The Netherlands


Policy Performance


Economic Policies

Buoyed by years of stable growth, the Netherlands falls into the top ranks internationally (rank 4) for its economic policies. Its score on this measure has gained 0.7 points relative to 2014.

The Dutch economy has grown steadily and robustly in recent years. Unemployment rates are low and falling, although youth unemployment remains somewhat of a concern. Business dynamism is strong, while infrastructure, labor-force skills levels, produce-market efficiency and innovation capabilities are all areas for potential improvement

The labor market has shown an increasingly two-tier nature, with young people often in “flexible” jobs that lack employment protections. Real wages have been flat despite the economic growth. A general tax reform has focused on a two-bracket income tax, aimed at benefited middle-income employees. The lower VAT rate is being increased, and corporate taxes reduced.

The government has posted small budgetary surpluses for a number of years. State debt has declined to less than 50% of GDP. While long-term budget sustainability remains questionable, debate has shifted toward investment in business environment improvements.

Social Policies

With a generally effective policy approach, the Netherlands falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 14) with regard to social policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.6 points relative to 2014.

While education attainment levels are high, socioeconomic and parent’s attainments are increasingly predictive of students’ achievements. Study grants for tertiary students have been abolished and replaced by loans. The risk of poverty is very low in cross-EU comparison. The hybrid health care system is very costly by international standards, with satisfactory outcomes.

The government provides child benefits and maternal leave. Plans to expand parental leave, including paternal leave are ongoing. Day care is not subsidized, and is becoming a luxury item. Full-time work for women is discouraged in part by tax-system disincentives, as well as by unfavorable school times and a child-care system geared toward part-time work.

While the pension system is generally strong, a comprehensive reform has stalled. With a large immigrant population, the country has a well-developed integration policy. Anti-immigration parties gained seats in the 2017 election. Concerns are rising regarding the infiltration of organized crime into local politics and business settings.

Environmental Policies

With a growing focus on climate-change and climate-adaptation policy, the Netherlands falls into the middle ranks internationally (rank 19) with regard to environmental policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.1 point since 2014.

The new government has a strong rhetorical commitment to green policy, but tangible results have been slow to emerge. A new climate agreement is being negotiated, and a court has ruled that the government’s failure to reduce CO2 emissions significant violates its human rights obligations.

Earthquake concerns have led to a decision to stop natural-gas production by 2030, and phase out household gas use by 2050. Sustainable agriculture is increasing as a public concern. Air and surface-water quality is poor in large part due to intensive farming and traffic congestion.

The government actively supports EU efforts in the development and advancement of global environmental regimes. Domestically, climate adaptation has taken priority over structural reforms.



Quality of Democracy

With free and transparent electoral procedures, the Netherlands falls into the middle of the pack (rank 18) with respect to democratic quality. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.4 points relative to 2014.

Political parties are largely funded through membership contributions and government subsidies. A commission has identified several aspect of the party-financing law that should be improved. Following several controversial campaigns that forced changes in laws, the government has discontinued the practice of “consultative” referendums

Civil rights are generally protected. Monitoring and surveillance technologies disproportionately target those on state support. A referendum forced the government to adjust a security-services act that allowed surveillance of private citizen communications. Anti-Muslim discrimination is a concern, leading to the creation of a political party appealing to second- and third-generation migrants.

Though corruption is not perceived as a significant problem, scandals involving top public-sector executives have emerged, and a growing number of police and customs officials have been prosecuted for aiding drug smugglers. An expensive effort to digitize routine judicial procedures largely failed, and legal experts argue that recent legislative practices have undermined rule-of-law protections.



Executive Capacity

With a comparatively weak Prime Minister’s Office, the Netherlands receives middling overall scores (rank 22) in the area of executive capacity. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.3 points relative to its 2014 level.

The Prime Minister’s Office coordinates policy, but has limited capacity to evaluate proposals. Several independent strategic-planning units wield varying degrees of influence. Proposals often stem from the government coalition agreements or EU policy coordination, with the Council of Ministers assigning drafting responsibility to line ministries. Informal coordination is critical during this process.

RIAs are broadly and effectively applied, with climate change increasingly as subject of sustainability reviews. Ex post reviews are common, but often flawed. The government’s revival of a neocorporatist mode of interest-group consultation has contributed to the emergence of a network of professional lobbyists.

Communication has become more difficult in an era of polarization, trolling and “fake news.” While the previous Rutte cabinet achieved a number of key goals, the current Rutte government has been slow to realize objectives. The more complex governing coalition has created substantial intercabinet tensions. A debate over the proper function of municipal governments is underway.

Executive Accountability

With generally good oversight mechanisms, the Netherlands falls into the middle ranks (rank 22) with respect to executive accountability. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.2 points relative to its 2014 level.

Parliamentarians have only modest resources, though executive-oversight powers are adequate. The government provides ample data about policies. 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, though civic-mobilization campaigns are relatively common. The public-media sector produces high-quality policy programming. 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. The neo-corporatist tradition systematically involves all kinds of associations in the policymaking process.
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