The swearing-in ceremony for Wageningen’s new municipal council tonight is a historic occasion. For the first time, a student party is represented on the council. With two seats, Connect Wageningen has entered the local political area.
Voting in the Forum building. © Sven Menschel
The party founder and leading candidate Mark Reijerman is ‘incredibly happy and grateful’ for the 1300 votes and two seats Connect won, even if he had secretly hoped for three seats. ‘In terms of numbers in Wageningen, it would be proportionate for young people to have 11 seats, almost half the council. And most of those young people are students.’ This is not reflected in the council, though. And it is precisely that unequal representation that made Reijerman – then a council member for the local Stadspartij – decide a year ago to start his own party geared to young people.
This makes Connect Wageningen the latest link in a chain of events started in 2010 by the democrats of D66, who put student Peter Veldman forward as a candidate for election. Veldman became the first student to sit on the council in decades. Connect is the first actual student party on the council, although Reijerman keeps pointing out that it is a party for all youth.
It remains to be seen what Connect can do with its new position. On Wednesday evening, Reijerman set out his vision on the coalition for Jan van der Meer, who is charged by the largest party, GroenLinks, with forming a coalition that is ‘as green, progressive and left-wing’ as possible. Reijerman refuses to be pinned down though. ‘We stand outside the traditional spectrum. We look at what is going on in the town and what could be improved on. We want a green and social town.’
Besides the recurring topics such as student housing and safer cycle routes, Connect wants to focus on tackling work stress, burnouts and isolation. Reijerman: ‘We do have policies on loneliness among elderly people, but not for young people. But this is an important theme, including for the many international students and staff at WUR.’ Connect also wants to ensure that students who live in Wageningen are actually registered with the municipality. Many don’t bother at the moment, says Reijerman. That costs the town money and distorts the picture of the scope of problems like the housing shortage.
Reijerman himself will continue to be actively involved in Connect, but not as a councillor. The second and fourth candidates on the list, Rani Temmink and Romy Stijsiger, will represent the party on the municipal council.