The minimum age limit for alcohol in the Netherlands is almost certainly going to be raised to 18 years from 1 January 2014. What will that mean for student life in Wageningen, where a good time often goes hand in hand with a few beers? A few angles on this question.
The move is being made at the request of a broad coalition of health organizations, partly because of new insights into the destructive impact of alcohol on the young brain, and partly because of the increase in binge-drinking among the young. The change to the law is being proposed by the Christian Democratic CDA, the Christian Union, the Reformed Church SGP and the social democratic PvdA parties. It has the support of most other parties with the exception of the ultra-right-wing PVV and the liberal D66 parties.
What will it mean for student life in Wageningen?
The new law is expected to have the biggest impact on the AID and on the bars at the big student societies.
What does the AID committee think about it?
The AID committee is not worried. Some years back there were sometimes 15-year-olds (from VHL or STOAS) who were not allowed to drink alcohol. A wristband was used to enforce that. Now there will be more students going through the introduction days with a wristband on. The AID is optimistic about the effect on the atmosphere. 'The AID is one big party anyway. Even without drink.' We certainly hope they are right about that.
And the societies?
Ceres is already making use of wristbands, while all the barmen and barmaids get a course on 'serving alcohol responsibly'. They learn to spot minors and there is a list of under-18s, who are already prohibited from drinking spirits by Dutch law. The board even sees the point of the new law. 'Of course too much alcohol can be damaging, especially at a young age.'
It is a similar story at KSV: there are very few members who are under 18, so it is not difficult to enforce the law. The members who do bar duty are authorized to ask for ID. When the new law comes in the society will see whether there is a need to tighten up the rules.
Who is going to check, actually?
Law enforcement is one of the municipal council's tasks. Every council is supposed to have an officer trained to enforce the drinking laws. In theory these officers work under cover, but in the student world it is a bit hard for a middle-aged civil servant to pass unnoticed so they cannot really do their job. There is therefore a national team of young people (19-23) authorized to identify infringements. Even they might find it hard to operate in close-knit student circles.
So should the societies bother so much about it?
Yes, not only because alcohol is really bad for minors, but also because the municipal council has a few measures up its sleeve for if they suspect a catering outlet of not sticking to the rules (for example if a minor is brought to the A&E department in a drunken stupor). They can suspend sales of alcohol, change opening times or demand a minimum age of admission.
So no more alcohol for under-18s?
Not in theory, no. On the other hand a lot of student social life consists of informal groups throwing unofficial parties, in student houses for example. Whether anyone is going to check up on under-age drinking at such events - and if so, how - is not at all clear.