The Netherlands

   

Executive Accountability

#15
Key Findings
With generally good oversight mechanisms, the Netherlands falls into the middle ranks (rank 15) with respect to executive accountability. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.1 point since 2014.

Parliamentarians have only modest resources, though executive-oversight powers are adequate. New parliamentary investigation formats are being explored. Staff cuts at the independent Court of Audit have required frequent research outsourcing. The ombuds office helps citizens who are experiencing bureaucratic difficulties.

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. A broad range of interest groups provided detailed memos and proposals during the 2017 cabinet-formation process.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#15

To what extent are citizens informed of government policymaking?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of government policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual government policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of government policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of government policies.
Policy Knowledge
6
Dutch citizens claim to spend slightly more time than the average European citizen on collecting political information. Nevertheless, the broader public does not seem to be well-informed on a wide range of government policies. This is due not to a lack of information, but many people find political information complicated and/or uninteresting, they often do not pay attention to it. The Netherlands Institute for Social Research (Sociaal-Cultureel Planbureau, SCP) found in a 2012 survey that 28% of respondents thought politics was too complicated for them to understand, while 60% thought it was too complex for most others. Verhoeven distinguishes four types of citizens regarding their degree of political involvement: “wait-and-see” citizens (25%), impartial citizens (17%), dependent citizens (23%) and active citizens (35%).

An exceptional case of active citizenship was the Manifesto Focus on Care for the Elderly (“Scherp op ouderenzorg”), which gained more than 100,000 signatures and later became a model for numerous professional stakeholder organizations that wanted to influence the cabinet formation in the second half of 2017. Research by Bovens and Wille found that differences in education levels have become increasingly salient factors when it comes to citizens’ powers in processing policy information, political judgments about the European Union, issues of immigration and integration, and political leadership.

The SCP recently found that Dutch citizens split evenly over the issue of more or less direct influence by citizens. It is the less educated who demand more political influence, whereas higher educated citizens, especially those with tertiary qualifications, do not support the idea. A recent study into citizen attitudes to the European Union, undertaken by TNS/Kantar Nipo and commissioned by the Green-Left party, found that Dutch citizens are caught in a dependence-cum-distrust situation: they instinctively distrust the European Union and would resist transferring more national powers to the EU-level, but simultaneously believe that the European Union should have greater influence over most policy domains.

Citations:
Rob-RFv, Vertrouwen op democratie, Den Haag, 2010.

Verhoeven, Burgers tegen beleid: een analyse van dynamiek in politieke betrokkenheid, dissertatie, UvA, 2009.

M. Bovens, and A. Wille, 2011. Diplomademocratie. Over spanningen tussen meritocratie en democratie, Bert Bakker

Continu Onderzoek Burgerperspectieven, Burgerperspectieven 2014/3 (www.scp.nl, consulted 27 October 2014)

SCP, Continu Onderzoek Burgerperspectieven, Burgerperspectieven 2017|1 (scp.nl., consulted 3 November 2017)

Hugo Borst and Carin Geamers, “Manifest :Scherp op ouderenzorg,” 24 October 2016 (scheropouderenzorg.nl, consulted 3 November 2017)

NRC-Handelsblad, Nederlandse kiezer wil meer en mínder Europe tegelijk, 20 October 2016

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#18

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
7
A comprehensive study on the information exchange between the States General and government in the Netherlands over the past 25 years concludes: “In a mature democracy the primacy of information provision to parliament ought to be in the hands of parliament itself; but in the Netherlands in 2010 de jure and de facto this is hardly the case. … De facto the information arena in which the cabinet and the parliament operate is largely defined and controlled by the cabinet.” This state of affairs reflects the necessity of forming government coalitions supported by the majority of the States General. As an institution, the States General is not necessarily a unified actor.

