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1. Better connections: Limburg, Belgium and Germany.

Together with South and Central Limburg, Belgian Limburg, Aachen and Liege, Maastricht forms the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion: an urbanized area with 3.9 million inhabitants, the size of the Randstad, in the heart of Europe. Maastrichtians should be able to reap the benefits of this by strengthening economic, academic and cultural cooperation between these cities. Public transport is pre-eminently the sector where it is not only about the demand of travelers, but where new demand is also offered: for example, commuting in the Randstad was rare until the connections improved. This is also how we want to look at our cross-border region: as a dynamic urbanized area in which municipal and national borders play no role. Therefore, in cooperation with the province, South Limburg municipalities and neighboring countries, we want more and faster public transport connections between Limburg, Belgium and Germany. Also at night. 

The Three-Country Train

Volt wants to revive the old plan of the Three Country Train. It now runs from Aachen to Maastricht, but not to Liège, because our local politicians did not want to go along with the stricter Liège safety requirements. Volt wants those requirements to be respected, so that we properly connect our Meuse-Rhine Euroregion once and for all. To really realize this connection, the train should also make fewer stops; it currently takes an hour to get to Aachen, whereas it could do so in half an hour. Finally, this train should run four times an hour instead of once.

A South Limburg intercity system

Between Maastricht, Heerlen and Sittard-Geleen, Volt wants to run intercity train connections via a metro schedule: every ten minutes, from city to city, within fifteen minutes and up to two hours at night. This will create a dynamic commuting relationship within the urbanized triangle of South Limburg. After all, it then matters less whether you have a job in Heerlen, live in Sittard or have a last beer with friends in Maastricht. This will also solve a large part of the housing crisis in Maastricht, as well as the exodus in Sittard-Geleen and Parkstad, because it will become much easier to commute between these three cities.

2. Building affordable housing.

Volt wants to build more housing and student campuses. The housing shortage in Maastricht shows how Maastricht people from different groups are often connected because they face the same problems. Building affordable campuses solves the housing crisis for students and improves the quality of life in existing neighborhoods by reducing the nuisance caused by students. There are sufficient areas in Maastricht available for building campuses and new housing estates.

Concrete examples for a new Maastricht

Areas for new urban design are the Oeslingerbaan near Randwyck, the Maas bank of the Franciscus Romanusweg, the area around the Noorderbrug, the Koompe on the Prins Bisschopsingel, the KPN site near the Noormannensingel and the Trega-Terrein on the Borgharenweg. Many of these plans have already been worked out by local residents, such as the participants in the Topos project "Maastricht on its way to an even more beautiful city." Volt wants the municipality to connect with residents and start listening to these proposals. In doing so, it is very important to make clear demands on project developers so that our first and biggest concern will be solved: accessible campuses for students and affordable housing for starters and other Maastricht residents.

The possibility of high-rise buildings

High-rise buildings should never block views of the historic downtown. Volt wants to have an open conversation with community centers and neighborhood residents about high-rise buildings outside the city center, as this can provide new housing opportunities. This is a good example of a topic that could be discussed in a Citizens' Council (see 4. A Citizens' Council in Maastricht).

Flexible zoning.

Volt also wants a flexible approach to zoning so that offices, stores and apartments can more easily share buildings together. With one function per building, it is difficult for the city to keep up with a changing zeitgeist.

Public transportation & housing: Two sides of the same coin

Finally, Volt sees public transport and housing policy as two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, Maastricht has a housing crisis; on the other, there are vacancies and vacancy rates in many Limburg municipalities. Neighboring Belgian boroughs also offer a lot of housing. With strong public transportation, South Limburg and the neighboring areas in Belgium and Germany are ready for a dynamic and well-connected work-and-live area. An area where commuting is not an obstacle, and where all municipalities and residents will benefit (see also: 1. Better connections: Limburg, Belgium and Germany). This also creates more equal opportunities: a better connected labor market in the region can solve part of the labor shortage in Limburg and unemployment in the Belgian border region.

3. A sustainable Maastricht in a green Europe.

Think European, act local. The flooding of the Meuse River last summer makes it clear once again that the border is no obstacle to natural disasters. Climate change concerns us all. Volt wants to make Maastricht more sustainable and better connected by public transport. In doing so, Volt wants Maastricht to learn as much as possible from other European cities. By sharing knowledge, we can work towards a green Europe on a sustainable planet.

