The Politics of the Netherlands take place
within the framework of a parliamentary representative democracy and a
constitutional monarchy. The Netherlands is described as a consociational state.
Dutch politics and governance are characterized by a common strife for broad
consensus on important issues, within both the political community and society
as a whole.
The constitution lists the basic civil and social rights of the Dutch citizens
and it describes the position and function of the institutions that have
executive, legislative and judiciary power.
It should be noted that the constitution of the Netherlands is only applicable
in the European part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Kingdom as a whole
has its own Statute, describing its federate political system which also
includes the Caribbean islands of Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles.
The Netherlands do not have a Constitutional Court and judges do not have the
authority to review laws on their constitutionality. International treaties and
the Statute of the Kingdom, however overrule Dutch law and the constitution and
judges are allowed to review laws against these in a particular court case.
Furthermore all legislation that is not a law in the strict sense of the word
(such as policy guidelines or laws proposed by provincial or municipal
government) can be tested on their constitutionality.
Amendments to the constitution must be approved by both Houses of the
States-General twice. The first time around, this requires a simple majority of
fifty percent plus one vote. After parliament has been dissolved and general
elections are held, both Houses must approve the proposed amendments with a two
The Netherlands have been a monarchy since March 16, 1815, and have been
governed by members of the House of Orange-Nassau ever since.
The present monarchy was originally founded in 1813. After the expulsion of the
French, the Prince of Orange was proclaimed Sovereign Prince of The Netherlands.
The new monarchy was confirmed in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna as part of the
re-arrangement of Europe after the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. The House of
Orange-Nassau were given the present day Netherlands and Belgium to govern as
the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Between 1815 and 1890, the King of the
Netherlands was also Grand Duke of Luxembourg.
The current monarch is Queen Beatrix. The heir apparent is Willem-Alexander, her
Constitutionally, the Queen is head of state and has a role in the formation of
government and in the legislative process. She is ex officio chair of the
Council of State, which advises the cabinet on every piece of legislation, she
also has to co-sign every law. Although the Queen takes these functions
seriously, she refrains from exerting her power in these positions. The Queen
also plays a central role in the formation of a cabinet after general elections
or a cabinet crisis. Since coalition cabinets of two or more parties are the
rule, this process has influence on government policy for years to come. She
appoints the (in)formateur, who chair the formation talks, after consulting the
leaders of all parties represented in parliament. When the formation talks have
been concluded the Queen appoints the cabinet. Because this advice is a matter
of public record, the Queen can not easily take a direction which is contrary to
the advice of a majority in parliament. On the other hand, what is actually
talked about behind the closed doors of the palace is not known. When a cabinet
falls, the prime minister has to request the Queen to dismiss the cabinet.
The government of the Netherlands constitutionally consists of the Queen and the
cabinet ministers. The Queen's role is limited to the formation of government
and she does not actively interfere in daily decision-making. The ministers
together form the Council of Ministers. This executive council initiates laws
and policy. It meets every Friday in the Tręveszaal at the Binnenhof. While most
of the ministers head government ministries, since 1939 it has been permissible
to appoint ministers without portfolio.
The Cabinet is composed of all cabinet ministers and junior ministers, the
staatssecretarissen. Junior ministers take over part of responsibilities of
minister. They only attend the meetings of the Council of Ministers if the
Council invites them regarding a specific subject.
The Council of Ministers makes decisions by means of collegiate governance. All
ministers, including the Prime Minister, are (theoretically) equal. Behind the
closed doors of the Tręveszaal, ministers can freely debate proposed decisions
and express their opinion on any aspect of cabinet policy. Once a decision is
made by the council, all individual members are bound by it and are obliged to
support it publicly. If a member of the cabinet does not agree with a particular
decision he will have to step down. Generally much effort is put into reaching
relative consensus on any decision. A process of voting within the Council does
exist, but is hardly ever used.
The cabinet is collectively responsible to Parliament, and must enjoy its
confidence. It is not possible to for a minister to be a member of parliament,
although many ministers are selected from parliament and have to give up their
seat as a result. Ministers or junior ministers who are no longer supported by a
parliamentary majority are expected by convention to step down.
As a result of the electoral system and the lack of dominating parties,
coalition cabinets, composed out of two or three parties, are the norm.
