High-quality democracy, but declining stability
The quality of democracy in the Netherlands remains above average. However, the stability of the democratic system appears to be decreasing. Continuing economic and global political uncertainties have produced an inward-looking and volatile electorate. Since late 2010, governments have no longer been assured of a solid majority in the bicameral States General. Since 2012, the Netherlands has been governed by a minority coalition cabinet (Rutte II) made up of ideological rivals, namely the conservative-liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), and the Labor Party (PvdA). With its majorities varying on a case-by-case basis, the Rutte II cabinet has nevertheless been able to garner sufficient parliamentary support to pass an agenda of neoliberal legislative reforms softened by social-democratic measures. Providing grounds for more serious concern, the political parties and government bureaucracy have shown an increasing disregard for rule-of-law requirements, legislative and administrative details, and the management of the judicial infrastructure.
Successful but not striking
performance. Public safety
and security bodies
performance. Public safety
and security bodies
Policy performance is average, but still satisfactory. Economic policies have been successful over the last two years, especially in the budgetary and accounting spheres. Unemployment rates have diminished, although youth unemployment remains of particular concern. In 2015 and 2016, the government announced tax cuts intended to increase consumption spending, with the broader aim of strengthening economic recovery. The Dutch are still doing well in most areas of social sustainability. The crisis in education has been acknowledged. Though policy interventions remain incremental, first steps toward needed system reform have been introduced. Social-inclusion policies have failed to prevent more families from falling into poverty. In the realm of health policy, cost increases have been prevented, but the health care inspectorate does not seem up to the task of monitoring and supervising a hybrid public-private health care system that lacks legitimacy. In the domain of integration, the refugee influx (although smaller than expected) and continued high unemployment among immigrant young people are reasons for concern. Overall, almost all institutions comprising public safety and security, and judicial branches of the Dutch government face substantial challenges and are under increasing stress. This densely populated country scores low with regard to environmental sustainability. However, after the Paris Agreements, climate change policy is back on the political agenda.
Clear, growing implementation problems
Government apparatus lacks executive capacity and accountability. There are clear and increasing implementation problems, indicating that the “lean” government may find itself overburdened with intractable problems. Monitoring and coordination efforts are substandard with regard to interministerial and agency monitoring. There are increasing problems with the country’s public ICT systems, and large-scale rail and road infrastructure. Regarding water management, a traditionally strong area of Dutch governance, administrative reforms are implemented smoothly. The overhasty devolution of central government functions with concomitant social security budget cuts may threaten the long-term decentralization of welfare policies to local governments. In the area of public safety and security, a contrary trend toward rapid centralization has led to problems in policing and the judiciary (e.g., in the court system generally, the management of judges and access to the judiciary).
New shift to inward-looking mood
Recently, the influx of refugees and increased threat of terrorism have pushed the country’s political mood toward an inward-looking xenophobia. In the realm of executive accountability, weak intra-party democracy and a lack of citizen policy knowledge are causes for concern. At the local level, there is some evidence that opportunities for more inclusive participatory and deliberative policymaking are increasing.
Overall, Dutch politics and policies remain generally sustainable. However, some challenges have accumulated. For example, the government should seek to untangle policy deadlocks over attempts to address socioeconomic inequalities, integrate citizens more deeply into the policymaking process, set goals and priorities in the areas of environmental and energy policy, restructure policies, solve the looming policing and judicial system crises, and enhance local government and citizen participation in the implementation of policies.