The Netherlands


Policy Performance


Economic Policies

With recession finally well behind it, the Netherlands receives a high overall ranking (rank 7) for its economic policies. Its score on this measure has gained 0.4 points relative to 2014.

Following a long period of recession, economic activity, exports, consumption, investment and employment are all up, while interest and inflation rates are low. Unemployment rates are moderate to low. Labor-market weaknesses include low employment rates among migrants and a growing dual labor market separating secure from precarious jobs.

The progressive income-tax system balances equity and competitiveness well, though ad hoc crisis-era measures have led to more unequal treatment. A plan for further simplification has been delayed. Tax scandals are forcing changes in policies that offer foreign companies favorable tax teals. Budget deficits have declined, while public debt is decreasing slightly from moderately high levels.

Austerity measures are expected to be reintroduced after the 2017 elections. The country’s role in shaping international financial policy has diminished in recent years. The R&D sector is strong.

Social Policies

With a generally effective policy approach, the Netherlands scores well (rank 12) with regard to social policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.3 points relative to 2014.

Education attainment levels and test scores are above the OECD average, though access problems for some ethnic groups are a concern. A new core primary and secondary curriculum is being developed. The risk of poverty is very low in cross-EU comparison. The hybrid health care system is very costly by international standards, but does not have comparably good outcomes.

The government provides child benefits and maternal leave, but only two days of paternal leave. Day care is not subsidized, and is becoming a luxury item. Most women in the workforce work part-time, in part due to tax-system disincentives. Average incomes among women are much lower than among men.

While the pension system is generally strong, a comprehensive reform is underway. With a large immigrant population, the country has a well-developed integration policy, though unemployment rates among non-Western migrants are high.

Environmental Policies

Showing declining public interest in environmental policy, the Netherlands falls into the middle ranks internationally (rank 20) with regard to environmental policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.3 points since 2014.

The country’s population has shown a decreasing sensitivity to environmental issues. However, some new activity has been seen following the Paris accords. A climate change bill with legally binding long-term goal for CO2 emissions is being developed, along with a climate authority. Actual political commitment is unlikely until after the 2017 elections.

Natural-gas reserves are diminishing quickly, with earthquakes and soil subsidence damaging homes where the reserves are located. In general, the government has given GDP growth and job creation priority over environmental and social-sustainability criteria.

The government actively supports EU efforts in the development and advancement of global environmental regimes.



Quality of Democracy

With free and transparent electoral procedures, the Netherlands falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 17) with respect to democratic quality. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

Political parties are largely funded through membership contributions and government subsidies. Oversight rules contain some loopholes. Non-binding referendums are allowed, and a new municipal movement is integrating citizen voices into “citizen pacts” that guide policymaking. A new media law reorganizing and changing the mandate of public-media broadcasters remains controversial.

Civil rights are generally protected, but privacy concerns have emerged, and the treatment of asylum seekers has been criticized. Non-discrimination provisions are robust. Politicians’ growing tendency to prioritize political decision-making over judicial oversight has raised concerns regarding declining respect for the rule of law.

Though corruption is not perceived as a significant problem, scandals have periodically emerged. A new law protecting whistleblowers is considered largely symbolic by experts.



Executive Capacity

With a comparatively weak Prime Minister’s Office, the Netherlands falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 26) in the area of executive capacity. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

The Prime Minister’s Office coordinates policy, but has limited capacity to evaluate proposals. Several independent strategic-planning units wield varying influence. Coalition politics leads government parties to support each other’s priorities without rigorous analysis.

The civil service has been cut over the past decade, losing substantive expertise. RIAs are broadly and effectively applied. The government’s revival of a neocorporatist mode of interest-group consultation has contributed to the emergence of a network of professional lobbyists.

Despite successes on the economic front, the government postponed a number of key issues that its successor will have to address. The monitoring capacities of the General Audit Chambers have been reduced through staff cuts. The prime minister played a leading role in negotiating with Turkey on the refugee crisis, and in Europe’s reaction to Brexit.

Executive Accountability

With generally good oversight mechanisms, the Netherlands falls into the middle ranks (rank 20) with respect to executive accountability. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.2 points since 2014.

Parliamentarians have only modest resources, though executive-oversight powers are adequate. Parliamentary investigations have become more common, with new formats being explored. Staff cuts at the independent Court of Audit have required some research outsourcing. A dispute between ombudsmen recently tarnished the office’s public image.

Citizens are often not well informed about government policies, despite above-average media consumption and a public-media sector that produces high-quality policy programming. Education differences are increasingly associated with ability to process political information. Digital radio and TV broadcasts have significantly expanded consumer choice, while young people default to online sources.

Political-party decision-making is centralized. While labor unions and business associations are formally integrated into government policymaking, professionalized lobbying has also taken hold. Other interest groups are also routinely consulted.
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