Currently there are thirteen government ministries:
Ministry of General Affairs
Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations
Ministry of Justice
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Defense
Ministry of Finance
Ministry of Economic Affairs
Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment
Ministry of Education, Science and Culture
Ministry of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sports
Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment
Ministry of Transport and Water Management
Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality
The Hague's Binnenhof. The ministry of General Affairs is in the centre with the
Torentje, the office of the prime minister of the centre leftMain article: Prime
Minister of the Netherlands
The official task of the Prime Minister is to coordinate government policy. He
is chairman of the Council of Ministers and as such has the power to set the
agenda of its meetings. In addition, the Prime minister is also Minister of
General Affairs. The task of this small department is basically supporting the
Prime Minister in his tasks as described above and organizing publicity around
government proposals and decisions. The position of the Prime Minister has
become more important since the Second World War.
The Dutch Parliament or States-General consists of a Lower House or Second
Chamber and an Upper House or First Chamber, also referred to as the Senate.
Both houses of Parliament discuss proposed legislation and review of the actions
of the cabinet. The Second Chamber also has the right to propose or amend
The general entrance of the Tweede Kamer Members of the Second Chamber,
generally considered the more important House, are elected directly every four
years with a party-list proportional representation. Members are chosen on
personal title, so in the relatively rare case that a member no longer agrees
with his (or her) party, the member can decide to stay in the chamber, either as
an independent representative, or connected to another parliamentary party. If a
member decides to resign, the empty seat falls to the original party collecting
the votes, and can be filled by a member of that party. Coalition governments
may fall before their term ends, which usually results in early dissolution of
the Second Chamber and new elections.
Members of the First Chamber are elected indirectly by provincial councillors,
again every four years, just after the elections of the provincial councils, via
a system of proportional representation. This election method reflects the
historical roots of the First Chamber as a representative body of the different
regional entities that formed the Netherlands. Nowadays, the Senate is mainly
considered to be a body of elderly statesmen reconsidering legislation at ease,
away from the pressure of daily political and media hypes.
Parties Political Leader Votes (2006) Tweede Kamer seats Eerste Kamer seats
Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) Jan Peter Balkenende 2,608,573 41 23
Labour Party (PvdA) Wouter Bos 2,085,077 33 19
Socialist Party (SP) Jan Marijnissen 1,630,803 25 4
People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) Mark Rutte 1,443,312 22 15
Party for Freedom (PvdV) Geert Wilders 579,490 9 0
Green Left (GroenLinks) Femke Halsema 453,054 7 5
Democrats 66 (D66) Alexander Pechtold 193,232 3 3
Christian Union (CU) André Rouvoet 390,969 6 2
Political Reformed Party (SGP) Bas van der Vlies 153,266 2 1
Party for Animals (PvdD) Marianne Thieme 179,988 2 0
Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF)/Lijst Vijf Fortuyn (LVF) Rob Hessing* 20.956 0 1
Independent Senate Fraction (OSF) Hendrik ten Hoeven* did not compete 0 1
Total (turnout 80.0%) 9,654,475 150 75
*: These political leaders are not chair of Second Chamber parliamentary parties
The system of proportional representation, combined with the historical social
division between Catholics, Protestants, Socialists and Liberals has resulted in
a multiparty system. The major political parties are CDA, PvdA, SP and VVD. The
parties currently represented in the Dutch Second Chamber are:
CDA is a centre-right Christian Democratic party. It holds to the principle that
government activity should supplement but not supplant communal action by
citizens. The CDA sees its philosophy as standing between the "individualism" of
the VVD and the "statism" of the PvdA.
PvdA is a social democratic, centre-left Labour party. Its programme is based on
greater social, political, and economic equality for all citizens.
SP is a far-left socialist party, which has evolved from a Maoist split from the
Communist Party Netherlands into a much less radical socialist party. It remains
far more left-wing than the Labour party, but at the same time is considered
more conservative than the Labour party and the GroenLinks party.
VVD is a conservative-liberal party. It attaches great importance to private
enterprise and the freedom of the individual in political, social, and economic
PVV is an anti-Islam nationalist-conservative party. It has a plaftorm based on
free market economics and opposition to immigration and European integration.
GroenLinks combines, as it's name implies green, environmentalist, ideals with
ChristenUnie is an orthodox Protestant party, with conservative stances on
abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage. In other areas the party is considered
centre-left, for instance on immigration, welfare state and the environment.