Moreover, the States General’s institutional resources are modest. Dutch members of parliament in large parliamentary factions have one staffer each, while MPs of smaller factions share just a few staffers. MPs of coalition parties are usually better informed than opposition MPs. MPs do have the right to summon and interrogate ministers, although the quality of the question-and-answer game is typified as: “Posing the right questions is an art; getting correct answers is grace.” Oversight and control in the Dutch States General is the prerogative of the departmentally organized permanent parliamentary committees, usually composed of MPs with close affinity to the policy issues of the department involved. The small Parliamentary Bureau for Research and Public Expenditure does not produce independent research, but provides assistance to the parliament.

Policy and program evaluations are conducted by the departments themselves, or by the General Audit Chamber (which has more information-gathering powers than the States General). Another more standardized mechanism is the annual Accountability Day, when the government reports on its policy achievements over the last year. Direct day-to-day contacts with officials are fuzzy and unsatisfactory due to the nature and interpretation of guidelines, and formal hearings between MPs and departmental officials are extremely rare. MPs can ask officials to testify under oath only in the case of formal parliamentary surveys or investigations, but this is considered an extraordinarily time-consuming instrument and is used only in exceptional cases.

At present, MPs are exploring the possibility of creating a so-called light parliamentary investigation as a less time-consuming format that is somewhere between a hearing and an investigation. Formally, the States General may use the expertise of a governmental advisory body, but this process is closely supervised by the minister under whose departmental responsibility the respective advisory body functions. Only the Rathenau Institute (for scientific and technological issues) works exclusively for the States General.

Citations:
Guido Enthoven (2011), Hoe vertellen we het de Kamer? Een empirisch onderzoek naar de informatierelatie tussen regering en parlement, Eburon

http://www.houseofrepresentatives.nl/administration/organization-chart/parliamentary-bureau-research-and-public-expenditure

Parlementaire enquêtes (tweede kamer.nl, consulted 10 November 2016)

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not ask for government documents.
Obtaining Documents
6
The government has to provide correct information to the States General (according to Article 68 of the constitution). However, this is often done somewhat defensively, in order to protect “ministerial responsibility to parliament” and a “free consultative sphere” with regard to executive communications. Providing the States General with internal memos, policy briefs (e.g., on alternative policy options), interdepartmental policy notes or advice from external consultants is viewed as infringing on the policy “intimacy” necessary for government-wide policy coordination, as well as on the state’s interests. As political scientist Hans Daalder has noted: “In practice, it is the ministers that decide on the provision of information requested.”

Citations:
Guido Enthoven (2011), Hoe vertellen we het de Kamer? Een empirisch onderzoek naar de informatierelatie tussen regering en parlement, Eburon

R.B. Andeweg & G.A. Irwin (2014), Governance and Politics of the Netherlands. Houndmills, Basingstoke: 174-182.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
9
Parliamentary committees may invite ministers to provide testimony or answer questions. Outright refusal to answer such a request occurs only rarely. Nevertheless, ministers often do not answer the questions in a forthright manner. Every week, parliamentarians have the opportunity to summon ministers and pose a seemingly unlimited number of questions.

Citations:
R.B. Andeweg & G.A. Irwin (2014), Governance and Politics of the Netherlands. Houndmills, Basingstoke: 174-182.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
9
Parliamentary committees can and often do invite experts to answer questions, or to facilitate the parliamentarian committee members in asking questions and interpreting the answers. Limited finances are usually the only real constraint on the number of experts summoned.

Citations:
R.B. Andeweg & G.A. Irwin (2014), Governance and Politics of the Netherlands. Houndmills, Basingstoke: 163-174.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
9
Under the present government, there are 11 ministries and 12 (fixed) parliamentary committees (vaste kamercommissies). Only the prime minister’s Department of General Affairs lacks an analogous dedicated parliamentary committee. There are also fixed committees for interdepartmental policymaking on aggregate government expenditure, European affairs and foreign trade, and development aid. Parliamentary committees usually have 25 members, representing all political parties with seats in the States General; they specialize in the policy issues of their dedicated departments and inform their peers (i.e., tell them how to vote as part of the party voting-discipline system). There are approximately 1,700 public and non-public committee meetings per year.

