Original publication: February 2015
Authors: Marek Kołodziejski (Research Administrator)
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Economic, Social and Territorial Situation of the Netherlands

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This in-depth analysis provides an overview of the Netherlands, its political, economic and administrative system and of its Partnership Agreement for the 2014-2020 period.

The analysis has been drawn up in preparation for the visit to the Netherlands by a delegation from the Committee on Regional Development.



1.1. Key facts and figures

Figure 1: Map of the Netherlands

The Netherlands is one of the four countries forming the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The other three are the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten. The Netherlands consists of 12 provinces located in Western Europe and three Caribbean islands of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba. The European part of the country borders Belgium in the southwest and Germany in the east. The north-western border of the Netherlands is formed by the North Sea. The Netherlands is often called ‘Holland’, although North Holland and South Holland are only two of the provinces of the Netherlands.

The surface area of the country is 41 540 km2 (33 893 km2 of land area), of which around 20% lies below the sea level. A well-developed water management structure and flood defences are therefore indispensable. It has a population of 16.8 million citizens, making it the eighth most-populated country in the EU. With a population density of 496.5 persons per km2 (117 for the EU), the Netherlands is the second most-densely populated country in the EU after Malta.

Dutch is the official language of the country, although the Frisian language also has official status in the province of Fryslân.

Table 1: Key data

1.2. Political and governmental structures

The Netherlands is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. This means that the government is subject to parliamentary scrutiny. The government is composed by the King, the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers.

The Monarch (King Willem–Alexander since 30 April 2013) is the head of state and, together with the ministers, makes up the government (Regering). The Constitution has laid down that the monarch is inviolable. This means that the monarch is politically neutral and ministers are accountable to the Parliament for government policy. As the head of state, the monarch co-signs new Acts of Parliament. He or she is also involved in the formation of new governments. The Monarch represents the Kingdom of the Netherlands at home and abroad.

The bicameral parliament, called the States-General (Staten Generaal), consists of an upper house called the Senate (Eerste Kamer) and a lower house called the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer). The Parliament scrutinises the government and it is responsible for enacting legislation. Legislation only comes into force after it has been passed by both chambers of the Parliament. The government and individual ministers are accountable to the Parliament (and in practice to the House of Representatives). Ministers cannot simultaneously be members of the Parliament.

The House of Representatives has 150 members elected every four years in direct elections under a proportional voting system. Its main duties are scrutinising the government and creating laws.

The Senate has 75 members elected every four years by the members of the twelve Provincial Councils. It can approve or reject bills but it cannot amend them.

The next elections to the House of Representatives will probably take place in 2016 and those to the Senate not later than three months after the next elections to the Provincial Councils.

The Constitution lays down that the ministers, and not the monarch, are responsible for acts of government. The Cabinet comprises the Prime Minister, the other Ministers and the State Secretaries. The Cabinet formulates, and is accountable for, the Government’s policies. The Prime Minister acts as the president of the Cabinet and chairs the weekly ‘Council of Ministers’. Currently Mark Rutte, the leader of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), is the Prime Minister, and his party together with the Labour Party (PvdA) forms the government.

The Constitution (Grondwet) (revised in 1983) contains:
→ fundamental rights:

  • freedom of expression;
  • the right to privacy;
  • the right to vote and to stand for election;
  • the right to equal treatment.

→ important rules on the organisation of the Dutch system of government, such as:

  • how the representatives of state institutions (such as the parliament, the government and the courts) are elected or appointed and what their duties and powers are;
  • how laws are created and how the Constitution itself can be amended;
  • how provinces and municipalities are governed.

The Constitution is subordinate to the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which regulates the constitutional relationship between the different states constituting the Kingdom, i.e. the Netherlands, Curaçao, Sint Maarten and Aruba.

To amend the Constitution, a two-thirds majority is required in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The Christian Democratic Appeal party was for a very long time the strongest political party in the Netherlands, but it lost its dominant position in the 1990s. The current Dutch political scene is dominated by its two biggest political parties:

  • People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) — member of the ALDE group;
  • Labour Party (PvdA) — member of the S&D group.

Other important political parties are:

  • Socialist Party (SP) — member of the GUE/NGL group;
  • Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) — member of the EPP group;
  • Democrats 66 (D66) — member of the ALDE group;
  • Party for Freedom (PVV) — Non-attached;
  • Christian Union (CU) — member of the ECR group;
  • Green Left (GL) — member of the Greens/EFA group;
  • Reformed Political Party (SGP) — member of the ECR group;
  • Party for the Animals — member of the GUE/NGL group.

The Netherlands was one of the six founding members of the European Communities and one of the eleven founding members of the Eurozone. It is also a member of NATO, the OECD and the WTO. The Netherlands is the host of the International Court of Justice, Europol, Eurojust and many other international organisations.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/540-353
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