A Democracy in need of renovation
Interview with Claire Middelkoop
︎︎︎JOËLLE SLOOTJES / POLITICS
At the binnenhof, where our democracy is exercised on a daily basis, the decay is visible behind the beautiful tapestries. It is in need of renovation. Meanwhile, the gap between citizens and politicians seems to be widening. The current corona policy raises many questions and resistance from citizens, sometimes so fierce that they decide not to take notice of the advisory policy. Should the much-needed Binnenhof renovation go further than just the building? Claire Middelkoop, an 18-year-old member of the youth organization of Forum for Democracy and Political Sciences student at the UVA, discusses the current state of our democracy
Where does your interest in politics come from?
“I certainly did not inherit it from my elderly home, politics were hardly discussed at our kitchen table. Yet politics has always attracted me somehow. During the parliamentary elections in 2017, I decided to deepen my understanding of the various point of views from political parties. I was only 15 years old at the time and not allowed to vote at all but I couldn’t suppress my curiosity. That curiosity brought me to a political event in my hometown Dordrecht, where I discovered a new political organization that immediately appealed to me: Forum for Democracy. Despite many comments from my environment on my membership in the youth organization of FVD, I am a proud member dedicated to the association. In the future, I would consider it a great honour to become a representative in the parliamentary house.”
Which politicians do you admire?
“I admire Thierry Baudet and Theo Hiddema for their vision. Many people see Thierry as vain and do not always understand what he wants to say because of the word choices he makes. Sometimes my parents say: ‘What is he preaching this time, that will not get him votes’. I understand that, but on the other hand, I like the philosophy and Latin he uses in his speeches. It makes him unique and it is always very applicable to the situation he is talking about. Not everyone will immediately understand, but that is precisely what triggers people's curiosity. You want to know what he said and take more time to look at his statements. These statements put him on the map. In my opinion, politicians should never have to change their personality because not everyone agrees with how you behave. It’s just the way Thierry is and people should accept that. A politician I also admire despite not always agreeing on his visions is Pieter Omtzigt. He has a critical attitude in the parliamentary house, is a good debater and shows integrity.”
Is our democracy a sustainable system in our current society?
“Yes, I firmly believe that our democracy is sustainable. There should even be more democratization in my opinion.”
Can you explain what you mean by more democratization?
“The government has too much power in hands. They can impose obligations on the people that are contrary to our fundamental rights. They are entering a very dangerous area there. Take the corona policy for example. It goes beyond the advisory essence of the government and is again in conflict with our valued fundamental rights. What gives the government the right to determine how many people you can receive in your private area or worse give you a criminal record if you are too close to each other in the park? The people should have a greater say in decisions on major issues that concern us all.”
‘Our democracy is sustainable, there should even be more democratization. The people should have a greater say in decisions on major issues that concern us all’
What is strong about our system and what could be improved?
“If you compare our system to other countries, we have a well-functioning system. As citizens, we can choose which people we want to be our representatives no matter what education or gender we have. But yet our system can be much better. Not only the government should have a say in laws and policies that have to be made, but the people must also be able to make their voices known. I prefer a more direct democracy.”
Could you give an example of how to make a democracy more direct?
“I think the Swiss model is a good example of a direct democracy. Their system places more power with the citizens. They introduced binding referendums to give the citizen a voice. This way, decisions of the government that meet a lot of resistance can be reversed. Forum for Democracy has been arguing for binding referendums in the parliamentary house for years. In the past weeks, there was a major breakthrough on this matter: a vote on reversing decisions that have aroused a lot of resistance through binding referendums. Although this is already a big step towards a more democratic process, it is still not enough. The citizen will be heard sooner when binding referendums are held before a decision instead of afterwards.”
What are the boundaries of a democracy?“The citizens may have a say in what needs to be decided but should not be the ones who make decisions and policy. Democratically elected representatives who have been educated for this should do it. Otherwise, every half-cooked citizen could make policy while this is something you need to be educated to practice. That is a boundary to keep in mind in our democracy. The constitution is the foundation on which our state has been built. Decisions that go against the constitution are almost always not democratically justified. Suppose that the majority of the Dutch people are in favor of the introduction of the Sharia (Islamic law). The death penalty would be reintroduced and women disadvantaged which is very contrary to the constitution. Theoretically, it should be possible to introduce the Sharia in our democracy but in my opinion, we have to draw a line when it comes to decisions that are contrary to our foundation. It is an irreversible choice to abolishes democracy because you can no longer reverse it democratically. We must continue to work from the foundation built by our ancestors.”
Is the gap between politicians and citizens widening?
“Yes, I think the current corona policy already proves that the gap has become bigger. Citizens start to question the policy of the government and become more fierce in not being a part of it while politicians become more afraid. Several factors are playing a role in this situation.”
What kind of factors are playing a part?
“The media is a major factor in this matter. They bring politics to everybody’s living room. Politicians often use difficult language which many ordinary citizens do not understand. The media translate this into a story which is understandable for citizens so that they can also feel involved in politics. I think this is a good side of media but the media is not always critical of what they exactly communicate to the world. State media such as NPO are subsidized by the government but do not convey politics objectively. For example, look at Jinek, Forum for Democracy will not be invited into the talk show so quickly. As a citizen, you already listen to a political opinion through a talk show instead of a objective story. Certain political parties get more opportunities to explain their vision while others get barely any time. This unconsciously creates a gap between some political parties and citizens. Furthermore, the media is not only informing the citizen about political decisions anymore, they also tell about the private lives of politicians. The politicians have become a public property instead of a public person who is committed to society. Sometimes media has sketched an image of your personality that you won’t recognize yourself in but you have to take responsibility for it because there are voters who vote based on the impression they have of your personality. This makes politicians afraid of making mistakes and being misinterpreted which can lead to an wrong image of the political intentions with the citizen so that they don’t cooperate anymore in a made policy. This makes the gap between citizens and politicians even bigger.”
Have you had unpleasant experiences with the media?
“I always pay close attention to what I say and what I post on social media. Some members of youth organizations from political parties shared their opinion on certain topics in a somewhat simplistic way in debate groups on Whatsapp. Members of the youth organization of Forum for Democracy were also involved. These conversations leaked to the media which painted an image of these members that involved that they are not representative for a job in the parliamentary house. You must therefore always pay attention to the image that you convey and make sure that this cannot be misunderstood. For the youth organization of Forum for Democracy I regularly organize debating evenings where I have to arrange a location for. Some companies don’t want to work with us because they received threats. The media is drawing an image surrounding FVD that is not correct. As soon as people find out that I am a member of the youth organization of FVD, the first question I get is: ‘How can you be part of FVD as a woman?’ Forum for Democracy is unfortunately framed in a particular image by the media that is incorrect. We are getting many judgements.”
‘As soon as people find out that I am a member of the youth organization of FVD, the first question I get is: ‘How can you be part of FVD as a woman?’ Forum for Democracy is unfortunately framed in a particular image by the media that is incorrect.’
If you were to become a representative in the parliamentary house in a few years, what is the first thing you would like to change?
“I would give citizens more say in major decisions through a binding referendum, that is the most important thing to me. Only with the participation of the citizens we can make a correct, fitting policy. It is not without reason that Forum for Democracy is currently the largest political youth organization in the Netherlands. It indicates that future generations also believe in the participation of the citizen and that our democracy is in need of a renovation.”