Citations:
Commissies (tweedekamer.nl, consulted 6 November 2014)

To what extent is the audit office accountable to the parliament?

10
 9

The audit office is accountable to the parliament exclusively.
 8
 7
 6


The audit office is accountable primarily to the parliament.
 5
 4
 3


The audit office is not accountable to the parliament, but has to report regularly to the parliament.
 2
 1

The audit office is governed by the executive.
Audit Office
7
The Netherlands’ General Audit Chamber is the independent organ that audits the legality, effectiveness and efficiency of the national government’s spending. The court reports to the States General and government, and its members are recommended by the States General and appointed by the Council of Ministers. Parliament frequently consults with this institution and in many cases this leads to investigations. Investigations may also be initiated by ministers or deputy ministers. However, such requests are not formal due to the independent status of the General Audit Chamber. Requests by citizens are also taken into account. Every year, the chamber checks the financial evaluations of the ministries. Chamber reports are publicly accessible and can be found online and as parliamentary publications (Kamerstuk). Through unfortunate timing in view of (more) important political developments, in recent years such evaluations played only a minor role in parliamentary debates and government accountability problems. By selecting key issues in each departmental domain, the General Audit Chamber hopes to improve its efficacy. In addition, there is an evident trend within the chamber to shift the focus of audits and policy evaluations from “oversight” to “insight.” In other words, the chamber is shifting from ex post accountability to ongoing policy-oriented learning. Unfortunately, this has been accompanied by a substantial reduction in resources for the Audit Chamber, resulting in a loss of 40 full-time employees and the need to outsource research frequently.

Citations:
http://www.rekenkamer.nl/Over_de_Algemene_Rekenkamer

P. Koning, Van toezicht naar inzicht, Beleidsonderzoek Online, July 2015

Algemene Rekenkamer, Een toekomstbestendige Algemene Rekenkamer, 13 October 2016 (rekenkamer.nl, consulted 10 November 2016)

Algemene Rekenkamer, Ambtelijke baas Algemene Rekenkamer naar Authorities Financiële Mededinging, Nieuwbericht 28 August 2017

Does the parliament have an ombuds office?

10
 9

The parliament has an effective ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

The parliament does not have an ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
8
The National Ombudsman is a “high council of state” on a par with the two houses of the States General, the Council of State and the Netherlands General Audit Chamber. Like the judiciary, the high councils of state are formally independent of the government. The National Ombudsman’s independence from the executive is increased by his/her appointment by the States General (specifically by the Second Chamber or Tweede Kamer). The appointment is for a term of six years, and reappointment is permitted. Recently, irked by the critical attitude of the former ombudsman, parliament made a series of stumbles, first by nominating a former interest-group leader to the post, who resigned after much public criticism; then 13 months passed before the present ombudsman, a renowned judge, formally took over. The National Ombudsman was established to give individual citizens an opportunity to file complaints about the practices of government before an independent and expert body. Where the government is concerned, it is important to note that the National Ombudsman’s decisions are not legally enforceable. The ombudsman publishes his or her conclusions in annual reports. The ombudsman’s tasks are shifting toward providing concrete assistance to citizens that – due to debts and poverty, digitization and other problems with access to government regulation – have lost their way in the bureaucratic process.

Citations:
De Nationale Ombudsman, Mijn onbegrijpelijke overheid. Verslag van de Nationale ombudsman over 2012.

De Nationale Ombudsman, Persoonlijk…of niet? Digitaal…of niet? (jaarverslag.nationaleombudsman.nl, con sulted 6 Novermber 2014)

http://www.nationaleombudsman.nl/?gclid=CMPv8vGltrcCFclZ3godZH0AkQ

Jaarverslag Nationale Ombudsman, 2016 (Nationale ombudsman, consulted 12 October 2017)

Media

#17

To what extent do media provide substantive in-depth information on decision-making by the government?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
7
In the digital sphere, viewers and consumers clearly have more choices. The past decade has seen a large expansion of digital radio and television programming. This has resulted in a richer supply of broadcasters, bundled in so-called “plus packages” for viewers, which serve their own target groups with theme-specific broadcasts.