Car-free and bicycle-friendly

Volt wants to make downtown car-free: not for local residents but for visitors. A low-car city motivates people to travel by public transport. In doing so, we want to work with local experts, to realize as many bicycle routes as possible throughout Maastricht. Important is a pedestrian and bicycle connection (as a bridge or tunnel) between the Sint Maartenslaan and the Meerssenerweg. Meanwhile, more and more cities in Europe are starting to invest in better bicycle routes. Maastricht should not be left behind.

Visitor parking on the outskirts of the city

To still welcome visitors to the city, Volt wants to move visitor parking options to the outskirts of the community, such as at North Station and a new location at Randwyck Station. Furthermore, Volt wants more bike racks and spots for share bikes in the city center. After the Q-Park contract expires, Volt wants to set up and operate the Vrijthof garage primarily for use by permit holders: inner city residents, entrepreneurs and city workers, among others.

Using urban greenery

Volt also wants to make smart use of urban greenery, as a barrier to protect city life from air pollution, but also to provide cooling during heat waves. Healthy water management can prevent flooding and drought.

Saving energy

Finally, Volt sees that Maastricht people would like to save energy but do not always know how. Therefore, Volt wants to actively inform homeowners about opportunities to reduce energy consumption by making the municipality's energy desk more visible.

4. A civic council in Maastricht.

It's time for Democracy 2.0. Elections are a direct way for Maastrichtians to change our politics once every four years. A Maastricht citizens' council offers the opportunity to engage directly with each other, and to connect different groups of Maastricht citizens. Furthermore, a citizens' council allows residents who feel less involved in politics to get involved in municipal policy. A Maastricht Citizens' Council is a good way to make the city more dynamic and democratic. Following Eupens (East Belgium) model, Volt wants to establish a citizens' council in Maastricht, following the example of Aachen, which is directly connected to the city council.

A new Civic Council in Maastricht: courtesy of Eupen and Aachen

Experiments with citizens' forums are already underway throughout the European Union, such as in Ireland around the legalization of abortion. Closer to home, in the eastern Belgian city of Eupen, a permanent citizens' council already exists. Using the "Eupener Model," Volt Aachen has set to work to establish an Aachener Bürgerrat. We want to adopt this proposal and also realize it in Maastricht. The Citizens' Council will become a permanent institution, not just a forum: for new proposals, random citizens will be invited. Together with experts, they will democratically give advice to the City Council on policy proposals by the City Council. If the administration does not follow this advice, the administration will have to defend that decision live in debate with the Citizens' Council.

Maastricht in conversation with its own residents

Not all participants in a citizens' council have sufficient knowledge of the content of the topics to be discussed. Experts are available for this purpose, who are appointed by the citizens' committee. The decision-making process is led by a moderator. The opinion of the citizens' council goes to the city council as a recommendation. This is an urgent recommendation. At the end of an entire year, there is a new citizens' council and an evaluation with the City Council of how everything went. So a citizens' council is not a short-lived citizen participation project but a permanent voice for residents in the city in which different Maastricht residents become connected to each other: the born and bred Maastrichtian, the international student, the young starter who comes from outside the city or the resident who just emigrated to Europe. Maastricht needs to talk to its own residents.

5. The Meuse-Rhine Cultural Fund.

Volt wants to connect the culture sectors of our Meuse-Rhine Euroregion - Liège, Aachen, Belgian and Dutch Limburg - within a Meuse-Rhine Culture Fund. This is how we bring people together and can build a distinctive sound as a European border region. Culture is a strong factor for a better connection between Maastricht people and other citizens of our border region.

A distinctive sound for Maastricht, Limburg and the Meuse-Rhine region

With the Meuse-Rhine Cultural Fund, Maastricht and South Limburg can develop a cultural sector that stands out from large Dutch cultural industries, such as those of Eindhoven and the Randstad. Precisely our Euroregional border area has a great diversity of culture to offer that only needs to be connected. The dynamic pop scenes in Belgium and Germany, famous operas and symphony orchestras in Liege and Aachen, Sittard's German Oktoberfest and countless small projects aimed at engaging cross-border audiences can benefit from the Meuse-Rhine Culture Fund. This ensures that Maastricht and South Limburg have an authentic sound in the local culture industry. Authenticity, in turn, ensures that our region attracts talent from outside.

