This is an article in our series of interviews with liberal and democratic youth organisations. Other interviews can be found here.
The Jonge Democraten (Young Democrats) are a Dutch progressive-liberal youth organisation, founded in 1984. The organisation is affiliated with the political party D66. For this interview I spoke to President Annabel Broer and International Officer Abel Hartman.
Can you tell me a little about how JD operates? How is it structured? What kind of people are active in it? And what kind of projects does it work on?
JD is one of the biggest political youth parties in the Netherlands, with members ranging from their early teens to 30. We have ten chapters with local boards throughout the Netherlands. Our national board is located in The Hague. The local boards organise weekly events such as excursions, guest lectures or workshops, usually followed by drinks. The national board is responsible for the coordination of national events, political statements on Dutch and international affairs and internal education programmes.
What are the fundamental values of JD, and how does the organisation work to promote these?
Our main values are liberty, equality, sustainability and pragmatism. Furthermore we strive for a more democratic society. Most if not all of our political views are related to these values. Sometimes these values seem to be contradicting one another, this is when our toughest debates occur. Are we in favour of reducing the maximum speed on highways to 90 km/h? Is this necessary to adhere to our sustainable values or are we compromising our liberty too much?
How is JD connected to its mother party, D66? What role does it play in Dutch politics?
JD is an independent political organisation, affiliated with D66. In practice this means that we have our own political programme, we have separate conferences to allow our members to make decisions, and independent boards. JD’s position can thus differ from the D66 position on lots of subjects. When necessary we try to convince our mother party of our opinion through internal dialogue or we aim to influence the public debate through opinion pieces, press statements and creative protests such as our pop-up XTC shop, which we used to campaign for the legalisation of MDMA.
What do you think JD is good at? Why do you think so?
If I compare JD with other Dutch political youth parties, JD is quite well organised. We have a clear political programme, well-organised and recurring events and multiple opportunities for members to apply and develop their skills. You can join working groups on several political themes, ranging from foreign affairs to privacy to healthcare; you can apply your skills in our campaigning group or express your creativity in our online magazine DEMO; you can follow training sessions in debating, writing, exerting political influence and many more subjects, or you can join the board of a local chapter or the national board to obtain board experience.
How do you think JD could improve?
In general I would like it if more young people from a diverse background would participate in JD. Although we’re a relatively large organisation, that manages to engage quite a few people, I’ve heard about sister organisations that manage to engage with a higher percentage of the young people in their country than we currently do. Furthermore most of our members are white and highly educated. It would be good for JD, and for the democratic participation of young people in the Netherlands in general, if people from more diverse backgrounds are represented in political youth organisations such as JD.
How does JD interact with international partners in general? How does IFLRY fit in with this?
Personal networks play an important part in this. Many JD members keep in touch with members of our sister parties abroad, and in that way stay connected with what happens outside of the Netherlands. It is through these relationships that we are able to hold conferences and events with our sister parties. A great example of this was a recent MENA seminar that was organised in the Netherlands, which involved a number of sister parties from the region, and focused on issues around climate change. Apart from these relationships, our European and international umbrella organisations — LYMEC and IFLRY respectively — are key ways through which we stay connected and involved internationally.
In terms of IFLRY specifically, it is one of the most efficient means through which our members (and so the JD as well) can build connections, organise events, take part in thematic seminars, and acquire crucial leadership skills. Lots of our members are interested in international affairs and global politics; IFLRY offers an important avenue to go and explore that. I think many of us understand that striving for progressive liberalism can never be solely a national activity, and that it must be sought out on a global level as well.
Is there anything that IFLRY could do that would help your organisation improve? What role(s) would you like IFLRY to play in the future?
