In the Netherlands, political power is divided between several different authorities. The central Dutch government is the key player in the running of the Netherlands. However, municipalities, water boards and even King Willem Alexander himself have a part to play in Dutch politics. We will give you a concise rundown of how the Dutch Political system works on this page. Read on to find out how you, as an expat, can vote or stand for election, in order to have your say too!

Levels of Government in NL

The Netherlands is actually run by four authoritative bodies. The central Dutch government takes care of matters of national interest. We will go into this in more detail later. Holland also has the following governing establishments:

  1. A provincial government

The provincial government deals with:

  • Social work
  • Cultural affairs
  • Environmental management
  • Spatial planning
  • Energy
  • Sports

2. Municipal governments 

The municipal governments occupy themselves with:

  1. Water boards

The water boards manage:

  • Sewage treatment
  • Waterways
  • Water barriers
  • Water quality
  • Water levels

Central Dutch Government

A Monarchical Government

The central Dutch government is the major political institution in the Netherlands. It is a ‘monarchical’ government, which means that:

  • It is not made up of only ministers and state secretaries
  • The reigning Dutch monarch, King Willem-Alexander, is part of the government too
  • Therefore, the Dutch government can also be described as a ‘constitutional monarchy’, with a parliamentary system
  • This means that the constitution determines how political power should be divided between the monarch and the other governmental institutions in the Netherlands

Here are some example of how power is distributed:

  • Dutch Parliament holds certain rights, which allow them to check the power of the government
  • Ministers are accountable to Parliament
  • The King is not accountable to Parliament. However, he has no political responsibility

The King and Dutch politics

  • The Dutch King is in a strange political position
  • Since 1848 the ministers, rather than the King, have been responsible for acts of Parliament in the Netherlands
  • The ministers are responsible for everything he does or says
  • He, the Queen and their princesses cannot make any public statements without first consulting the Prime Minister

The Dutch Political Cabinet

The Dutch Cabinet’s responsibilities are:

  • Preparing and implementing legislation
  • Overseeing local governments
  • Carrying out day-to-day government business
  • Maintaining international relations

The Dutch Parliament

The Dutch Parliament is called the ‘Staten Generaal‘.  Because The Netherlands has a ‘representative democracy’ it is made up of two chambers:

  1. The Upper House: ‘Eerste Kamer
  • The Upper House is made up of 75 members
  • They are elected by the members of the provincial councils

2. The Lower House: ‘Tweede Kamer‘ 

  • 150 members make up this House
  • They are elected directly by the people

The two Houses of Parliament have been given four rights. They each have the right:

  • Of inquiry
  • Of interpellation
  • To set a budget
  • To put questions before the ministers and state secretaries

The Lower House has been given two further rights:

  1. Of amendment
  2. To propose legislation

Political Parties in NL

There are 10 long and well-established political parties in the Netherlands. Traditionally, the three most dominant are:

  1. The PvdA: The Dutch Labor Party

This social democratic party has its roots in the trade union movement

2. The CDA: The Christian Democrats

A merger of three confessional parties. The CDA bases its ideas on religious principles

3. The VVD: The Dutch Liberals

In the 21st century, Dutch voters have become more diverse. This is partly due to the rise of populist politicians. However, the current parliament is more right-wing than the previous one.

Smaller Political Parties in NL

There are also several smaller parties in the Netherlands. Their popularity waxes and wanes in accordance with the political climate in the country, at any given time. Some examples of smaller parties are:

  • The D66: A progressive liberal party
  • GroenLinks
  • SGP and ChristenUnie: These are findamentalist Protestant parties
  • PvdD: The Party for Animals

Forming a Cabinet in NL

Because there are so many political parties in the Netherlands, there are numerous coalition possibilities. How is a coalition formed after election?

  • Several months generally pass after the elections, during which extensive deliberations take place
  • Eventually, a cabinet is formed
  • The cabinet should have a program to which most members of Parliament can give their approval
  • In the meantime, the Prime Minister tends to the resignation of the former cabinet
  • The King ‘answers’ this action, by requesting that the old cabinet stay on until there is a new one in place
  • After the cabinet’s resignation, the incumbent ministers continue to run the country until the new cabinet is formed
  • Decisions that might lead to extensive discussions in Parliament are delayed until the new cabinet is in power

Voting in NL

If you are an EU citizen:

  • You are allowed to vote in municipal elections, under the same conditions as Dutch nationals
  • This means that you must be at least 18 years of age on the day of the election
  • You must also be a resident of a particular municipality on the day the candidates are nominated

You are also allowed to vote in elections for the European Parliament provided that:

  • You do not vote in the same election in your home country
  • You are 18 years of age or older
  • You are not disqualified from voting in the Netherlands or your home country

If you are a non-EU national:

  • You may vote under the same conditions
  • You must have also been a legal resident of the Netherlands for a continuous period of at least five years

For any expat to vote for the Waterboards, he or she must:

  • Be living in a ‘watership’
  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have Dutch or EU nationality
  • Or if he or she is of another nationality, he or she must be a legal resident of the Netherlands

Side Note

  • Only those of Dutch nationality may vote in the Provincial States-elections and for the Second Chamber of the Parliament
  • For more information on whether you can be considered a legal resident for voting purposes, contact the Dutch Ministry of Home Affairs
  • If you are a member of consular or diplomatic staff then neither you, your spouse/partner nor your children may vote in the Netherlands
  • Every four years, the inhabitants of Dutch cities and towns vote for their municipal council
  • The smallest councils have 9 members, the largest 45

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