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    Dutch Prime Minister and The People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) leader Mark Rutte casts his vote during the Dutch municipal elections at a polling station in The Hague

    Law Professor on Dutch Elections: Integration, Identity Are Key for Urban Voters

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    On March 21, 335 municipalities in the Netherlands, ranging from large cities such as The Hague and Amsterdam to small communities all over the country, are holding municipal elections. Sputnik sat down with Wim Voermans – Professor of Constitutional and Administrative law at Leiden University to talk about the election process.

    Sputnik: What kind of issues do the municipal councils in Holland usually deal with, and what is the scale of the problems they are designed to solve?

    Wim Voermans: Municipalities in the Netherlands do have a lot of tasks and responsibilities. They are into the care for the elderly, culture, but also safety within municipalities, and socio-economic issues of all kinds – employability for instance, and welfare – that’s their domain. So they do have a lot of important responsibilities and powers, and people are now coming to vote for that.

    Sputnik: How does the voting process look, and what is the time frame for it?

    Wim Voermans: Every four years we have municipal elections – all of them at once, all of the 380 communities in the Netherlands and municipal councils in these communities are up for vote. And it’s a one-day process, most of tthat well – according to some of the political parties. And more is necessary there, and that is a big theme, especially in the big cities. And then – safety, public order – that is a big theme in smaller cities, and, of course – the environment, infrastructure. We’re a small country, so how do we stay happy in an enduring way in a very crowded country, how to deal with the environment – these things are very topical as well, outside the big cities.

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    Sputnik: Several politicians in the Netherlands have expressed concerns over possibility of the election being hacked in some way. Is there really something to worry about?

    Wim Voermans: We are not that advanced when it comes to using electronic voting devices or machines – we don’t do that, we vote on paper. We used to do that, until we had a problem in 2004, so electronic voting was a big thing, but then software became a problem, the idea was that it could be hacked. And since then – for 14 years, we've voted on paper. So, having a paper vote makes you less vulnerable to hacking, but that does not mean that we are totally invulnerable to hacking, because when the votes are counted late at night, they are assembled and dotted down into a spreadsheet, into software, and they are sent to the central election commission in The Hague. So, there is an element, of course, of electronic means of communication with The Hague. It’s safeguarded quite well, I believe, but still can be hacked. The Dutch were very worried in 2004 about the hack of the electoral results, so that’s why we vote on paper. And, I think we’re quite unique in the EU, we’re very conservative when it comes to our voting.

    Sputnik: The Netherlands joined the EU a long time ago. Since then, what has changed in the process of the municipal election? What was the impact of the EU policies on municipal councils?

    Wim Voermans: That had quite a dramatic effect on the voting for municipal councils. To be eligible or to have the right to vote in councils you don’t have to have Dutch citizenship. If you’re a European citizen, and you are an inhabitant of the municipality, you are eligible and you have a right to vote. So, if you’re a foreigner – for instance Belgian, but you are a resident in the Netherlands within the municipality, you can go and vote. And now, for the last time, even British people who reside in the Netherlands have the right to vote if they are living in a Dutch municipality – a community, city or village for more than a year, and they are European citizens, they are eligible for the vote as well.

    Sputnik: There has been some criticism in the Netherlands of this practice. The critics say that it’s strange for a foreign national to be able to vote in a Dutch municipality after just 6 month of living there. How was this rule introduced?

    Wim Voermans: When we had this system introduced some two decades, ago there was some criticism. But we are, of course a very open country. And although we believe that for the national vote, for our Dutch parliament you need to have Dutch citizenship, the municipalities – if you go to Rotterdam or Amsterdam, they are real metropolises, vibrant communities, with a lot of people coming from abroad, having a take in what is basically a big enterprise – Amsterdam. So I think it went down quite well, that they have a right to vote as well, as long as they are European citizens.

    Sputnik: In the past few years we’ve seen the rise of Euroscepticism in many countries, including Belgium and the Netherlands. How popular are these ideas now?

    Wim Voermans: There’s still a contingent of the electorate, that is not really happy with the European Union – they don’t really profit from it. We call them the localists, and there are also globalists, who profit from it, the localists profit less. But the main criticism has dried up as it were, because we had an economic crisis, we have survived the economic crisis and Europe is doing good things for us, and the Euro is still strong. So the fierce criticism and the volumes of people who are critical have diminished quite substantially. And, of course, in a municipal election it doesn’t play a big role: Europe is, of course, everywhere, but for public safety there is no element of the EU there, or how you want your housing set up in your municipality, or what kind of roads you want – that’s all not at the heart of European business at it were. So, there’s not a strong feeling of Eurocriticism during the municipal election. We do have populist parties that still are critical of the European Union, but still, even those parties have changed their tone somewhat, because we are thriving economically at this moment, and the European Union is very helpful.

    Sputnik: In your opinion, what are the latest campaign trends, and the key things that Dutch voters would like to get from their municipal councils in the next four years?

    Wim Voermans: I think that care for the elderly – the whole health care thing is a big issue. And socio-economic performance of municipalities is important, but the big things nowadays are integration and identity. A lot of our big communities received a lot of newcomers over the last 40 years. And the integration is not really going all that well – according to some of the political parties. And more is necessary there, and that is a big theme, especially in the big cities. And then – safety, public order – that is a big theme in smaller cities, and, of course – the environment, infrastructure. We’re a small country, so how do we stay happy in an enduring way in a very crowded country, how to deal with the environment – these things are very topical as well, outside the big cities.

    The views and opinions expressed by Wim Voermans are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect Sputnik's position.

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