Cross-border culture established from the bottom up

Volt does not want to go down the familiar bureaucratic roads. Although cooperation projects like Interreg Euregio certainly have added value, Volt wants to build the Meuse-Rhine Cultural Fund from the bottom up. Part of the municipal culture budget will then focus on establishing connections with and between Limburgers, people from Liège and Aachen. Other municipalities are motivated to participate in this fund, but this is not a requirement for establishing the fund. Maastricht is taking the initiative.

From culture to integration

Cultural cooperation creates encounters that in the long run will have a positive impact on socio-economic integration in the border region of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. Furthermore, Volt wants to give extra attention to involving schools in cross-border cultural cooperation, so that young people from our region can come into contact with each other more.

6. Municipal executive of the future: European affairs.

To reform Maastricht into a city for the European twenty-first century, Volt wants the city government to change from within. That is why we propose to appoint a separate Municipal executive with an accompanying committee: a Municipal executive of European Affairs. In this way Maastricht can transform itself into the city it always aspires to be: a political leader in the heart of Europe.

Municipal executive Of European Affairs: an institutional connection to Europe

For cross-border cooperation, talks with border municipalities and participation in the INTERREG Euregio Meuse-Rhine cooperation platform are not enough. To truly be part of the beating heart of Europe, Maastricht will have to integrate Europe into its own political institution. Volt therefore wants an administrator to be appointed to connect Maastricht with Europe: a Municipal executive of European Affairs with its own committee.

The European Municipal executive: five responsibilities

Five responsibilities will fall under the aldermanship and the associated Maastricht Commission of European Affairs.

  1. This Municipal executive will inform best examples from Europe (such as the successful affordable housing development in Vienna) to the council and implement them if necessary. This will ensure that the council is using the best existing solutions to its challenges, rather than having to reinvent the wheel each time.
  2. This Municipal executive will closely follow the council debates of, at least, the Meuse-Rhine capitals (Liège, Aachen and Hasselt). The Municipal executive will share the insights gained about new political developments there with the Maastricht City Council when they are relevant to local politics.
  3. The Municipal executive will need to implement European legislation applicable to our municipality as appropriately as possible and invite the council to have careful discussions about new European rules.
  4. The Municipal executive of European Affairs maintains contact with regional cross-border partners (not only municipalities, but also other institutions such as the Technical University and the Klinikum of Aachen or Liège Trilogiport) when necessary within the framework of certain cooperation adopted by the municipal council.
  5. This Municipal executive is the Maastricht ambassador to other municipalities, with or without the mayor representing the city. Thus the Municipal executive can be used for various occasions, whether it is a visit to sister city Koblenz, or an important working visit to border municipality Lanaken.

7. Multilingualism at the heart of Europe.

The Randstad, Eindhoven, the German Ruhr and Brussels: South Limburg is right at the beating heart of Europe. It is time to recognize that and reap the benefits. South Limburg's border is mainly shared with Belgium and Germany and only for 5 km with the rest of the Netherlands. Here are great opportunities for the Maastricht economy. The urbanized areas of Limburg can be better connected to Belgium and Germany. But not only is our location European, the people of Maastricht breathe Europe. Almost one in three Maastricht residents has a (partially or completely) non-Dutch background, and that share is growing. In addition, most students at Maastricht University have a non-Dutch nationality.

Language courses: affordable and accessible

To reap the benefits of Maastricht's convenient location and international composition, it is important that the city council innovate in language education. Volt therefore advocates affordable and accessible courses in English, German, French, Dutch and Limburgish for everyone. In partnerships (such as with the university, the Translation Academy at university of applied sciences Zuyd, Alliance Française and the Goethe Institut), the city can encourage frontier work and invite non-native speakers to integrate into our local economy. In this, it is important for the municipality to make the Border Info Point more visible to Euregio residents. In this way, citizens are informed and motivated to work across borders.

