“Why did Napoleon never attack Geneva? Napoleon: ‘Geneva? Why would I attack Geneva? Everybody speaks English there.’”, according to ringmaster Teun Dekker, using these words to present the introductory video that accompanies the evening’s fourth proposition: ‘The city council should offer free Dutch courses to everyone.’ “I agree,” says Alex Meij from the Partij Veilig Maastricht (PVM). According to Kitty Nuyts of the Liberale Partij Maastricht (LPM) this is a task of the university. Nuyts had by far the greatest evening of all debaters present: with her (unauthorised) interruptions during other debates and her endearing Dunglish, she quickly had the audience laughing.
Rules of the game
Scientists Arie van der Lugt and Teun Dekker, “the two funniest men” that rector Rianne Letschert has ever met, skilfully presented the evening’s programme and kicked off the debating rounds with the applicable rules of the game: ten parties, five propositions, eight views, after which two parties entered into a discussion. The comical duo had a little bell at their disposal, which they could use if an argument took too long or if parties talked at the same time: they didn’t need them. If asked, the audience could also present views. Upon arrival, all visitors were given a summary of the evening, with a red front (against) and a green back (in favour).
“Passionate speeches,” Letschert twittered about the first debate, between Franca Eurlings (D66) and Gert-Jan Krabbendam (GroenLinks). Their sustainability debate probably looked different from the front row than higher up in the well-filled Franz Palm room at SBE. A well-prepared Krabbendam clearly tried to win votes and emphatically proclaimed three times this evening how happy he was with the students: “Before we start the debate I want to say that all the students are welcome in Maastricht; a very, very warm welcome.” Applause from the audience, in particular from the third row, where a number of people in green sweaters eagerly clapped their hands after every sentence. Opponent Eurlings, allegedly a good debater in Dutch, clearly had trouble with the English language. A pity, because normally academics would be her audience.
Apart from Eurlings, Nuyts and Peter Diepenhorst of the Maastrichtse Volkspartij (MV) also found the language a stumbling block. Nevertheless, this turned out alright for the latter two. Diepenhorst failed to present his point of view properly during the debate on vacancy tax, but eventually received applause and respect from the audience. Nuyts in particular was very entertaining: “It’s getting interesting now”, “Do we believe him?”.
‘Reopen the Alla’ it says on an A4 from a student during the discussion on 24-hour licences for places of entertainment in the city centre. The VVD party entered Nicky Beckers for this debate. The master’s student of Econometrics and Operations Research, commented during the drink after the debate: “The linguistic proficiency of party leader John Aarts is probably not good enough for a debate in English.” A good move, because the discussion between Beckers and Maren Slangen (PvdA) runs smoothly. It’s the best of the evening. The VVD is in favour of 24-hour licences in catering establishments in the centre, so Beckers had the support of the audience, but Slangen held out well. When Beckers refers to market mechanism, there is some booing. “I hear that there are some communists in the room.” The audience laughs. Blabbermouth Nuyts is against: “Longer opening hours are okay, but not seven days a week. You should also study. It has to be gezellig for everybody; also young children and people who work.”
Get your facts straight
The last debate, about the student quota, promises to be the highlight of the evening. Earlier that evening, Krabbendam had already said that there was no such thing; of course, applauded by the GroenLinks cheerleaders on the third row. SP representative Mara de Graaf, who was actually doing the debate, also said that there is no quota, but there is a regulation “that states how many houses in any one street may be split into rentable rooms”. Three sentences later: “The quota was introduced in the past to safeguard diversity in neighbourhoods.” Philip Walz from the new party M:OED (Maastricht: Open Eerlijk Democratisch, or Open, Honest, Democratic), who had the opportunity – with a hall full of students – to shoot into an open goal, failed to do so. Was it because M:OED is new? Did he not have the facts available? Or because Nuyts suddenly made an unexpected connection? “How many houses has the father of the founder of M:OED?”
“How was the evening?,” asked Dekker and Van der Lugt around ten o’clock. Well, quite informative, well organised and in particular very entertaining. Van der Lugt: “I am surprised about the utility of having a city council”. For Letschert the most important thing is that it is an event by students for students. “It shows their involvement with the city. I’m very proud of this first student debate.”