Electing a mayor in the Netherlands – Power to the People or democratic madness?
The election of a Mayor for each municipality across the Netherlands took a step closer with the negotiations of Rutte’s new Cabinet at the end of 2017. The prospect of this new level of elected local governance made the final cut. So for the first time ever this new coalition could put the power into the hands of the people. Also by putting the responsibility of each municipality onto one elected individual. So, electing a mayor – will we have one?
Amongst the many elements to Rutte’s ‘Coalition Plans’ a move to a new Mayoral system may get lost on some. An unnecessary expense and legislation or power to the people? Here is the low down on everything you need to know.
Electing a mayor: Don’t fix what isn’t broke?
Currently in The Netherlands the Council in each municipality nominates a candidate for the Mayoralty and the Government picks one from the list. As we would say here in the UK “its jobs for the boys” and far from democratic. In order to change this current process, a proposal must pass through both the Eerste and Tweede Kamer– twice! Constitutional change to an elected rather than appointed Mayor failed in 2005 so the very fact this is back on the table suggests there is finally an appetite. The widely respected Amsterdam Mayor, Van der Laan lost his battle to cancer back in October 2017. This sparked a petition by Meer Democratie to demand the council consider the option of a vote for the highest political seat in the city.
Elected by the People for the People!
An Elected Mayor boasts many positives. A democratic voting system should lead to the best person – by a majority result – getting the top job. In theory this person can be above party politics and (hopefully!) be qualified in many other areas more beneficial to local government. The risk here is that popularity can obscure ability as we have seen in elections around the world (*cough* TRUMP *cough*). Government, in essence, is a business and should function as one therefore a certain level of knowledge and ability in this is required to prevent monumental mistakes. Government is not, and should never be, a vanity project. With the Netherlands’ politicians so accessible and the rise of celebrity culture sweeping up our politicians we are seeing elections become more presidential and reliant on the candidate who can put on the best show.
What is a magical new elected Mayor in the Netherlands actually going to do?
Devolved responsibilities from central government could include anything from planning and infrastructure to transport and public health. Devolved powers bespoke to the needs of each individual municipality is a fantastic way of ensuring that people get what they need. The only issue here is that an Elected Mayor could become more powerful and influential than an MP. Is the extra level really necessary? Or are you simply undermining the function of Dutch representatives already in place and their lawmaking system?
The call for a democratic vote to pick the new Mayor of Amsterdam makes perfect sense to me. I think it is only the start of other cities following suit. By virtue of electing them you have the power to replace them. Thus making politics truly reactive to the needs of the people. Mayors could be coming to a city near you, changing the face of governance in The Netherlands.
What is your take on it? Are you even bothered about electing a mayor in the Netherlands? Let us know in the comments!