Topics discussed in the Amsterdam city council, 2006-2018

The other day, I downloaded the reports of 205 city council meetings and 1,116 council committee meetings of the Amsterdam city council. These can be used to write a brief recent history of Amsterdam politics.

The charts below show how often certain terms were used (per 100,000 words). Data for 2006 is incomplete and of course, this applies also to 2018. Therefore, the columns for those years have a lighter colour. And note that the scale on the y-axis varies.

Information about more recent political developments can be found in this English-language voting advice application for Amsterdam.

Airbnb

Airbnb was launched in 2008 and it appears that the first listing in Amsterdam dates from January 2009. As of 2013, the negative impact of Airbnb on liveability and on housing prices started to become an issue. Initially, the city saw Airbnb as a partner in tackling these issues, but the relationship became increasingly distrustful. Amsterdam started to scrape the Airbnb website to gain independent data and introduced a requirement to report the use of Airbnb.

Allochtoon

The Netherlands has a bit of an obsession with ethnic background. People born in the Netherlands may still be registered as allochtoon if one of their parents is foreign-born. Statistics Netherlands even keeps data on third generation allochtonen - people who have at least one foreign-born grandparent.

While there has never been a serious debate about these registrations; there has been debate about the use of the term allochtoon. By 2013, the city of Amsterdam decided not to use the term anymore. By then, the council itself had long all but stopped using it.

Crisis

It won’t come as a surprise that the term crisis was used a lot in 2009. There was some debate about the nature of the crisis:

Mr. VERWEIJ [right-wing VVD] proposes not to speak of the credit crunch, but of the financial crisis […]
Mr. IVENS [socialist SP] says it pleases him that Mr. Verweij also wants to call the credit crunch an economic crisis. He awaits the moment it will be called a crisis of capitalism.

That didn’t really happen. Over the past years, the term credit crunch was used 223 times in the city council; economic crisis 206 times; financial crisis 59 times; climate crisis 36 times and crisis of capitalism 4 times (the list is not exhaustive).

Eviction

In 2010, a national squatting ban came into force. There has been quite a bit of debate in the city council on how it should be implemented; specifically focusing on the eviction of ‘breeding places’ like Schijnheilig and squats where refugees with no alternative housing lived. Dilan Yeșilgöz (VVD) and Marijke Shahsavari (christian-democrat CDA) argued for prosecuting squatters, which Ruger Groot Wassink (GroenLinks) called using police resources for right-wing hobbies.

Open source

Over ten years ago, there was broad support in the city council for ending the contract with Microsoft and switching to open source software. Not only would Amsterdam become independent of expensive provider contracts; it would also help promote Amsterdam as a city that promotes new developments in IT.

An attempt to end the Microsoft contract as of 2008 failed. In 2009, the city started installing OpenOffice.org and Firefox. A lobbyist for Microsoft complained that the company was all but banned from the city.

But in 2010, it became clear that the project had failed. Apparently, the city’s IT department was uncooperative:

Alderman WIEBES thinks that commitment on the part of the government and civil servants is spotty. Also, one may ask whether the wishes of the city council were consistent with what city departments deemed realistic.

Schiphol

When Lodewijk Asscher became alderman in 2006, it had been all but decided to privatise Schiphol Airport. But Amsterdam owns 20% of the airport, and Asscher wasn’t convinced that privatising it served the city’s interests. In his book De ontsluierde stad, he describes how he was put under pressure by the political and corporate elites. Among them was Wilco Jiskoot of ABN AMRO:

Condescending little smile. Did I realise the flotation would happen no matter what? What ambitions did I have for my life after politics?

Asscher persevered and blocked the privatisation. By now, no-one seriously seems to think it’s a good idea to privatise Schiphol anymore. In fact, many parties think the city, in its role as shareholder, should become more involved in the airports policies.

After 2006, the airport continued to appear on the city council agenda. Topics discussed include safety risks, after the Turkish Airlines crash in 2009; health risks caused by ultra-fine particles and the working conditions of cleaners and security staff.

Scooter

The number of snorfietsen (scooters allowed to use the bicycle path) in Amsterdam is growing steadily. Citizens sounded the alarm: in 2008 on air pollution and in 2009 because cyclists no longer felt safe on bicycle paths.

Fjodor Molenaar of GroenLinks adopted the issue. After other approaches yielded little results, he tabled a proposal to ban scooters from bicycle paths in 2012. The debate has since moved to the national parliament, which should allow Amsterdam to introduce scooter-free bicycle paths.

City districts

For some reason, it is deemed necessary to restructure Amsterdam’s administrative system every four years. In 2010, fourteen districts were merged into seven; in 2014, the districts got bestuurscommissies instead of district councils, with limited powers; and this year these will be replaced with stadsdeelcommissies with hardly any powers at all.

By 2015, it became clear that local media were losing interest in district politics. The chart above suggests their relevance is decreasing in the eyes of the city council as well.

Red light district

In 2008, Alderman Lodewijk Asscher launched the Coalitieproject 1012, named after the postcode of the Wallen (red light district). The aim was to get rid of criminal entrepreneurs, if necessary by buying their real estate. Currently, the Accounting Office is carrying out an evaluation of the programme. It appears that the number of prostitution windows has decreased. They have been replaced with bars, restaurants, shops and tourist-oriented businesses.

Information about more recent political developments can be found in this English-language voting advice application for Amsterdam.

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