The year 2002 was a crucial moment in the history of local politics in Rotterdam. Since World War II, Rotterdam was governed by the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA), but from the year 2000 onwards there were growing complaints about crime and nuisance in the city and the (alleged) multicultural tolerance of the Rotterdam city administration. This resulted in the sudden rise of the politician Pim Fortuyn. When his political party ‘Liveable Rotterdam’ won the local elections it became the main force in the new city administration (2002–2006). This was a turning point in Rotterdam’s local politics and administrative culture. Some even termed it a ‘regime change’ implying that the central issues of Liveable Rotterdam – a strong focus on crime and safety issues and a critical stance on immigration and multiculturalism – would remain, even if the party was not in the city administration (Tops 2007). This new ‘regime’ focus implied different political and policy reactions, also in the years when Liveable Rotterdam was not represented in the City Board (this was the case from 2006 to 2014).
Figure 8.2 shows that the issue of CEE migration was often discussed in the Rotterdam local politics. The figure shows how often specific Dutch words related to this migrant category (terms like ‘MOE-land’Footnote 8 and ‘labour migration’) were used in official Rotterdam City Council documents throughout the period 2000–2014.Footnote 9
Figure 8.2 shows that the political attention for ‘CEE migrants’ (in Dutch: ‘MOE-landers’) and, as it was termed afterwards: ‘labour migration’ (in Dutch: ‘arbeidsmigratie’) started around 2005 and became a more prominent topic in 2007. The year 2007 was also the moment when the cities of Rotterdam and The Hague jointly organized a so-called ‘Poles summit’,Footnote 10 to which the Labour Party (PvdA) aldermen in both cities played a crucial role. The summit was meant to raise public awareness and attention from national policy makers for what was framed as the local consequences of the European policy of free movement. Forty-two municipalities and two national ministers attended the summit. Also after this occasion, Rotterdam continued to ‘knock at the door of the national government’ to ask for policy measures, since they realised ‘we cannot do things on our own’ (Municipality Rotterdam 2008a: 27). Although the ‘Poles Summit’ did not deliver direct policy results, it was an important moment for the agenda setting to raise attention to this issue. As the Rotterdam alderman Karakus (PvdA) reflects on how he aimed to raise attention to the issue of overcrowded housing:
Along the way I went to all chairmen of all political parties in the national Parliament and described the problem. […] I’ve shown how many people we encountered in those houses, which scared people. Then the government was awakened by the Parliament: you have to do something about this.Footnote 11
In the same period, The Hague’s alderman Norder (also PvdA) referred to this issue as “a tsunami of CEE migrants”, while his Rotterdam counterpart Karakus said it was ‘mopping the floor with the tap wide open’ to combat the local consequences of CEE migration. Karakus particularly demanded legislation to combat illegal landlords, so he could ‘hit them in their kidneys’. It strongly marked this period and the local efforts for national awareness and attention towards this issue.
A second peak in the political attention for CEE migrants in Rotterdam was in 2011. This was on the one hand related to various local policies (on housing, labour market issues and nuisance) that were debated in the City Council. On the other hand, the attention-raising period succeeded, which resulted in a national Parliamentary Commission (Temporary Parliamentary Commission 2011) ‘Lessons concerning recent labour migration’ which examined the social and economic consequences of CEE migration to the Netherlands. This commission placed the issues of Rotterdam on the national agenda. After that, the term “MOE-land” became gradually replaced by the politically more generative term ‘EU labour migrants’.Footnote 12 This new term also included other EU labour migrants, such as migrants from Southern European countries.
When looking at the Rotterdam policy discussions regarding CEE migrants, we distinguish four different problem definitions. Firstly, there were major concerns regarding the housing situation of CEE migrants in relation to (alleged) nuisance in the ‘old neighbourhoods’ of Rotterdam. CEE labour migrants generally had to rely on private landlords as far as they were not housed by their employers and were unable to deal with the waiting lists for public housing. In practice, many CEE migrants ended up in overcrowded, privately rented houses in deprived urban areas, particularly in the southern part of the city (De Leeuw et al. 2016). Already at the ‘Poles Summit’, the Rotterdam spokesmen underlined the problems of illegal tenants, overcrowded dwellings and inconveniences in public spaces in these vulnerable districts (Municipality Rotterdam 2008b, 2011, 2012). As a more recent policy document states:
[…]we attack (residential) nuisance. And do not accept that too many people live in too small houses. Where we want to prevent that inhabitants live in large scale and badly maintained houses with fire- and safety risks. And above all: where we will prevent the heavy burden on neighbourhoods which are already under social and economic pressure. (Municipality Rotterdam 2015: 2)
The Rotterdam administration attempted to tackle this issue in two different ways. On the one hand, Rotterdam demanded more support, better legislation and effective policy instruments from the national government. This resulted in a wide range of national policies, laws and legislation addressing issues raised by Rotterdam and other cities. For example Rotterdam raised the issue of the ‘uneven distribution’ of low-income households in ‘vulnerable’ neighbourhoods. This resulted that the National Parliament accepted a new law, the ‘Act Exceptional Measures for Urban Problems’ (also known as the ‘Rotterdam Act’), This Act enabled Rotterdam from 2006 onwards to develop a selective settlement policy for vulnerable districts.Footnote 13 More specifically, this instrument enabled the municipality to refuse non-working households to settle in specific Rotterdam districts, at least when they arrive from outside Rotterdam. Next to this, the Minister of Housing, Neighbourhoods and Integration (WWI) declared that specific urban neighbourhoods are disproportionally under pressure (Letter to Parliament 2010), which directly addressed the ‘problem definition’ of Rotterdam. An Intention Declaration was developed to enlarge the instruments of local governments in an ‘Approach to attack slum landlords’ (Letter to Parliament 2012). And above all, the Rotterdam Act was revised in 2013 (Rotterdam Act II) as a direct response to new urban concerns about irregular landlords and disturbances in public spaces in these districts. These examples show how Rotterdam’s problem definitions gained national acknowledgment and how they were an important incentive for national legislation and policy instruments (Municipality Rotterdam 2008b, 2015).
