Thomas Schäfer, project leader of 'Student en stad' (Student and City), kicked off the evening with a presentation about Maas X and facts about the previous city council elections: “Maastricht has approximately 120,000 inhabitants. 20,000 of those are students: a group to be reckoned with. That is, if they vote.” The city council doesn't have exact figures, but the total turnout in Maastricht was only 46.9 per cent. The 'Senioren Partij Maastricht', (Senior Citizens Party Maastricht), was the big winner, maybe because so few youngsters voted.
Schäfer: “Every EU citizen over eighteen years old who is registered as an inhabitant of Maastricht, is allowed to vote. Even exchange students who are only here for a few months, provided that they have registered as citizens before the fifth of February. This does not apply to students from outside the EU. The latter must have lived in Maastricht for at least five years to obtain the right to vote.”
The evening was the first in a series of events set up by Maas X in the weeks preceding the city council elections. Last Monday, upon entry to the Muziekgieterij all visitors, mainly students, were given a number that corresponded to a discussion table. There, they engaged in brainstorming sessions and debates on one of four subjects: housing, sustainability, the knowledge economy, and polarisation.
At a ‘polarisation table’, the discussion was mostly about the divide between people from Maastricht and the (international) student. According to Leonhard Woessner, first-year student of International Business, it is a matter of “waiting for newer generations who will be more open to students and see that they are something positive for the city; for example, they produce an economic impulse.”
UCM student Florian Saal feels that students can do something now: “They need to come out of their social bubbles and learn Dutch, so that they can talk to their neighbours about such things as carnival.” No matter what, everyone at the table agreed that all students should vote, including international students. Although they are only in Maastricht briefly, their votes serve the interests of future exchange students.
Chris de Haas, fellow organiser and member of youth council JONGR, said that the outcomes and stumbling blocks of these sessions will be used to formulate statements for the Maas X student debate on 12 March, where politicians from local parties will enter into a discussion about subjects that concern students.