The Dutch language for new Maastrichtians

Accessible and affordable Dutch language education deserves extra attention. The arrival of international students and migrant workers makes Maastricht a dynamic city. But rarely do they feel welcomed enough to stay in the city. New Maastricht residents will only stay if they bond with the region. It is therefore important for the municipality to offer affordable and accessible Dutch language education to our newcomers. International students, if they wish, should also be able to combine Dutch courses with their regular studies. In consultation with the university, Volt wants to ensure that Dutch language education is always available as an elective within English-language studies and that the corresponding ECTS credits are counted towards the diploma. Such a way of keeping foreign-language students in town is also used at other universities in Europe. For example, the University of Tartu in Estonia aims to integrate as many international students as possible and keep them there. Volt wants Maastricht to follow suit.

French and German at school

While young Limburgers are getting better at learning English, their knowledge of German and French is declining. This is a major problem for a region whose entire economy is linked to that of Belgium and Germany. Volt therefore wants language education to receive much more attention in Maastricht primary and secondary education. The earlier children start learning other languages, the more language-sensitive they become. Volt wants elementary school in Maastricht and the rest of South Limburg to offer at least one of the two border languages - French or German - to children(see also: 10. Education as a weapon against inequality).

8. Museums between Meuse and Rhine: Connect Europeans.

As part of our connecting cultural policy, Volt wants Maastricht citizens and visitors to be able to experience Maastricht's history in a low-threshold way. To this end, Volt, together with the municipality and various cultural partners, wants to support an interactive application that can be varied by visitor group (age group and language), event (such as the Maastricht Treaty) and depth (tourist/local resident/expert). In this way Maastricht will become a city that can teach Maastrichtians and outsiders something about its unique history at any time of day. Neighborhoods outside the historic city center will also be highlighted in the app. Museums in the city will be given a strong emphasis in the app and therefore receive more visibility. On the one hand, this ensures that Maastricht people are invited to re-evaluate their own city. On the other hand, this ensures that tourists are invited to experience their day in Maastricht in a more in-depth way than they often do. After a test period, the concept of the app can also be extended to other municipalities in South Limburg and the Euregional border area.

Connecting museums in Europe

In addition, Volt wants to look at the idea of a European Experience Centre (EEC) as already exists in other European cities (Berlin, Copenhagen and Tallinn). An EEC is a low-threshold platform to digitally engage people in both the city and the EU. Furthermore, Volt Maastricht wants to join the Euroregional museum card. In Aachen, East Belgium and Parkstad, museums have already been participating in a two-year pilot for this initiative since 2019.

9. Social Maastricht.

Volt supports the core of the social domain: supporting people, emancipating them and making them financially independent. Until 2024, the City of Maastricht is investing 369 million euros in the social domain. To make sure this money is actually used to support Maastricht people, Dutch and municipal politics should focus on decentralization and innovation. On the one hand, Volt wants real decentralization, not the national decentralization from 2015, which in practice has mainly led to local cuts. Instead, Volt wants the municipality to receive more financial instruments. On the other hand, Volt wants more space to permanently maintain and innovate the social domain.

Decentralization in Maastricht, the Netherlands and Europe

Volt stands firmly for true decentralization, so that politics and government are as close to citizens as possible. The national decentralization of 2015 seemed like a good start to this, but offered too few resources, forcing municipalities to make cuts in implementation. Volt therefore wants to stay in talks at the national level to get more money from the state for municipalities. As the Maastricht chapter, we remain in close contact with the Dutch and European Volt branches so that municipal interests are included in the national debate.

Future-proof youth care: prevention is better than aftercare

Prevention is more effective than care after the fact. Volt wants to get youth care workers more involved in education, so that young people get the care they need early on and people in care can adapt to changes in society. Prevention reduces long-term care costs. Volt advocates decentralized, district-oriented youth care centers: children and caregivers can then go to one place with their request for help. For more complex problems, help - if not nearby - will always be available in the region.

Reward work: part-time premium for benefit recipients

Volt wants to reward work. Benefit recipients are now having their benefits cut when they start working. This effectively punishes work. In Limburg this creates even more problems than elsewhere as we face a historic labor shortage. We need more workers to keep the economy going. Volt therefore wants part-time working Maastricht people on welfare to receive 30% of their additional income as a premium on top of their benefits and additional earnings, up to a maximum amount of €219 per month. In Amsterdam, this policy has been shown to help people find jobs twice as fast.