Dutch public television and radio stations produce high-quality information programs analyzing government decisions on a daily basis. Of the 13 national public broadcasters in the Netherlands, eight may be said to consider it their task to inform the public about governmental affairs and decision-making. The main public TV news channel, NPO, is required to provide 15 hours of reporting on political issues every week. On the radio, the First Channel is primarily tasked with providing information. In recent years, the outreach of the First Channel within society has been decreasing. This is not surprising since new media (i.e., the internet) have grown at the expense of more traditional media and are becoming more influential in the provision of news. NPO broadcasts Politiek 24, a digital television channel on the internet that contains live streams of public debates, analyses, background information and a daily political show. As noted under the “Media Freedom” section, recent policy has pushed for a merger between public media organizations, as well as for limiting their broadcasts to issues of information and culture, leaving entertainment largely to commercial media.

In 2015, a majority of Dutch citizens (55%) still read a newspaper or listen to the radio every day. Newspaper readers are to be found increasingly among the older and more highly educated population segment; digital subscriptions are on the rise. Younger people actually spend more time listening, watching and communicating on online platforms than older people. Social media platforms have become sources of news, even for journalists. Regional and local newspapers in particular are experiencing severe financial troubles, leading to strong consolidation and concentration tendencies, and a significant increase in one-paper and even no-paper cities. The internet is used daily by 86% of Dutch citizens.

The Commissariat for the Media, tasked with monitoring the diversity and accuracy of media information about government and public policy issues, has expressed concern about the fragmentation of information sources and the “news snacking” habits of media audiences. This fragmentation, continuing commercialization and “infotainment” may have resulted in a situation where media-logic disregards its social and political responsibility to timely and accurately inform citizens about governmental and public affairs.

Citations:
Raad voor Cultuur, Advies Meerjarenbegroting 2009-2013 Nederlandse publieke omroep. Politici en journalisten willen te vaak scoren.

Media monitor, Jaarverslag 2015 (mediamonitor.nl, consulted 10 November 2016)

Commissariaat voor de Media, 15 jaar Mediamonitor, 20 July, 2017 (mediamonitor.nl, consulted 3 November 2017)

Parties and Interest Associations

#14

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Democracy
4
The dominant political view is that government interference in private organizations like political parties is incompatible with the role of the state in a liberal democracy. A law for internal party democracy is appropriate for countries with a history of non-democratic governance (e.g., Germany, some states in southern Europe, and in central and eastern Europe). However, in the Netherlands with its strong democratic tradition, it is considered superfluous.

Political party membership reached an all-time low of 285,851 (less than 3% of the electorate). Approximately 10% of this group is considered active. In all recent major political parties, political professionals now dominate decision-making with regard to candidate lists and agendas, and the selection of party leaders.

Citations:
R.B. Andeweg and G.A. Irwin (2014), Governance and Politics of The Netherlands. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan: 80-95

Montequieu Instituut, Er moet in Nederland, net als in Duitsland, een ‘Parteiengesetz’ komen, december 2012 (montesquieu-instituut.nl)

Gezamenlijk ledenaantal politieke partijen naar dieptepunt, Documentatiecentrum Nederlandse Politieke Partijen, 2016

To what extent are economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Business)
8
For a long time, there was no lobbying culture in the Netherlands in the usual sense. Instead, prominent members of labor unions and business associations are regular members of high-level informal networks that also include high-level civil servants and politicians. Members of these networks discuss labor and other important socioeconomic policy issues. These processes have become institutionalized. For instance, there are tripartite negotiations in which employers, employees and the government are fixed discussion partners in the early stages of decision-making regarding labor issues. A similar process takes place for regular negotiations with economic-interest associations. The analytic capacities of business and labor associations are well-developed.

