With a king and a prime minister, Dutch politics can seem quite complicated. The Dutch political system can be seen within the framework of a constitutional monarchy, a parliamentary representative democracy, and a decentralised unitary state.
The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy, which means that the Dutch monarch’s powers are regulated by the Constitution of the Netherlands. The parliament is the highest political body; the monarch is subordinate to the will of the parliament. The Constitution is the bedrock of the Dutch political system.
The Netherlands is a parliamentary democracy. Normally once every 4 years the Dutch citizens entitled to vote (Dutch nationals aged 18 or over) elect the people who will represent them in Parliament. Dutch parliament is called the States-General. This legislature consists of 2 chambers: The House of Representatives (Second Chamber) and the Senate (First Chamber). The House of Representatives plays a far more prominent role in the Dutch political process than the Senate.
The elections are the basis of democracy. During these elections, the Dutch can vote for several political parties. The 3 main groups – the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals – have been alternately represented in various governments for many decades. However, many smaller-sized parties have also been founded over the years, some of which have even taken part in Cabinets to secure a parliamentary majority for the government coalition.
Decentralised unitary state
The Netherlands has 3 layers of government: a local, a regional and a national level of government.
- Local government in the Netherlands consists of more than 350 municipalities. Although they deal solely with their own citizens (on whose behalf they handle a great many duties), in financial terms they are heavily dependent on the central government.
- Regional government in the Netherlands is formed by 12 provinces. The provinces handle a number of duties, ranging from environmental management to the supervision of public transport services.
- According to the Constitution, national government is made up of the King and the ministers. These ministers all bear ministerial responsibility. A special role has been given to the Prime Minister, as de facto head of the government.