D66 is a social-liberal radical party. The party supports liberal policies on
abortion and euthanasia and reform of the welfare state. The party is left-wing
on immigration, the environment and foreign policy.
The Party for the Animals is a single-issue animal rights party with natural
affinity with environmental issues. For general purposes, the party is
considered left of centre.
SGP is an orthodox Protestant party with conservative policies and it sees
government as unconditional servant of God.
High Colleges of State
The Dutch political system has five so called the High Colleges of State, which
are explicitly regarded as independent by the Constitution. Apart from the two
Houses of Parliament, these are the Council of State, the Algemene Rekenkamer
(Court of Audit) and the Nationale Ombudsman (National Ombudsman).
The Council of State is an advisory body of cabinet on constitutional and
judicial aspects of legislature and policy. All laws proposed by the cabinet
have to be sent to the Council of State for advice. Although the advice is not
binding, the cabinet is required to react to the advice and it often plays a
significant role in the ensuing debate in Parliament. In addition the Council is
the highest administrative court.
The Algemene Rekenkamer investigates whether public funds are collected and
spent legitimate and effectively. The Nationale Ombudsman investigates
complaints about the practices of government. As with the advice of the Council
of State, the reports from these organizations are not easily put aside and
often play a role in public and political debate.
The judiciary comprises 19 district courts, five courts of appeal, two
administrative courts (Centrale Raad van Beroep and the College van beroep voor
het bedrijfsleven) and a Supreme Court (Hoge Raad) which has 24 justices. All
judicial appointments are made by the Government. Judges nominally are appointed
for life but actually retire at age 70. The Council of State functions as the
highest court in most administrative cases.
Social Economic Council
Both trade unions and employers’ organisations are consulted beforehand in
policymaking in the financial, economic and social area’s. They meet regularly
with government the Social-economic council (Sociaal Economische Raad, SER).
This body advises government and its advice, just like the advice of the High
Colleges of State, cannot be put aside easily. The SER heads a system of PBO's,
self-regulatory organizations that can make laws for specific economic sectors.
The following organizations are represented in the Social Economic Council: the
leftwing trade union FNV, the Christian trade union CNV and the trade union for
managerial staff MHP, the employers' organizations VNO-NCW, the employers'
organization for smaller companies MKB, and the employers' organization for
farmers LTO. One third of the members of the council is appointed by the
government. These include both professors of economy and related fields and
representatives of the economic planning institute CPB and De Nederlandsche
Bank. In the working groups of the SER representatives of environmental and
consumers' organizations are also represented.
Regional government in the Netherlands is formed by twelve provinces. Provinces
are responsible for spatial planning, health policy and recreation, within the
bounds prescribed by the national government. Furthermore they oversee the
policy and finances of municipalities and waterboards. The executive power is in
hands of the Queen's Commissioner and the College of the Gedeputeerde Staten.
The Queen’s Commissioner is appointed by the national Cabinet and responsible to
the minister of Internal Affairs. Members of the Gedeputeerde Staten are
appointed by, and responsible to the provincial legislature, the Provinciale
Staten, which is elected by direct suffrage.
Local government in the Netherlands is formed by 458 municipalities.
Municipalities are responsible for education, spatial planning and social
security, within the bounds prescribed by the national and provincial
government. They are governed by the College of Mayor and Aldermen. The Mayor is
appointed by the national Cabinet and responsible to the minister of Internal
Affairs. The Aldermen are appointed by, and responsible to the Municipal
Council, which is elected by direct suffrage.
The major cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam are subdivided into administrative
area’s (stadsdelen), which have their own (limited) responsibilities.
Furthermore there are waterboards which are responsible for the country’s
polders, dikes and other waterworks. These bodies are elected in non-partisan
elections and have the power to tax their residents.
The foreign policy of the Netherlands is based on four basic commitments: to the
atlantic cooperation, to European integration, to international development and
to international law. While historically the Netherlands was a neutral state,
since the Second World War the Netherlands became a member of a large number of
international organisations. Most prominently the UN, NATO and the EU. The Dutch
economy is very open and relies on international trade. One of the more
controversial international issues surrounding the Netherlands is its liberal
policy towards soft drugs and the position of the Netherlands one of the major
exporters of hard drugs. Since the golden age, the Dutch built up a colonial
empire, which fell apart after the Second World War.