State and politics
The Netherlands has been a constitutional monarchy since
1814 and since 1848 has a parliamentary system. With the
introduction of universal suffrage for men in 1917 and for
women in 1922, the country also became a democracy.
The monarch, who is the country's head of state, has
essentially ceremonial powers. The crown is now inherited by
the monarch's oldest children regardless of gender. Since
Queen Beatrix abdicated in 2013, King Willem-Alexander
reigns. The real power in the Netherlands since the mid-19th
century lies not with the monarch but with Parliament and
the government responsible to Parliament. See ABBREVIATIONFINDER for how NL can stand for Netherlands.
The House (Staten-Generaal) consists of two
chambers. The first has 75 members, who are elected
indirectly by the elected provincial assemblies (Provinciale
Staten) every four years. The primary role of the First
Chamber is to review legislative proposals adopted in the
Second Chamber. Formally, the first chamber can only vote
yes or no, but by threatening to veto it can in practice get
through changes or additions. The veto right is used very
sparingly. The first chamber has no influence over the
formation of government, and it is before the second chamber
that the government is responsible.
The 150 members of the second Chamber have a term of four
years and are elected by direct elections, based on general
and equal voting rights for anyone over the age of 18. The
eligibility age is also 18 years. New elections are very
common - more than half of the elections since the Second
World War have been held after less than four years.
The electoral system is strictly proportional and the
whole country constitutes a constituency. There are no
barriers to small parties, which means that all parties that
manage to win 1/150 of the votes, ie. 0.67%, gets mandated.
This has the consequence that a large number of parties,
usually between nine and eleven, sit in Parliament, which
makes government formations complicated and drawn out. All
governments are based on coalitions between two or more
parties. Minority governments are unusual, except as
transitional governments pending new elections.
Regionally, the Netherlands is divided into twelve
provinces: Noord-Holland, Zuid-Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht,
Noord-Brabant, Limburg, Gelderland, Overijssel, Drenthe,
Flevoland, Groningen and Friesland. Each province has a
people-elected assembly, a governing council appointed by
that assembly and a governor appointed by the government.
The provincial assemblies appoint representatives to the
first chamber every four years, but otherwise have
relatively limited tasks. In addition to its general
oversight of the province's internal development, the
provincial councils have traditionally played the role of
monitoring the vital dams to the sea facing the Netherlands.
Technically, the provinces are monitoring the regional water
authorities that manage the dams.
The number of municipalities has gradually decreased in
recent decades and now amounts to 388. These are led by
elected councils together with a mayor, who is appointed by
the government. The vast majority of the municipalities'
budget consists of government grants and only a small part
of local taxes.
Political life in the Netherlands was characterized by
the Verzuiling system for a long time, as did
society at large . The term comes from the Dutch pillar
('pillar') and is based on the fact that society was
strongly divided around religious and socio-political
affiliation, which affected people's social and political
life and, for example, what associations you belonged to and
how you voted. The division was institutionalized and very
strong interest groups have emerged, e.g. several different
central trade unions. The interest groups were seen as the
pillars on which Dutch society rests, and the interaction
and compromises between them determined the political life
in the Netherlands.
The starting point for the system was the historically
contradictory relationship between Catholics and Reformers.
The religious groups organized themselves along confessional
lines in Catholic and Reformed parties and organizations.
Non-denominationally committed have had common so-called
humanist organizations, but have also been divided according
to the dividing line socialist-non-socialist ideology.
However, the Verzuiling system has gradually
been relaxed since the 1960s and no longer dominates
politics, but the tradition of broad compromises lives on.
In response to a slowly declining voter support, in 1980,
three Reformed and Catholic parties joined in a joint
Christian party, the Christian Democratic Appeal
(CDA). CDA - and its predecessors - participated in all
governments between 1917 and 1994, often as a dominant party
and with a voter support of about 30%. During the last
elections, however, the party has seen its support gradually
decline. Despite an improvement from 8.5% in the 2012
election to 12.5% in the 2017 election, the result is CDA's
second worst in the party's history.
