At first glance, Dutch politics may look complicated. There is a king, but the Netherlands is also a democracy. The Dutch system of government includes a prime minister and a parliament, coalitions with a lot of political parties, and different levels of government. To help you better understand how decisions are made in the Netherlands, here is a breakdown of how Dutch politics works.
The Dutch monarchy has existed for hundreds of years, and the country still has a king: Willem-Alexander. Technically, the king is the official head of state. However, the Netherlands has been a constitutional monarchy since 1815. This means that the parliament makes political decisions, and the king’s role is mostly ceremonial. The constitution is one of the most important documents in the country, and one of the oldest in the world.
Parliament and Government
At the same time, the Netherlands is also a parliamentary democracy. This means that the system of government is made by electing a group of representatives: the parliament, or Staten-Generaal. The parliament has two chambers or kamers: the senate (Eerste Kamer) and the house of representatives (Tweede Kamer), which has much more power.
Within that parliament, the ruling government is made up of a Prime Minister, as well as a Cabinet of Ministers and State Secretaries. These people decide the government's policies for four years. But it is the Dutch people who choose their government. Every four years, a national election takes place to decide which parties will take the parliament's 150 seats.
Voting and Political Parties
Usually, these seats are taken by many different parties. The Netherlands has a multi-party system, meaning that there are a lot of different groups to choose from, often with very similar names! Traditionally, three parties have received the most votes: the VVD (Liberals), the CDA (Christian Democrats) and the PvdA (Labour). However, there are many other smaller parties, and in recent elections, some of these have become even more popular than the traditional ones. This means that governments are usually made up of coalitions between the major parties and others.
National elections take place every four years, when Dutch nationals over 18 can vote for their preferred political party. However, there are also elections for the European Parliament, the provinces and the municipalities. You don’t need to be a Dutch citizen to vote in the municipal elections if you. EU citizens are eligible to vote as long as they are a resident in the Netherlands. Residents without EU citizenship are eligible to vote if they have resided legally and continuously in the Netherlands for five years or longer. For the European elections, EU nationals can choose if they want to vote in their country of origin or in the Netherlands.
Different Levels of Government
As these different elections show, there are also different levels to the Dutch system of government: national, regional and local.
The largest level is the national government, with the Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers making important decisions for the whole country.
However, regional decisions are also made by the Netherlands' 12 provinces. These decide on matters including the environment and public transport.
Finally, local government takes place across the almost 350 municipalities in the Netherlands, including The Hague. The central government still influences how much money these municipalities have to spend, but local decisions are made by a mayor and local councillors – also from a number of different political parties. Read about other ways to get more directly involved in politics on the Dutch government website.
Interested to find out more about politics in the Netherlands? Read more about the different elections in the Netherlands, including the European elections. Consider joining a community group or women's initiative to meet with other international residents in your area or across the country.