Bring informal care to the local level

Let the informal care budget really go to informal caregivers. A lot of money now goes to coordinating them. That should be more efficient. District-specific care budgets can help. Volt wants the budgets to be directly available to informal caregivers, through low-threshold organization and management via neighborhood tables, consisting of residents, professionals and volunteers.

Digital innovation: a Municipal executive with digital issues in its portfolio

Maastricht needs a strong digital transition to future-proof the city, including its social domain. To safely manage current and future information flows and systems, Volt wants a digital affairs portfolio to be created at the administrative level, managed by one of the aldermen. This will ensure that digitalization issues of local government are dealt with responsibly. Online safety and accessibility for Maastricht people plays an important role in this.

Free municipal software

As a concrete example, we want the municipality to develop its own free and accessible software. This can be done by hiring its own people to do this or by making clear agreements with implementing parties. This will cost money but in the long run it will ensure freedom and flexibility. We want to pay for the investment from existing European subsidies. The European Commission has already issued a free license with which the Corona Check App was developed. Such free software can also be applied locally.

10. Education as a weapon against inequality

In Maastricht, a child can receive English-language education from preschool to college. But there are also 11,500 Maastricht people, or 7,770 households, living in poverty. That is almost 1 in 10 Maastricht people. The average income of this group is among the lowest in the Netherlands. According to Volt, education is the best way to combat inequality, to prepare Maastricht people for the future, and to teach the new generation to live healthy and responsible lives.

Young Maastrichtians: the Europeans of tomorrow

Children today speak English better than any generation before them. At the same time, knowledge of French and German is declining. Volt wants Maastricht youth to set an example for the Europeans of tomorrow. Thus, Volt wants French and German language education to receive much more attention in Maastricht and the rest of South Limburg, especially because of our location in Europe. Elementary school in South Limburg should offer at least one of those two foreign languages at school. This way you create equal opportunities for all Maastricht people for the cross-border economy of tomorrow(see also: 7. Multilingualism in the heart of Europe).

Educational integration for all Maastrichtians

Education has the task of adequately integrating children into society. However, integration is often only mentioned as a topic when it comes to people of non-Western background. However, proper integration is a responsibility of all citizens. Society must constantly work hard for reciprocal understanding and respect. It is therefore important to have conversations from childhood on social themes such as democracy, discrimination and emancipation, in short: an inclusive society. Volt wants to develop a municipal curriculum for this purpose.

For a healthy childhood in Maastricht

The Limburg Healthy Elementary School of the Future project, which focuses on healthy school meals, education and exercise, has proven to be a success. The results show that children improve significantly. In the process, children also appear to have a positive influence on the lifestyle of parents and caregivers. Volt therefore wants this initiative to become the norm in Maastricht. Every child should receive information about healthy school meals, as already happens in France. The municipality should provide financial assistance to vulnerable families. Healthy living should not be a privilege.

Countering low literacy

Low literacy in Maastricht is higher than the national average. Volt wants to help residents with low-threshold language education that can take place in community centers, carried out by the municipality and volunteers. Cooperation with educational institutions should be set up for this purpose (see also: 6.)

11. Newcomers & Entrepreneurs: trust and guidance.

To help new Maastricht people build a life in the city, Volt advocates more attention to emancipation and integration. Local politics should start from an open attitude to citizens: from trust and a willingness to guide. The role of local politics in education plays an important role in this (see also: 9. Education as a weapon against inequality). In addition, economic integration (in other words, work) is an important driver for including people in society. Because of the pandemic and the covid support, the bond between the municipality and entrepreneurs has now been strengthened. As a result, the municipality may now be in a better position to be a reliable guide for new Maastricht residents who want to get started.

Actively connecting entrepreneurs and newcomers

Acting with confidence is characteristic of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). While SMEs are eager for staff, many newcomers struggle to get started. Due to regulatory barriers, lack of language skills and low diploma recognition, as well as xenophobia, a large group makes a late start in the labor market. The municipality is in the unique position to actively connect employers and newcomers. Volt wants the municipality to start an Employment Office for newcomers. Also, like the Province of Limburg, the municipality can start traineeships for this target group. Furthermore, Volt sees in the existing legislation on assistance for the self-employed (Bbz) a good route to make entrepreneurship attractive for this group. The scheme offers welfare recipients the opportunity to start a business for two years while retaining benefits.

