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World > Europe > Netherlands > Government and Political Conditions (Notes)

Netherlands - Government and Political Conditions (Notes)


GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The present constitution--which dates from 1848 and has been amended several times, most recently in 1983--protects individual and political freedoms, including freedom of religion. Although church and state are separate, a few historical ties remain; the royal family belongs to the Dutch Reformed Church (Protestant). Freedom of speech also is protected.

Government Structure
The country's government is based on the principles of ministerial responsibility and parliamentary government. The national government comprises three main institutions: the Monarch, the Council of Ministers, and the States General. There also are local governments.

The Monarch. The monarch is the titular head of state. The Queen's function is largely ceremonial, but she does have some influence deriving from the traditional veneration of the House of Orange, from which Dutch monarchs for more than three centuries have descended. Her influence also derives from her personal qualities as Queen and her power to appoint the 'formateur,' who forms the Council of Ministers following elections.

The Council of Ministers plans and implements government policy. The Monarch and the Council of Ministers together are called the Crown. Most ministers also head government ministries, although ministers-without-portfolio exist. The ministers, collectively and individually, are responsible to the States General (parliament). Unlike the British system, Dutch ministers cannot simultaneously be members of parliament.

The Council of State is a constitutionally established advisory body to the government that consists of members of the royal family and Crown-appointed members generally having political, commercial, diplomatic, or military experience. The Council of State must be consulted by the cabinet on proposed legislation before a law is submitted to the parliament. The Council of State also serves as a channel of appeal for citizens against executive branch decisions.

States General (parliament). The Dutch parliament consists of two houses, the First Chamber and the Second Chamber. Historically, Dutch governments have been based on the support of a majority in both houses of parliament. The Second Chamber is by far the more important of the two houses. It alone has the right to initiate legislation and amend bills submitted by the Council of Ministers. It shares with the First Chamber the right to question ministers and state secretaries.

The Second Chamber consists of 150 members, elected directly for a 4-year term--unless the government falls prematurely--on the basis of a nationwide system of proportional representation. This system means that members represent the whole country--rather than individual districts as in the United States--and are normally elected on a party slate, not on a personal basis. There is no threshold for small-party representation. Campaigns are relatively short, lasting usually about a month, and the election budgets of each party tend to be less than $1 million. The electoral system makes a coalition government almost inevitable. The last election of the Second Chamber was in November 2006.

The First Chamber is composed of 75 members elected for 4-year terms by the 12 provincial legislatures. It cannot initiate or amend legislation, but its approval of bills passed by the Second Chamber is required before bills become law. The First Chamber generally meets only once a week, and its members usually have other full-time jobs. The current First Chamber was elected following provincial elections in May 2007.

Courts. The judiciary comprises 62 cantonal courts, 19 district courts, five courts of appeal, and a Supreme Court that has 24 justices. All judicial appointments are made by the Crown. Judges nominally are appointed for life but actually are retired at age 70.

Local Government. The first-level administrative divisions are the 12 provinces, each governed by a locally elected provincial council and a provincial executive appointed by members of the provincial council. The province is formally headed by a queen's commissioner appointed by the Crown.

Current Government. General elections were held in November 2006. On February 22, 2007, a new center-left coalition government was sworn in, composed of the center-right Christian Democrats (CDA), Social Democrats (PvdA), and left-of-center orthodox Protestant Christian Union (CU) under CDA Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende. Given the consensus-based nature of Dutch politics, a change of government does not usually result in any drastic change in foreign or domestic policy. Descriptions of the four main parties follow.

The Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) was formed from the merger of the Catholic People's Party and two Protestant parties, the Anti-Revolutionary Party and the Christian-Historical Union. The merger process, begun in the early 1970s to try to stem the tide of losses suffered by religiously based parties, was completed in 1980. The CDA supports free enterprise and holds to the principle that government activity should supplement but not supplant communal action by citizens. On the political spectrum, the CDA sees its philosophy as standing between the 'individualism' of the Liberals and the 'statism' of the Labor Party. CDA has 41 seats in the current Second Chamber, more than any other party.

The Labor Party (PvdA), a classic European Social Democratic party, is left of center. It currently has 33 seats in the Second Chamber. Labor's program is based on greater social, political, and economic equality for all citizens, although in recent years the party has begun to debate the role of central government in that process. Although called the Labor Party, it has no formal links to the trade unions.

The Liberal (VVD) Party is 'liberal' in the European, rather than American, sense of the word. It thus attaches great importance to private enterprise and the freedom of the individual in political, social, and economic affairs. The VVD is generally seen as the most conservative of the major parties. It currently has 22 seats in the Second Chamber.

The Socialist Party (SP) was founded as a grass root Marxist-Leninist movement in 1972. From the start Jan Maijnissen has been the driving force behind the party. Started at the local level, Marijnissen transformed the party into a working-class leftist alternative to the Labor Party and succeeded at being elected to parliament in 1994. At every subsequent election the party grew, and in November 2006 it obtained 25 seats, which made it the third largest party. The party is fundamentally nationalistic and opposes globalization, the European Union and Dutch participation in international peacekeeping. It also favors cutting defense spending by 40%.