On the other hand, Rotterdam developed new local policies related to ‘irregular’ housing and related nuisance caused in already ‘vulnerable districts’ (Municipality Rotterdam 2007, 2015). For this ‘top priority’, Rotterdam developed several policies to intervene in private housing situations. For instance, the city started to attack illegal housing with the so-called ‘Alijda Approach’ (Municipality Rotterdam 2007). This approach introduced a quota to forbid ‘more than two temporary labour migrants’ per dwelling in certain ‘vulnerable’ neighbourhoods. To combat irregular slum landlords, the city developed a ‘three strikes you’re out’-policy, implying that house owners lost their Housing Permit if they were penalized for three deviancies. As the former Rotterdam alderman Karakus noted:
We had a black list of housing owners who putted too many people in one place. And we finished that list. ‘Three strikes you’re out’ was a theme we took very serious. Later this also has been accepted by the Parliament.
This policy approach enabled Rotterdam to intervene more directly in the private sphere and to solve the issues related to housing (Municipality Rotterdam 2008b, 2015).
A second major policy concern of the Rotterdam authorities related to CEE migration, next to housing issues, concerned the exploitation of workers by irregular employers and temporary employment agencies. According to the previous mentioned Parliamentary Commission LURA (2011: 52), there were at least 5000 irregular temporary employment agencies active in the Netherlands, employing about 100,000 (foreign) workers. These irregular agencies are seen as a major problem, not only because of the exploitation of foreign workers, but also because native (and previous migrant) workers are unable to compete with this cheap foreign labour. Already at the ‘Poles Summit’ in 2007, Rotterdam demanded measures from the national government to counteract irregular temporary agencies. Although regulating temporary employment agencies is not really a task of local administrations, the municipalities of Rotterdam and The Hague agreed a Covenant with employment agencies to mediate between the demands of employers and potential employees (Municipality of Rotterdam 2007, 2008b, 2011, 2012). Some years later, Rotterdam participated in the ‘Rotterdam Approach Malafide Employment Agencies’ (RAMU) that agreed on intensified controls and regulations to counteract malafide agencies together with the national interest organisation of temporary employment agencies (ABU). This is an example of how the Rotterdam city Board tried to counteract irregularities regarding labour market issues of CEE migrants. Unfortunately most of the issues were outside the legal scope of municipalities, or as one of the civil servants indicated it afterwards: “With the Minister, the Inspection and the organisation of temporary employment agencies (ABU) we made a plan, as we said quite tough in those days, to ‘get 100 irregular temporary agencies of the market’. But that is complicated, since as a municipality we have a very limited role, there are others active in this”.
A third policy concern focussed on the issue of non-registration of CEE migrants. Following Dutch immigration rules, foreigners are only obliged to register with the local authorities if they (intend to) stay for 4 months or longer in the Netherlands, resulting that many migrants stay out of sight. Research indicated that one third of the respondents was not registered with the municipality (Snel et al. 2010: 18), Rotterdam demanded better legislation to keep residents ‘in sight’. This then evolved into the new law, Register New Inhabitants (RNI) (see: van Ostaijen et al. 2015). This law made it possible to cluster data of different public authorities to make resident addresses easier visible. The new law was introduced by the Ministry of Internal Affairs in response to demands of Rotterdam (and The Hague). Or as one Rotterdam civil servant reflects on this: “all the time that I’m involved, registration is an issue. And it stays an issue. […] Therefore, our demand is to make this a national approach”. As such, despite these new laws and legislation, improvements are still needed.
A final policy problem is related to Dutch language courses for ‘CEE migrants’. As EU citizens, CEE migrants are not obliged to take any kind of language or integration courses. Therefore, in the beginning (2007–2012), Rotterdam offered CEE migrants free ‘integration courses’. Nowadays, CEE migrants can still take language courses, with the prerequisite that they need to be registered at the municipal registration. Mostly, there is a reduced fee with specific attention to certain target groups (language courses for women, integration courses, illiteracy). There was nevertheless a stable focus on language and integration in the political and policy attention in Rotterdam (Municipality Rotterdam 2013).