Mayors, municipalities support A'dam mayor as city council debate looms

Thousands in Amsterdam turn out in support of Black Lives Matter after the death of George Floyd in America. June 1, 2020
Thousands in Amsterdam turn out in support of Black Lives Matter after the death of George Floyd in America. June 1, 2020NL Times / Byron MühlbergNL Times

The associations of Dutch mayors and municipalities and the Security Council published a joint letter lashing out at the Tweede Kamer and the way they treated Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema after she decided not to put a stop to a crowded anti-racism protest on Dam Square last week. They called the manner in which parliamentarians spoke about Halsema last week "inappropriate" and not suitable for the Netherlands' democratic system in a letter published in the Volkskrant on Wednesday. The Amsterdam city council is debating the demonstration on Wednesday.

"In this time of crisis, we as one government must stand side by side to fight the coronavirus, whereby each layer of government must operate at its own level and also be accountable at that level," they wrote. "The cabinet to the parliament and the mayor to the city council. After all, this is the basis of our parliamentary democracy."

During a debate in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, last week, MPs discussed the protest against racist police brutality, Halsema, and a text message exchange she had with Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus. The Minister was called in to explain the text exchange, but Halsema, also the chairman of Veiligheidsregio Amsterdam-Amstelland, was not there to speak on her own behalf. 

Parliamentarians harshly criticized the Amsterdam mayor. "Fire that person," PVV leader Geert Wilders demanded from Grapperhaus. The Minister said that final judgement is up to the Amsterdam city council, which was also met with fierce criticism. There was a motion calling the  government to meet with Veiligheidsregio Amsterdam-Amstelland to discuss whether measures need to be taken and whether another chairperson should be found for the security region.

In the open letter, the mayors make no secret about how annoyed they are about this. "The way in which Mayor Halsema has been commented on by members of the Tweede Kamer does not fit in our democratic system. It shows little respect from the Tweede Kamer to criticize a mayor in such a way. Without knowledge of the facts and without her being able to defend herself. We find that improper," they wrote. 

"It is not up to the Tweede Kamer to judge the actions of a mayor or chairman of the security region in a (specific) local or regional situation. In our system, a mayor is accountable to the city council and a chairman of the security region in a crisis situation to all city councils of the municipalities in the security region concerned." 

Halsema will explain her actions in an upcoming city council debate. But the mayors and municipalities believe that this debate has been undermined by the parliamentarians. "Because various parliamentarians, both in the Tweede Kamer and in the media, expressed negative comments about the actions and the functioning of the Amsterdam mayor at the time of the demonstration, this has politicized the picture of the situation in Amsterdam before the debate on this could take place in the city council. This undermines the position of local administrators, who play a crucial role in this pandemic."

The Amsterdam city council will debate the Black Lives Matter demonstration and failure to maintain social distancing there on Wednesday afternoon. At 5:00 p.m. a second anti-racism demonstration will be held in Amsterdam, this time in the Nelson Mandela Park.