Domestic Drug Policy
Despite intensified efforts by the Dutch Government to combat production of and trafficking in narcotic drugs, the Netherlands continues to be a significant transit point for drugs entering Europe (especially cocaine), an important producer and exporter of synthetic drugs, notably MDMA (Ecstasy), although MDMA production seems to be declining substantially. According to the National Police, three large seizures caused the number of ecstasy tablets seized in the U.S. that could be linked to the Netherlands to rise to 0.85 million in 2005 from 0.2 million in 2004. MDMA seizures are still down from the 1.1 million tablets seized in 2003 and 2.5 million in 2002. The successful five-year strategy (2002-2006) against production, trade, and consumption of synthetic drugs was reviewed at the end of 2006, and a new long-term plan was published in May 2007.

The Dutch Opium Act punishes possession, commercial distribution, production, import, and export of all illicit drugs. Drug use, however, is not an offense. The act distinguishes between 'hard' drugs that have 'unacceptable' risks (e.g., heroin, cocaine, ecstasy) and 'soft' drugs (cannabis products). One of the main aims of this policy is to separate the markets for soft and hard drugs so that soft drug users are less likely to come into contact with hard drugs. The sale of a small quantity (under five grams) of soft drugs in 'coffeeshops' is tolerated, albeit under strict conditions and controls. The United States continues to disagree with this aspect of Dutch drug policy. Overall, the Health Ministry coordinates drug policy, while the Ministry of Justice is responsible for law enforcement. Matters relating to local government and the police are the responsibility of the Ministry of Interior. At the municipal level, policy is coordinated in tripartite consultations among the mayor, the chief public prosecutor, and the police.

The Netherlands has a wide variety of demand-reduction and 'harm'-reduction programs reaching about 80% of the country's 26,000-30,000 opiate addicts. The number of opiate addicts has stabilized over the past few years, with the average age rising to 40, and the number of overdose deaths related to opiates stabilizing at between 30 and 50 per year.

Counterterrorism/Homeland Security
The Netherlands supports the global coalition against terrorism with leadership, personnel and material, including the deployment of troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Prime Minister stated the U.S. and his country stand 'shoulder to shoulder' in the struggle for global security. The Netherlands is a party to all 12 UN counterterrorism conventions.

In August 2004, the Act on Terrorist Crimes, implementing the 2002 European Union (EU) framework decision on combating terrorism, became effective. The Act makes recruitment for the Jihad and conspiracy with the aim of committing a serious terrorist crime separate criminal offenses. In 2006, three packages of counterterrorism legislation were adopted by Parliament, namely a bill to permit the use of intelligence information in criminal proceedings, a bill to expand the use of special investigative methods, such as phone taps, surveillance and infiltration, in investigations and prosecutions of terrorist crimes, and a bill to ban organizations on the UN or EU terror lists. In 2006, there were successful trials against two terror groups leading to major convictions. In 2004, the government created a National Counterterrorism Coordinator's Office to streamline and enhance Dutch counterterrorism efforts. The Dutch have taken a leading role, particularly in the European Union, to establish financial protocols to combat terrorism. They have also donated to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to provide assistance to countries that lack the wherewithal to implement some of these measures immediately. They have taken steps to freeze the assets of individuals and groups included on the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1267 Sanctions Committee's consolidated list. In March 2006, the Dutch hosted a major international terrorist financing conference.

The Netherlands is an active participant in the Container Security Initiative at Rotterdam, one of Europe's busiest ports. The Dutch have also installed radiological portal monitors at Rotterdam, in partnership with the Department of Energy's Megaport/Second Line of Defense initiative. The government also permitted U.S. CBP Immigration Liaison Officers to return to Schiphol Airport to assist with U.S.-bound passenger screening (the program is now known as the Immigration Assistance Program). In January 2005, the U.S. and Netherlands agreed to develop an International Registered Travelers program to facilitate travel between Schiphol Airport and JFK.

Principal Government Officials
Head of State--Queen Beatrix
Prime Minister--Jan Peter Balkenende
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance--Wouter Bos
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Youth and Family Affairs--André Rouvoet
Foreign Minister--Maxime Verhagen
Defense Minister--Eimert van Middelkoop
Ambassador to the United States--Christiaan Kröner
Ambassador to the United Nations--Frank Majoor

The Netherlands' embassy in the U.S. is at 4200 Linnean Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel: 202-244-5300; fax: 202-362-3430.


Facts at a Glance: Geography - People - Government - Economy - Communications - Transportation - Military - Climate - Current Time - Ranking Positions - Euro Exchange Rates
Notes and Commentary: Economy - Government and Political Conditions - Historical Highlights - Foreign Relations - Relations with U.S.



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Government and Political Conditions
Historical Highlights
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