Democratische waarden bevorderen

Het Barlaeus Gymnasium organiseert jaarlijks een debatwedstrijd voor leerlingen uit klas 4. 64 enthousiastelingen bereiden onder de bezielende leiding van Margriet, Reinier en oud-leerlingen stellingen voor over Europa. Het model van het debat is ontleend aan het European Youth Parliament, waar een delegatie van onze school sinds jaar en dag aan meedoet. Na de voorbereidingen op vrijdag en zaterdag start het debat zondagochtend om negen uur. Ik mag het debat elk jaar openen. Dit jaar greep ik de gelegenheid aan om te pleiten voor het koesteren van democratische waarden. Ook in Europa, waar in steeds meer landen de scheiding der machten met voeten wordt getreden. Hieronder de tekst van mijn  toespraak.  

Dear members of the board, delegates, Reinier and Margriet,

Let me start by expressing my profound gratitude for the invitation to open the Barlaeus Youth Parliament 2018, even at this early, ungodly hour on this sunday morning! In my opening statement I would like to invite today’s delegates – all of you – to prove Margriet wrong. Just for once. Let me explain.

When I started as principal two years ago I was somewhat surprised to find out that the Barlaeus does not have a student council. Of course there are several students in the representative advisory board (the so-called MR, Bibi is one of them) and we have a student committee organising all kinds of activities. But there is no student council that consults with the board on a regular basis about important subjects like the availability of wifi in the building or our policy regarding exams. When I asked Margriet why, she told me that she had tried to start such a council a number of times to no avail. Barlaeans are simply not very interested in participating in such a council, she said, and attempts to start such a council were doomed to fail. As often, Margriet has been proved right until today. I am deeply committed to proving her wrong – just this once – for a reason. Let me take you to Poland for a few minutes to illustrate my point.

Last month thousands of Polish citizens marched the streets of Warsaw in protest against new legislation issued by the Polish Senate threatening the independency of the judiciary. To no avail. Several bills have been signed into law by the Polish president enabling the government to send almost half of the countries’ Supreme court judges into forced early retirement while at the same time giving Poland’s parliament the authority to elect the members of the so-called National Council for the Judiciary. This body is responsible for the appointment of judges in Poland, thus giving parliament direct influence on the election of judges in the future.

This Polish legislation constitutes a serious threat to the independency of the judiciary and has been widely condemned. Frans Timmermans, vice-president of the European Commission concluded that “the country’s judiciary is now under the political control of the ruling majority” and that Poland’s government has put at risk fundamental values expected of a democratic state. For that reason the commission has advised the EU member states to issue a formal warning to Poland under the first clause of an, until now, unused article 7 procedure. A majority of 22 of 28 member states has to vote in favour of this proposal. More serious sanctions – including the possibility to suspend the member state of its voting rights – require unanimity among member states. As Hungary’s right-wing government has already pronounced that they will never support such a move, a deadlock is Europe’s foreseeable future.

After Brexit, the increasing divide between East and West is a new and major challenge for the EU. The assault on an independent judiciary by the Polish government raises questions not only about the core values of the EU but also about the separation of powers between the legislature, executive and judiciary – the so-called trias politica – which is one of the most fundamental principles of our modern democracy. Questions raised not by some totalitarian or authoritarian state somewhere on the other side of the globe but by a member state of the EU.

That brings me to our own country and to our own school. Ninety percent of the Dutch population says that they are in favour of democracy, when asked. More in-depth research suggests however that about a quarter or a third of the Dutch population has a cynical or even hostile attitude towards democracy and democratic values. The good news – one could argue – is that two-thirds of the Dutch citizenry is in favour of a democratic society and the values it embodies. But this response is not enough. If democratic values and skills are not self-evident or given as the Polish example illustrates, they need to be taught to and learned by each new generation. Schools have an important part to play in this education and for that reason social science (maatschappijleer) is compulsory for every student in the Netherlands. Other activities like today’s BYP proceedings are also of the utmost importance in fostering democratic values. I am convinced however that the best way to learn about the importance and relevance of these values is by participating in a student council, because it gives you the opportunity to experience the democratic process while deliberating about issues in which you have an interest.

You still have two years before your final exams. More than enough to form a student council. You are in a unique position to prove Margriet wrong. Just for this once! Thank you for your attention and for today: have fun!