The Netherlands' other major party historically is the
Social Democratic Party of Labor (Labor
Party). Despite ideological differences, the party has
repeatedly sat in government with the CDA, most recently
during the 2006-10 term. The PvdA's voter support dropped
slightly during the 1990s. In the new election in 2012, the
party made a recovery and formed the government together
with the VVD (see below). The 2017 election was a big
disappointment, the PvdA made the biggest loss a Dutch party
ever made and dropped from 24.8 to 5.7% of the vote.
People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD)
is a liberal party, initially anti-confessional but now with
a strong focus on market economy principles. The party,
which has had varied voter support over time, has been part
of many governments, mainly with the CDA. In the 2010
election, for the first time, the VVD became the largest
party in parliament with just over 20% of the vote.
Executive Vice President Mark Rutte became Prime Minister of
a government consisting of the Executive Director and the
CDA, supported by the Executive Director of PVV (see below).
After PVV withdrew its support to the government in
connection with budget negotiations in 2012, the government
resigned and new elections were announced. After the recent
election, Rutte was assigned the task of forming a new
coalition government, now together with the PvdA. As the
first government in almost 20 years, this government managed
to remain throughout the term of office. In the 2017
election, the VVD backed slightly, from 26.5 to 21.3% of the
In the last decade, the established parties have been
challenged by new forces. Shortly before the 2002 election,
Pim Fortuyn formed an immigration-critical party, which won
17% of the vote. Nine days before the election, Fortuyn was
assassinated and the party, which was part of the government
formed after the election, gradually collapsed and ceased to
exist a few years later.
However, the criticism of immigration was pursued by
other parties. In 2005, Geert Wilders resigned from the VVD
and formed the Party for the Vrijheid (PVV), a
party that is considered to be strongly anti-immigrant, with
the Cape directed at Islam. In the 2010 election, the party
became the third largest party in the Dutch parliament. The
party managed to retain this position in the new election in
2012, despite losing a third of its voters and receiving
only 10.1% of the vote. Before the 2017 election, PVV looked
to be the largest party, but with 13.1% became the second
In addition, there are another nine parties in
Parliament, three of which have more than 5% of the vote:
the Social Liberal D66, the environmental party
Groen Links (GL) and the Socialist Party. Of
these, only D66 has been a member of the government. GL
accounted for the largest increase in the 2017 election,
from 2.3 to 8.9%.
In the 2017 election, the trend continued for the former
major government parties to lose voters, despite a slight
recovery for CDA. The two government parties, the VVD and
the Labor Party, which have been tightening policies during
the euro crisis, both backed down. The last days of the
election campaign were marked by a diplomatic quarrel with
Turkey, which is believed to have favored Prime Minister
Rutte and the VP, who made a better choice than expected.
After the failed government cooperation in 2010-12, and
because of the party's harsh rhetoric, almost all parties
had already stated before the election that they did not
intend to cooperate with PVV, which will thus have
difficulty exerting influence during the term of office. The
strong fragmentation of Parliament means that cooperation
between at least four parties is needed to form a majority
The central parts of the legal system are codified in
large statutes, the most important of which are the Civil
Code (Burgerlijk Wetboek), the Civil Procedure Act,
the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Act. A new
civil law is being introduced gradually; it is intended to
replace both the older civil law and the trade law. The
legal order in the Netherlands has been affected by its
membership in the EU. The judicial system consists mainly of
cantonal and district courts, appellate courts and a Supreme
Court of Appeal (Hooge Raad). The death penalty was
abolished in 1982; the last execution took place in 1952.
Heads of State and Regents
Stand holder (after "Akte van Verlating" 1581)
||Batavian Republic *
* During the periods 1650–72, 1702–47 and 1795–1806, the
Netherlands was a republic without a governor.
||Louis Bonaparte *
* 1810-14, the Netherlands was incorporated in France.
||Charles Ruys de Beerenbrouck
||Dirk-Jan De Geer
||Charles Ruys de Beerenbrouck
||Dirk-Jan De Geer
||Pieter Sjoerds Gerbrandy
||Louis JM Beel
||Louis JM Beel
||Jan de Quay
||Piet de Jong
||Johannes Martens den Uyl
||Andries van Eight
||Jan Peter Balkenende