What IFLRY is currently doing very well is the organisation of events — study sessions, seminars, training etc. — that our members can participate in and so make IFLRY accessible. However, a criticism from JD members that I sometimes hear is that IFLRY remains (as the Dutch saying goes) a “too far from our bed show”. In part it is the responsibility of JD’s International Officer to close this communications gap, but I think IFLRY can also step up its communications with our members, to help them understand what the Bureau is up to and what their goals and ambitions are. Further still, I would like IFLRY to take a more activist stance (which ideally would involve transnational campaigns that JD members can participate in) in places of the world where liberalism and liberal values aren’t commonplace, and through this activism, make JD members more aware of what IFLRY is doing on an international level to strive for more progressive and liberal future. I’m excited to see what a new Bureau will bring, and I’m confident our candidate for the Bureau, Daphnie Ploegstra, will be able to make a positive contribution here.
What is JD’s evaluation of the Covid-19 crisis? How do you view the response of the Dutch government, the EU and the world in general?
Currently JD is pretty satisfied with the way our government is handling the crisis. Initially our prime minister’s attitude towards the crisis didn’t seem serious enough. However, he has developed quickly, and is now in tune with Dutch society. We are happy to see that the Dutch government takes expert opinions and scientific data as guiding principles for their Covid-19 response. Currently we are in what the PM aptly describes as an ‘intelligent lockdown’ which basically means that people are still free to go out if they want (while keeping social distance) but are strongly advised to stay in home quarantine if there is any risk of corona-infection. This is a pragmatic way to ensure the cooperation of the notoriously stubborn Dutch. The government communicates openly about uncertainties and indicates clearly that policies are not set in stone, and might change based on the most recent information. Even though some of the measures were communicated confusingly at first (resulting in misunderstanding among the Dutch population), ministers are improving the quality and frequency of their communication.
On a European level our government may not have positioned itself too well at first — especially in its tone towards southern European states. This is highlighted above all by the outrage of prime ministers and presidents from the EU27 at comments made by our Minister of Finance, Wopke Hoekstra. Since this has happened, our government has done a bit of a volte-face, in terms of tone and the funds made available, and this more conciliatory stance has probably also helped in reaching the EU deal that has been made. In that sense, I hope that we have reached a bit of a turning point. However, the debate about Eurobonds still continues unabated, also within JD and our mother party, so it is going to be interesting to see how this develops in the future.
Internationally (as well as at EU-level prior to the EU deal that was struck) it seems this crisis has had a clear anti-globalisation effect. States are less willing to cooperate with one another, trying to deal with their own problems first. I am reminded of what the European Commissioner of Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said about states very much acting like people in these last couple of months: “Sometimes your first reaction is to try to save yourself, where people go to shops and buy toilet paper and pasta… But after a while you realise: ‘This is not what I need. What I need is good neighbours so that they can help me when I am in trouble’”. So I do hope the international community can cooperate more to not only help reduce the damage of the current crisis (and not through the model of China’s “mask diplomacy” that has winning influence as its central aim) but also to avert future crises, medical or otherwise. For this crisis has shown yet again how connected we all are and how the impact of an event in one part of the world can have disastrous consequences elsewhere.
How is JD responding to this crisis?
In the beginning we had to adapt to the new situation but we’re getting used to the ‘new normal’. Our offline events are transformed into online replacements, our meetings take place through Hangouts, Skype, Discord or Zoom, and our social media pages are busier than ever. It is weird to miss the usual handshakes or good-bye hugs with one another and to have online discussions without looking one another directly in the eye. But online events also present new opportunities. It is easier for people all over the country to join in now they don’t have to travel from home in order to join. Also it is easier to find experts for guest lectures.
As a political youth party we try to represent the interests of young people in the corona crisis. For example, we wrote a letter to our minister of education together with four other political youth parties to point out the problems students are currently facing. In a week we will have a conference call to discuss possible solutions together with our education minister.
Do you have any ideas on how liberal youth organisations could work together on this?
Now is as good a time as any to organise digital conferences, workshops and meet-ups to ensure we maintain our international partnerships. It was promising to see that LYMEC held its first digital congress without any real technical issues, which I hope can act as a model for IFLRY as well to hold their congress digitally if the lockdown persists for much longer. With international conferences always being an expensive affair, this may actually provide some extra incentive to organise events digitally. Perhaps it goes without saying but we as JD are always open to collaboration and to organisations of (digital) events so do let us know if you or your member organisations want to organise something together with us!