The New Mayor of Rotterdam

Mayors in the Netherlands are not chosen, but appointed by the city government. Last week an interesting candidate got selected for this new position, in the second largest city in the Netherlands, Rotterdam:

Ahmed Aboutaleb, a Moroccan-born Dutch politician holding dual citizenship – Dutch as well as Moroccan – has been appointed mayor of Rotterdam… Aboutaleb, a member of the Dutch Labour party PvdA, is currently secretary of state (deputy minister) of social affairs, and an inhabitant of Amsterdam rather than Rotterdam. (1)

Unprecedented, which makes this choice very (socially) innovative. But that is not new for the Netherlands; innovation in social matters is rather rule than exception: The Netherlands is first in themes like abortion, euthanasia, accepting gays, so why not in having a Muslim mayor?

I’m interested in how other countries react on this news. In a Turkish online newspaper I found this article: The left-wing Volkskrant daily said: “A 47-year-old son of Morocco, brought up in the culture of Islam, is the new leader of the city. It is a surprising and exciting choice.” (2)


The Christian daily Trouw said Aboutaleb’s nomination was a step in the right direction for a city that six years ago gave massive electoral support to the anti-immigration politics of right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn, assassinated in May 2002. “This is a big step forward in the national integration debate,” it said. (2)

I must admin that I don’t live anymore in the Netherlands. It is hard to understand what is going on. From the outside I think that the Dutch culture is too open in accepting other cultural influences.
After living in a more traditional society like Spain is, I begin to think that the Netherlands is experimenting too much with social innovations. And any innovation requires some testing. I would say, why not first start with a smaller city, and not with Rotterdam which has an international image.

The Dutch were also the first in accepting Island as a new haven for easy profits; the reality was that Island’s money wasn’t guaranteed. Now these people who have put their money in Icesave hold Island responsible. Where is your own responsibility, I wonder.

I see also risks in accepting a Moroccan as a mayor of Rotterdam. How will this improve the relations with the Turkish immigrants? The Dutch are against Turkey to become part of the EU, but they are voting for a Moroccan mayor.

The Netherlands is part of Europe and the European Union. I wonder whether this step will be understood by other countries in this union.

How will the world outside the Netherlands will value this step? The Netherlands is an open economy and depending more on the foreign economies than they attribute to it. Whereas the decision to select this new mayor seems to be done focusing on internal affairs only.

A mayor must have a vision what he wants to achieve with a city, what priorities are, and how to develop policies. Internal affairs – even though immigration is a top priority – are only a small part of this. By selecting someone with an immigration background the internal affairs automatically gets too much attention, I believe.

But as said, I spend more time in a traditional society. In Spain people have problems when the catholic religion is no longer an obligation at school. Have I become too conservative? They say that emigrants tend to conserve their original culture more than those who stayed at home and grow into the new developments…