy for them. Especially because the rules keep changing. First, actual physical recruiting was allowed, then only online, and now it is different again, but how exactly? In the meantime, by-passing the strictest rules is not too difficult.
Last week, Observant called a number of chairpersons. How were things after prime minister Rutte’s announcement on 6 August? Almost everything has to be done online, only sports associations were allowed to give physical ‘instruction’. No hazing.
The associations are fed up but are doing their best to make something of it. “The introduction can be great fun online as well,” said Saurus chairperson Rosalie Bovy. “We have organised a cocktail workshop, a digital escape room and a pub quiz.” Tragos is holding a Fifa tournament and Koko is also doing a pub quiz. Koko chairman Jordi Janssen: “Those online programmes are quite similar for all associations. It is the same menu everywhere just with a different sauce.” Circumflex is also using videos on social media, says chairman Stan van der Vleuten.
No matter what, the associations can’t complain about the numbers so far. Koko has introduced pre-registrations this year and those are “going well,” says Janssen. Bovy is confident too. “We are less visible in the city and at the events, but on the other hand, we have never been this active online before.”
Chairman Hyun Jansen from Onafhankelijk Maastricht, the umbrella organisation of independent debating societies, is worried though. “Normally we recruit in the city and at the two large Inkom parties; all that has been cancelled. We were at the information market on Monday and the debating societies are trying to do something online, but it will be tough because we are relatively unknown, compared to the large associations.”
No ‘hazing’ (or whatever other term people use for it), the independent debating societies are not happy with that at all. Jansen: “In the ‘A-time’ a strong bond is created with the society, and in particular with your own batch. During that period, prospective members learn the standards and values of the debating society. An online version doesn’t have the same effect. This is less of a problem for the associations because everyone can join. On a debating society level, this will be a problem too.”
What will the programmes look like now that the rules have suddenly been relaxed and the ordinary associations are allowed to develop more physical activities? That is still unclear, as the associations were taken by surprised, and the university and the city council are looking at what has become possible. One thing, however, has not changed, no alcohol and at ten o’clock in the evening, it is all over.
However, it appears to be easy to get around that: first-year students who join immediately have the same rights as the senior members. A member is a member. And for them, all association bars - and (for Tragos) the outdoor cafe - are allowed to open “under strict regulations”. Even after ten o’clock, and also to have a beer, and not one with 0% alcohol. Inkom participants can set up an introduction membership via the associations’ websites, with Koko one can even do so for one euro. “You could see such a membership as a trick,” says Van der Vleuten from Circumflex: “Our registration fees, by the way, are not lower. And we will adhere to the city council’s emergency decree. Our catering permit is the same as that for any pub in town. The city council cannot differentiate between them.”
So, using this practice it is possible to bypass the cabinet’s policy concerning alcohol and closing times for first-year students. The university follows the cabinet’s policy; formally they have no choice, although rector Rianne Letschert said in newspaper Trouw this weekend that she felt Rutte’s approach to the students was “out of proportion”.
Bypassing government policy? No
This method can be used to bypass the government policies on alcohol and evening closure for first-year students. And the university follows government policies; formally it can’t do otherwise, although rector Rianne Letschert did say last weekend in newspaper Trouw that she felt that Rutte’s approach to the students was “out of proportion”. But Letschert feels that this is not a case of bypassing the rules. Nor does she see a tendency among the student associations to do so: “Since COVID-19, they have adhered to all regulations. There has not been a single incident. I recently complimented them on that fact. They are subjected to strict checks, we monitor all plans and protocols and these are also tested by the regional security authority; and then there are surprise visits by a special joint city and UM team that checks whether they do indeed stick to the rules. As far as this matter is concerned, those association bars have a catering licence, and if first-year students are members, they are allowed to be there – under strict COVID-19 protocols –indeed also to have a beer after ten o’clock in the evening.”
Does she not see a conflict with the Prime Minister’s words? “No, actually I don’t.”
Bypassing? Yes, it is
The regional security authority, however, has a different view on the matter. In summary: this practice by the associations is not in accordance with the spirit of the government policies and those of the regional security authority itself. A spokesperson refers to the text in the city council emergency decree issued on 20 August. Article 2.1a Measures concerning introduction activities for students states that exemption can be granted for the total ban on ‘gatherings’ among others when no alcohol is served and people do not meet between 22:00 hrs and 6:00 hrs. The spokesperson: “If those first-year students are allowed access to the association bars in large numbers, then that is a regular gathering and not an introduction activity. Thus the emergency decree could be bypassed. But of course, that isn’t the idea. That rule serves a particular objective: to prevent large groups of students gathering without adhering to the COVID-19 measures. I hope that the associations and the members will act responsibly.”
Bypassing possibly conflicting
The Maastricht city council concludes when asked that this escape route taken by the associations “is possibly conflicting with the recently agreed government policies concerning introduction activities,” but adds that it cannot do anything about it. “As long as there is no formal ban, this cannot be stopped,” they say. That fact is actually that “it is formally permitted for first-year students to drink alcohol after 22:00 hrs at a student association of which they are members”, which is within the framework of “regular operations”. After all, first-year students are allowed to visit ordinary pubs and have alcoholic beverages. The city authorities again refer to the intention of all measures announced by Rutte: “Not so much to prevent first-year students from drinking alcohol, but to avoid large gatherings where excessive alcohol consumption leads to them no longer observing the 1.5 metre distance rule.”
Yuri Meesen/Wammes Bos