Dutch Political System in a Nutshell Posted by sarah on Mar 22, 2010 in Dutch Language
One of the benefits of learning a foreign language is that once you do, you find yourself getting more involved in the culture than you could otherwise. Yes, many people in the Netherlands speak English on some level or another, but generally all the interesting Dutch stuff happens in Dutch. One of those interesting things is politics. And it is an interesting time to be in the Netherlands as we recently had the city hall elections, and will be holding the national elections on June 9th due to the fall of the cabinet earlier this year.
The Netherlands has a multiparty constitutional monarchy. That’s a mouthful! What it means is that there is a king or queen, currently Queen Beatrix. The monarch is limited in power by a parliament, a group of officials elected by the general public. The entire system is governed in compliance with a constitution, which sets out the ground rules for the system and the basic rights and privileges of the people.
The Dutch constitution dates from 1815 and has been revised a number of times since. The constitution includes a bill of rights which includes, among many other things, the right to vote, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, the right to counsel and the right to education. This document sets the guidelines for the parliamentary system, the judicial system, and the role of the monarchy.
The current monarch in the Netherlands is Queen Beatrix. The royal family are the descendants of William of Orange. The queen serves a few primary functions in government. She serves as an adviser to the cabinet and prime minister in the role of expert on how the government works. She provides continuity in government between elections and the time when a new coalition is formed. The Queen’s role is to appoint the person in charge of coordinating the process of forming a coalition government.
But mainly the role of the monarchy is in a very general sense to serve as a cultural icon for the Dutch, both at home and abroad. The royal family are invited to many international political functions, and serve as ambassadors for the Dutch people.
The parliament in the Netherlands consists of the First Chamber (Eerste Kamer) and the Second Chamber (Tweede Kamer). The Tweede Kamer is where all the action happens, and some people feel that perhaps the Eerste Kamer no longer fills much of a role in the government here. To be quite honest, I don’t really have a position on that issue, but perhaps some of you might.
The Tweede Kamer consists of the parties that were directly voted into position by the general public in the general elections. There are many parties in the Netherlands, and some parties have as few as one seat in parliament. After elections, a few parties get together that form a majority, set up a coalition and create a cabinet. They have to do this because if no one has a clear majority, it’s possible nothing will ever get done. It usually happens that the government is run by a coalition, though this is not a requirement.
The Tweede Kamer creates all new laws and policies, which is why it is the more exciting house of parliament. This is the place where all the parties duke it out to get laws passed. Sometimes the process can be hampered by the multiparty system -it can be slower, but other times the multiparty system allows for creative solutions to come forward -parliament members must think together and create a dynamic solution. There are pros and cons to everything.
The Eerste Kamer is, quite frankly, rather dull. This is a group of 75 representatives chosen by the provincial parliaments, not directly elected by the people. Their only power is to approve or disapprove of new laws. But the fact is, once a new law or policy has been given the go-ahead by the Tweede Kamer, it’s incredibly rare that the Eerste Kamer disapproves of the law. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but it’s pretty rare, making it a place where not much action takes place. They put the final seal of approval on a law, and that’s about it.
So there you have it, the Dutch political system in a nutshell. How does this differ from the political system in your own country? What do you think some of the pros and the cons are of this system? And now that you know how it all works, we can talk a little about who the people are that are running the government here. In my next blog I’ll give you an overview of the Dutch political parties, and try very hard to be as neutral as possible.