GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The present constitution--which dates from 1848 and has been amended several times, most recently in 1983--protects individual and political freedoms, including freedom of religion. Although church and state are separate, a few historical ties remain; the royal family belongs to the Dutch Reformed Church (Protestant). Freedom of speech also is protected.
The country's government is based on the principles of ministerial responsibility and parliamentary government. The national government comprises three main institutions: the Monarch, the Council of Ministers, and the States General. There also are local governments.
The Council of State also serves as a channel of appeal for citizens against executive branch decisions.
States General (parliament). The Dutch parliament consists of two houses, the First Chamber (“Senate”) and the Second Chamber (“House of Representatives.”). Historically, Dutch governments have been based on the support of a majority in both houses of parliament. The Second Chamber is by far the more important of the two houses. It alone has the right to initiate legislation and amend bills submitted by the Council of Ministers. It shares with the First Chamber the right to question ministers and state secretaries.
The Second Chamber consists of 150 members, elected directly for a 4-year term--unless the government falls prematurely--on the basis of a nationwide system of proportional representation. This system means that members represent the whole country--rather than individual districts as in the United States--and are normally elected on a party slate, not on a personal basis. There is no threshold for small-party representation. Campaigns are relatively short, lasting usually about a month, and the election budgets of each party tend to be less than $2 million. The electoral system makes a coalition government almost inevitable. The last election of the Second Chamber was in June 2010.
The First Chamber is composed of 75 members elected for 4-year terms by the 12 provincial legislatures. It cannot initiate or amend legislation, but its approval of bills passed by the Second Chamber is required before bills become law. The First Chamber generally meets only once a week, and its members usually have other full-time jobs. The current First Chamber was elected following provincial elections in May 2007.
Current Government. General elections (of the Second Chamber) were held in June 2010. On October 14, 2010, a new minority government of the Liberal Party (VVD) and Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) was sworn in, headed by Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD). This government relies on parliamentary support from the Freedom Party (PVV). Given the consensus-based nature of Dutch politics, a change of government does not usually result in drastic changes in foreign or domestic policy. Descriptions of the four main parties follow.
The Liberal Party (VVD), which is considered “liberal” in the European rather than American sense, emerged from the June elections as the largest party with 31 seats, although with a slim margin. Considered the most conservative of the major parties, the Liberals attach great importance to private enterprise and the freedom of the individual in political, social, and economic affairs.
The second-place finisher in the June elections was the Labor Party (PvdA), with 30 seats. PvdA is a classic European social democratic party, which is left of center. Labor’s emphasis is economic equality for citizens, though the party has debated the role of the central government in that process. PvdA has no formal links...