Principle-free politics

Principle-free politics

New proposals to improve deprived urban neighbourhoods in Rotterdam are discriminatory. A new policy strategy is emerging: experimenting as a way to go around existing legislation.

In a previous blog I wrote about the Rotterdam Law, a law that makes it possible for city councils to exclude low-income households from deprived neighbourhoods. This law is controversial, because it indirectly discriminates against non-Western ethnic minorities. Rotterdam is the first and only city to apply the law; after implementing it first in 2005 it was prolonged and extended in 2009 to include five neighbourhoods. But it is not enough. The Rotterdam council now claims that more special measures are needed to improve Rotterdam’s most troubled neighbourhoods. Several of these proposed measures are, again, problematic as they violate the non-discrimination principle.

Drop outs and dirty gardens

One proposal is to increase the mandatory school age in the designated neighbourhoods. Dropping out of school is a serious problem particularly among adolescents and by increasing the school age to 23 years, the city council hopes to keep adolescents in school. A second measure aims to stimulate residents in these neighbourhoods to take care of their dwelling, garden, collective spaces and street. The idea is to ‘strengthen the self regulation of residents’, to ‘emancipate’ residents and owners in terms of maintenance. That may sound commendable, but the measure allows for residents and owners to be fined when they refuse to participate in collective maintenance. This would be justifiable because ‘the majority should be able to force the minority to contribute to investing in collective spaces’.
Of course, the proposals are well intended in that they aim to increase opportunities for youngsters and improve the quality of neighbourhood life. However, as the Rotterdam Green Party argues, it is absurd that in one neighbourhood certain things are illegal while in other neighbourhoods they are not. The proposed measures thus violate equality of rights.


What is most troubling, perhaps, is the new strategy that seems to be emerging: if we call a controversial measure an ‘experiment’, basic principles don’t apply. At a Rotterdam council meeting, alderman Karakus of the Labour Party said: ‘the Rotterdam Law is precisely meant to allow an exception to existing legislation which hampers the realization of our wishes’.
The Rotterdam Law in its original form started as an experiment and has since been referred to as a ‘special’ law – which apparently justifies discrimination. The Rotterdam proposal includes the idea of a clause that allows for experimenting with measures that ‘may encounter opposition’. This would be necessary in the name of ‘increasing the quality of legislation’ and we are reassured that this requires ‘of course taking the necessary legal safeguards’. If the above proposals are not possible within the boundaries of existing legislation, they can be implemented by way of experiment. In addition to fact-free politics, we now have principle-free politics.


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