The Netherlands


Policy Performance


Economic Policies

With recession finally well behind it, 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.

After a long-term slump, the Dutch economy is now booming, with all conventional economic indicators above their long-term averages. Short-term challenges include the potential impact of Brexit, inadequate transport infrastructure and an emerging labor shortage.

Unemployment rates are 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 some inequality is masked by women working longer hours to fill in household incomes.

Budget deficits have declined to very low levels, while public debt is decreasing slightly from moderately high levels. Public debate has shifted away from austerity and toward investments in infrastructure and knowledge. 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 0.4 points relative to 2014.

While education attainment levels are high, socioeconomic and cultural background determine school performance to a comparatively high degree. 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, 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. 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 is underway. With a large immigrant population, the country has a well-developed integration policy. However, ethnic discrimination in the labor market is widespread, and the government has sought to discourage refugees from coming to the country.

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 0.2 points since 2014.

The country’s population has shown a decreasing sensitivity to environmental issues. While some increasing activity emerged following the Paris climate accord, there has been a clear shift toward climate adaptation rather than structural reforms.

Natural-gas reserves are diminishing quickly, with earthquakes and soil subsidence damaging homes where the reserves are located. Air and surface-water quality is worrisome 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.



Quality of Democracy

With free and transparent electoral procedures, the Netherlands falls into the middle of the pack (rank 20) 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. 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. Public hostility toward Muslims is an increasing concern. 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 involving top public-sector executives have emerged with increasing frequency. A new law protecting whistleblowers is considered largely symbolic by experts. A measure threatening journalists’ rights to protect sources has drawn criticism.



Executive Capacity

With a comparatively weak Prime Minister’s Office, the Netherlands receives middling overall scores (rank 23) in the area of executive capacity. Its score on this measure is unchanged 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. 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, and the state bank has begun examining financial firms’ approach to climate change. The government’s revival of a neocorporatist mode of interest-group consultation has contributed to the emergence of a network of professional lobbyists.

The government was criticized for prioritizing agricultural interests over clear communication on issues of food safety. Funding for local governments has increased in step with the national budget, although decentralization of key service responsibilities has not always been successful. A “Dutch interests first” political mood has diminished willingness to adapt to international developments.

Executive Accountability

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.
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