12. Feeling safe in the heart of Europe.

Safety is important to feel at home in your city. Our location between Belgium and Germany makes South Limburg a unique region in Europe in terms of security challenges. For this reason, among others, Maastricht is relatively unsafe for a medium-sized city. Again, Volt stresses the importance of connecting between Maastricht people and connecting with other municipalities in our border region. The municipality will therefore have to cooperate better with border municipalities. The safety of our local residents can therefore only be guaranteed by cooperating within the framework of cross-border politics.

Prevention as the basis for a safe Maastricht

In addition, Volt supports the adage: "Prevention is better than cure." That is, Volt wants to work on preventing crime by intensifying youth care, combating school dropout, by fighting poverty and by involving young people more in low-threshold culture so that they can express themselves in it.

A digital government: also for security!

Volt also wants to digitize safety policy more. For example, we are in favor of safety apps in which safety or environmental incidents (e.g., street harassment, vandalism or pollution) can be reported to the municipality or the neighborhood police officer. The current "MijnGemeente" app could be expanded for this purpose. Or the municipality could have a new app developed. Based on this, the municipality could better address certain safety incidents. After all, if certain locations occur more frequently in reports, the municipality could better respond to them, by placing cameras there, having enforcement patrol there more often, or simply fixing the street lights. With these proposals, we also ensure that Maastricht can be a safe heart of Europe.

Pan-European crime, pan-European solving

Crime in Maastricht and the Euroregion, contrary to current policy, does move pan-European. Maastricht crime is often linked to cross-border drug trafficking. Volt advocates drug decriminalization, as has already been successfully achieved in Portugal in 2001. However, prevention should always be central in the fight against drug addiction (see also: 8. Social Maastricht). Volt also advocates further integration of Europol: the European police force. Within that framework, Volt also wants to accelerate the cooperation of police forces at Euroregional level. This should go hand in hand with strengthening Eurojust: the judicial authority that supports Europol. In no way should European integration have a negative impact on our values. A stricter approach against ethnic profiling and unnecessary police violence is crucial in this.

A queer community that feels at home in a safe Maastricht.

Maastricht 'Rainbow City': Maastricht receives government support to promote emancipation and acceptance of the queer community. Volt wants to clearly communicate this support and encourage low-threshold civic initiatives. Yet many residents still feel unsafe. The COC reports that violence based on sexual orientation is on the rise. Rainbow subsidy, then, is not enough. Protecting Maastricht people must also be expressed in deeds. Therefore, Volt advocates for more money to Pink in Blue, the police network of the queer community. Volt also wants boas to pay more attention to queer safety. At the same time, Volt recognizes that the queer community is only one part of our intercultural society. Respect and understanding for one another can be ensured, but never built through law enforcement. A society of mutual respect and understanding begins primarily in education. Therefore, Volt wants to provide teaching resources that address inclusive culture and social issues. (See in detail: 9. Education as a weapon against inequality).

Maastricht in 2030: the beating heart of Europe?

With your support, Volt will start working in Maastricht from the 2022 municipal elections to better connect our city: within our city, between all those different inhabitants, and from our city, with the rest of Europe. With a strong political mandate, Volt can face the Maastricht challenges of tomorrow. That is why we want to put a point on the horizon now: is the heart of Europe beating faster in 2030 than it is today?

In this election program you have been able to read our 12 themes: from equal education to cross-border public transport, from affordable and sustainable housing to a Municipal executive of European Affairs; and from the Meuse-Rhine Culture Fund to language courses for those in need: we want to achieve these goals in a constructive, pragmatic and transparent way over the next decade. We cannot do this alone. For this we need political partners, organizations from all corners of the region and above all you: Maastricht people and Europeans who want to get the best out of our city.

Maastricht is a unique city. Therefore, it deserves its own vision. That vision can only be told by new politics. Politics of Volt, which is pragmatic, but also looks across borders. Which is active in Aachen, in Liege, in Brussels, in Cologne and in The Hague. Volt is that new generation in politics. A movement which thinks European and acts locally. A movement that wants to be there for everyone in Europe. A movement that believes Maastricht is a bridge builder in the beating heart of Europe. Build with us. Not only by voting for Volt in the Maastricht elections, but also by following us, by supporting us and by staying in dialogue with us. Only then can we connect Maastricht together. Only then will Maastricht become the beating heart of Europe.