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Alumni stand for European Parliament

Fourteen of the candidates for the European parliamentary elections on 23 May studied at Leiden University. We ask four of them about their motivation and ambitions. In this article: Conny van Stralen, who studied German, and Maurice Hoogeveen, who studied history.

‘I want to keep the internet safe and open to all’

Conny van Stralen (1960), 19th on the list of the D66 party. Graduated in 1983 with a degree in German Language and Literature. Works as a policy officer for the D66 group in the Noord-Holland States-Provincial and lives in Overveen and Koedijk.

You studied German, but went on to become a software specialist and marketing director. Why was that? ‘I started out as a translator, translating German software into English. To do this properly, I took software courses and thus became a software specialist. Later on, I also followed a marketing course. I don’t do much with my degree now, apart from reading the odd German book, doing the odd crossword puzzle and going to Germany every now and then to practise my German.’

What made you want to become politically active? ‘Community involvement and the drive to keep the things we take for granted in our fantastic society: a society in which everyone is free, a society that gives us a chance to develop and a country that’s a beautiful place to live. I had been a member of D66 for some time when I was asked if I wanted to set up a local branch.’

Can you list some of your achievements as a councillor? ‘I was responsible for the installation of solar panels on the roof of the new town hall – a novelty at the time – as well as of a geothermal heating system. I was involved in finding shelter in a former monastery for a large group of refugees from Syria and Eritrea. I was responsible for a policy protecting avenues with trees and, last but not least, managed to get a sign erected for cyclists on the “Col du Kopje van Bloemendaal!”’

What do you hope to change if you are elected as a member of the European Parliament? ‘I think it is really important to keep the internet open and safe for all. I want all of Europe to run on local, sustainable energy and want more support for – but at the same time more pressure on – farmers to produce sustainable food.’

‘Many politicians have never set foot inside a business’

Maurice Hoogeveen (1983), 11th on the VVD list. Graduated with a degree in history in 2010. Works as a senior public affairs adviser at KPN and lives in The Hague.

During your Master’s degree in European History, you specialised in poverty, the underclass and migration history. Are these still ‘your’ themes? ‘My grandparents lived in what we would now call extreme poverty. Migrants often end up at the bottom of society and have to elbow their way into existing groups, as I did too as a first-generation student. We now live in one of the richest, healthiest and happiest countries ever. To retain these privileges, we have to fight every day to maintain our free, open and progressive liberal society. That’s why I decided to go into politics.’

You have worked as a parliamentary assistant, were an entrepreneur and now work at KPN. What strikes you as someone who has worked in politics and business? ‘These two worlds are not on familiar terms with one another. Many politicians and civil servants have never set foot inside a business. And ministries are not always aware of the laws and rules produced by other ministries. The entire package ends up at businesses as a kind of patchwork of laws and rules.

‘And equally, people in businesses don’t always understand that civil servants and politicians have to weigh up interests every day, that we’re all content with the high level of services in the Netherlands, but that this does involve some form of taxation. More understanding of each other would lead to better legislation with broader support.’

What is your main reason for standing for the European Parliament? ‘Europe is much closer than we might thinkg. I realised this when, after the migration crisis in 2015, housing had to be found in Leiden for hundreds of people with a residence permit, despite the overheated housing market. That was because Europe was not able to stem the uncontrolled flow of migrants coming here.

‘The EU is essential for tackling problems that don’t stop at the border, from security to privacy and technology. If we have clear European standards for security and privacy, we can organise as one market and thus avoid becoming dependent on technology from China and America.’

Does that comment have anything to do with your bachelor’s thesis on the emergence of the West? ‘Europe and America were dominant for a relatively short time in history. The “emergence” of China is in effect a return to a historically normal situation. The difference is that we are now aware of it. We in Europe have to work together to ensure that we don’t become dependant on China because that would be at the expense of our free society. That’s what I want to prevent, and that’s why I want to go into European politics.’

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