News - February 17, 2010

Towards the political arena

With the municipal elections scheduled for 3 March, election fever has heightened for some Wageningen UR employees. Five candidates in electable positions tell us why they aspire for a political career on the sideline.

Bastiaan Meerburg, running candidate for the VVD in Wageningen
Bastiaan Meerburg (31), researcher, diseases and pests at PRI, on the 4th position of the VVD party list in Wageningen.
'It isn't the remuneration which has motivated me to participate in the municipal council elections. The salary based on an hourly rate is even more unattractive. I'm doing this mainly from a sense of duty. I want to be involved in the process of planning the local surroundings. To complain about things not functioning well, you mustn't just stand on the sidelines. In addition, society has paid for my studies. I'm hoping to do something in return.
'Time isn't a problem. I've the necessary experience as a VVD commission member; my job as scientist also requires me to be quick in extracting the gist from documents. I was taken aback, though, by the fact that so many hours are spent in the city hall.  We get the best ideas by talking to people on the streets, don't we?
'My theme doesn't have any direct link to my job. A council member has to represent a broad range of interests, but I'm going to specifically tackle the security issue. As commission member, I have, for example, looked into whether the response times of the fire engine to the campus were fast enough.
'I think that I have a good chance to be elected to the municipal council. I'm on the fourth position in the list; with four seats, that's certainly attainable.'
Ben Schulte (55), policy staff member for quality assurance and subsidized projects at VHL in Velp,  top candidate for the GreenLeft party in Westervoort
'Four years ago, I started out as a political assistant and since December, I am a reserve in the council. We have two seats in the council and an alderman. We hope to retain these after the election. Me as alderman? No, not yet. 
'I have been a member of GreenLeft for many years, but was not an active one. I'm doing this now out of a sense of duty, so as to use my abilities in the most suitable way. My know-how in quality control and project evaluation can also be used in the municipality. Is a project concrete and realistic and does it benefit the citizens? Of course, we do want to see our ideals expressed in municipal politics as well.
'Being in the municipal council takes up three or four half days per week. The university of applied sciences is supportive. VHL has granted me special leave, so that I can work a day less every week. The pension premiums for this day are borne jointly, half by VHL and half by me. It's not compulsory for VHL to do this, but the collective labour agreement provides room for it.'
Rien Bor (59), markets international courses at Corporate Communications, position 2 in the City Party in Wageningen
'The need to do something in return for the society is what I've been told from young, whether as a volunteer in the football club, in the care service, at school or in this case, in the municipal council. Moreover, I really like politics, especially local politics. You check on the management and discuss very concrete issues directly related to the people.'
'The workload in a big faction is manageable. For me, it's an average of two nights a week, in addition to preparation time in the weekend. Besides, you do have to show your face here and there in Wageningen now and then. I manage to combine this with my work which requires me to travel overseas often, since I plan most of these trips myself, so that they hardly clash with council work.'
Bor stands at position 2 on the candidate list of the City Party Wageningen. He entered the municipal council In 1998 under the Labour Party. 'I resigned my membership after the national elections. I got tired of unfulfilled election promises, such as those concerning Oruzgan, the JSF, the research concerning Iraq, the way top salaries are handled and retaining the Exceptional Medical Expenses Act (AWBZ). After I joined the ranks of the City Party, a colleague from the SP also made a U-turn. We are four-strong at this moment, although the City Party had only two seats initially. I'm now counting on three, but hope to get four.'
Paid labour
Municipal councillors get an allowance for their work in proportion to the number of residents in the municipality. The Ministry of Foreign affairs has minimum rates, but not all the municipalities observe them. For a municipality with less than 6000 residents, the rate is 206 Euros per month. It can go up to 2139 in the big cities. For a municipality the size of Wageningen, the maximum is 872 Euros. Councillors can also apply for various equally variable expense allowances, ranging from twenty or thirty Euros to hundreds per month.
How things are arranged in Wageningen UR for people going into local politics is rather variable.
Wageningen UR staff are generally expected to do such work outside working hours. If that is not possible, they need to talk make arrangements with their employer about taking leave (paid or unpaid) or foregoing part of their salary.
If Wageningen UR employees takes a fulltime job, as executive councilor for example, they have the right to extraordinary leave, unless this is contrary to the interests of their work. Separate arrangements have to made about a possible return to the job later. Staff at VHL and DLO do not in theory have the right to extraordinary leave if they take on a fulltime post, but in some cases an agreement can be reached about a possible return.
Hermien Miltenburg (56), marketing relations officer at Corporate Communications, position 3 in the Labour Party in Renkum
'During my secondary school years, I was involved in a student parliament. At Wageningen UR, I am part of the participational organ. I am a newcomer in Renkum and its first woman candidate ever; I'm very proud of this.
'Council work is a passion and a social responsibility. I am 56 years old, have learnt a lot, and I can pass on what I know rationally and with conviction. I began as a student; I went on to raise my children; then, I took care of my husband. That's all in the past. I can be active in society for several more years.
'I have therefore set up a platform for women and have proposed that Renkum becomes a fair trade municipality. That means that the municipality purchases fair trade products itself and ensures that fair trade becomes important.
'In my job, I carry out the mission of Wageningen UR, such as to achieve a healthy living environment. That portfolio will also be assigned to me later. My own backyard borders on an industrial estate, the Schaapsdrift. While entrepreneurship is very important for a municipality, I also want to make sure that Renkum continues to be a good place to live in. I'm going to try to do this in my own area.'
Marco Verloop (46) researcher of information management in food production chains at the LEI, top candidate of SGP in Veenendaal
The regional newspaper has declared him as Veenendaal's best councilman in 2009. Marco Verloop points briefly to a related article, not to brag, but to raise a contention: Veenendaal thinks analytically, is constructively critical and knows its facts well, so says the paper.
Verloop made his debut in the Veenendaal council ten years ago, and is leader of the four-strong SGP faction since 2007. His religion is his source of inspiration. 'It is a major benevolence that I can use the Bible as my foundation. My strength comes from the belief that society will be a better place if it is set up according to biblical standards and values. With a thought like this, I just have to get into the management of public affairs. The SGP comes closest to my personal belief.'
Verloop also enjoys action. 'I like solid debates in which you can employ all available resources: a solid argument, rebuttals, motions, regulation of order. But then in a clean way.'
His scientific approach characterizes the politician in Verloop. The SGP has placed public order and security on the Veenendaal political agenda, for example, by carrying out research and surveys itself. 'I am a scientist anyway. I have given the faction's structured approach a very distinctive mark.'
Besides security, Verloop wants to establish a sustainable healthy financial policy in the years to come. In concrete terms, this would, for example, involve a rethink about sport and culture subsidies. 'A large part of these costs are now borne by the society. We feel that users could bear more than what they do now.'