However, this state of affairs has changed somewhat in recent years. There is now a Professional Association for Public Affairs (BVPA) that boasts 600 members (four times the number of parliamentarians) and a special public-affairs professorship at Leiden University. The professionalization of lobbying is said to be necessary in order to curb unethical practices such as the creation of foundations or crowdsourcing initiatives as a means of pursuing business interests. The “quiet politics” (Culpepper) of business lobbying through organizations such as the Commissie Tabaksblat and the Amsterdam (later Holland) Financial Center (Engelen) have proven quite successful in influencing public policies on corporate governance and in easing regulation of the banking and financial sector.

During the cabinet formation process from April to October 2017, the negotiators on behalf of the involved political parties were inundated with policy memos and proposals from a wide-range of civil society organizations, economic interest groups and business associations prominent among them.

Citations:
NRC Handelsblad 16 April 2011, De trouwe hulptroepen van Mark Rutte

NRC Handelsblad, 27 september 2014, Hoe de lobbywereld zijn ‘prutsers en slechterikken’ ongemoeid laat

P.D. Culpepper, 2010. Quiet Politics and Business Power. Corporate Control in Europe and Japan, Cambridge University Press

E. Engelen, 2014. Der schaduwelite voor en na de crisis. Niets geleerd, niets vergeten, Amsterdam University Press

Otjes and Rasmussen, Trade Unions and the Decline of Social Democracy, Social Europe, 5 June 2017

NRC-Handelsblad, ‘Wie kent wie in zakelijk Nederland,” 4 September 2017

NRC-Handelsblad, Het gebroken Nederland dat in 2017 op Den Haag afkomt, 5 November 2016

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
8
Policymaking in the Netherlands has a strong neo-corporatist (“poldering”) tradition that systematically involves all kinds of interest associations – not just business and labor – in the early stages of the policymaking process. Owing to their well-established positions, associations such as the consumer association, all kinds of environmental NGOs, religious associations, municipal (Vereniging voor Nederlandse Gemeenten) and provincial interests (InterProvinciaal Overleg), and medical and other professional associations (e.g., teachers, universities, legal professions) can influence policymaking through the existing consensus-seeking structures. Trade-offs are actively negotiated with ministries, other involved governments, stakeholder organizations and even NGOs. Furthermore, non-economic interest organizations react to policy proposals by ministries and have a role in amending and changing the proposals in the early stages of the policymaking process. They may also become involved at a later stage, as policies are implemented.

During the cabinet formation process from April to October 2017, many non-economic associations – representing the arts, education, the elderly and the care sector – inundated negotiators with policy memos and demands. For example, the citizen initiative led by Hugo Borst and Carin Greamers contained 10 policy recommendations, and was later underwritten by practically all relevant stakeholder associations and received support in parliament.

Citations:
F. Hendriks and Th. Toonen (eds), Schikken plooien. De stroperige staat bij nader inzien, Assen, Van Gorcum, 1998

J. Woldendorp, The Polder Model: From Disease to Miracle? Dutch Neo-Corporatism 1965-2000, Free University Amsterdam, 2005

Woldendorp, J.J. (2014). Blijvend succes voor het poldermodel? Hoe een klein land met een kleine economie probeert te overleven op de wereldmarkt. In F.H. Becker & M. Hurenkamp (Eds.), De gelukkige onderneming. Arbeidsverhoudingen voor de 21ste eeuw (Jaarboek voor de sociaal-democratie, 2014) (pp. 211-227). Amsterdam: Wiardi Beckman Stichting/Uitgeverij Van Gennep.

Actiz, Oproep Agenda voor Zorg aan het nieuwe kabinet:investeer in vernieuwende zorg? (acts.nl, consulted 3 November 2017)

Hugo Borst and Carin Geamers, “Manifest :Scherp op ouderenzorg,” (scheropouderenzorg.nl, consulted 3 November 2017)
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