The Netherlands


Key Challenges

Gaps in governance sustainability
Three challenges affecting the sustainability of governance in the Netherlands remain insufficiently addressed: the restructuring of traditional state functions, the shift to a sustainable economy, and finding a balance between identity politics and globalization.
Traditional state functions must be restructured
The first challenge involves an urgent restructuring of traditional state functions. The Dutch have eagerly reaped the peace dividend after the fall of communism. However, in view of threats from Russia and Turkey to parts of Eastern Europe, and a less certain U.S. commitment to NATO, the Dutch and other EU member states will have to increase their military capacity and spending in a relatively short time. Reforms to the police force, judiciary and public prosecution have run into implementation obstacles and serious integrity problems – without adequate political attention, these problems may become chronic. Government tasks in the domain of (public) finances require that the continuity of the tax apparatus is guaranteed and that steps are taken to tackle the country’s reputation as a tax haven for large foreign (especially U.S.) corporations.
sustainability a
top priority
The second major task is to design and facilitate a shift toward a sustainable economy. In part, this is a matter of achieving environmental sustainability. The strong economic recovery that the Netherlands has experienced has a flipside: the Dutch can no longer fall further behind the rest of the European Union in implementing climate change (mitigation and adaptation) policies. The rapid phasing-out of natural gas production before 2030 means that a new energy policy based on a transition to renewable energy sources is imperative. Public investment in more sustainable transportation infrastructure can no longer be postponed in view of a looming congestion crisis. For all its innovation, Dutch agriculture contributes significantly to carbon dioxide and nitrogen emissions, and to the outbreak of diseases due to intensive livestock production, and must therefore be reformed.
Rising inequality levels must be addressed
The other part of achieving a sustainable economy is addressing increased socioeconomic inequality. Foreseeable technological innovations (involving digitalization, big data and robotification) necessitate reform of the education system and the labor market. Technological innovations require the development of a strategic approach to digitalization, which account for its effects on human rights, regulation and control, and enable mechanisms for consensus-building concerning contentious (ethical) issues around emergent and potentially disruptive new technologies. Growing segregation across levels and types of schools needs to be addressed. The relevance of existing educational qualifications in a rapidly changing labor market is increasingly questionable, and education at all levels is inadequately financed and staffed. Labor market policies face a difficult balancing act between flexibility, and job security, decent wages and work-family relations. For an aging population, a sustainable economy should include decent (health) care provision and pensions.
Pressures from
diversifying population
The third longer-term task is to strike a balance between identity politics and globalization. In the Netherlands, globalization manifests itself (among other indicators) through continuous immigration and an increasingly multiethnic population. Yet, to date, there has been no public debate about the future demographic composition and size of the population, which may grow from 17.2 million in 2017 to well over 18 million in a few decades. The “Black Pete” disorders, the housing shortage, overcrowding on trains and traffic congestion, and ecological pressure all signal the urgent need for new policies that address the interdependent issues of sustainability, ethnicity and globalization.
Populist support indicates rising public unease
Popular support for nationalist, xenophobic, anti-EU and anti-Islamist political parties – like the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (PVV, 20 parliamentary seats), and Forum for Democracy (FvD, 2 seats) – as well as the sudden emergence of DENK (3 seats) are evidence of widespread public discontent and unease. Polarized political discussions are even visible in the heart of the cabinet. For example, Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok, in an informal discussion with Dutch officials working for international organizations, warned against the excesses of globalization and stated his belief that it is in a people’s “DNA” to distrust foreigners, while Minister for Development Aid and Trade Sigrid Kaag, formerly a high-level civil servant who worked for the United Nations, has defended international cooperation, and spoken against “excluding entire groups of the population.”
Cooperation within Europe is crucial
For the open Dutch economy, cooperation in Europe is crucial. Economic growth and employment, defense, and controlled migration depend on it. The Dutch economy cannot prosper without a stable euro, a well-functioning banking union, and a strong and fair internal market (i.e., a market offering equal pay for equal work in the same location). Therefore, it is necessary that Dutch politicians publicly insist that the “I want to have my cake and eat it too” attitude held by a large proportion of Dutch citizens vis-à-vis the European Union is unrealistic. The departing vice-president of the Council of State, Piet Hein Donner, referred to euroskepticism as a “threat,” and claimed that problems like climate change, terrorism, social cohesion and public security can no longer be solved at the national level.
More direct
democracy needed
It is increasingly clear that these challenges will require new modes of constructive citizen participation and representation. The gap between government policy, and citizens’ feelings and experiences creates significant discontent, anti-establishment sentiments and feeds populist calls for more direct democracy. In view of recent negative experiences with national referendums in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe (e.g., the United Kingdom and Catalonia), the Rutte III cabinet, as one of its first policy actions, abandoned the national consultative referendum. Participatory democratic practices are (again) limited to the local and municipal level. Critics, on the other hand, accuse politicians of not taking emerging forms of citizen participation seriously. They call for a change of course from “defensive” participation to opening up a “second track,” a more proactive form of participation, based on open dialogue, trust and cooperation. To what extent this will be realized, remains an open question.
Political cleavages
must be overcome
The country’s new political cleavages – between citizens favoring closed and open borders; between adherents of neoliberal and neo-structural economic thought; between freedom for corporations and stricter disciplinary interventions for ordinary citizens; and between expert-led, evidence-informed governance and bottom-up citizen participation – must ultimately be overcome if the viability and sustainability of the Netherlands’ democratic society is to be ensured.
P. Scheffer, De vorm van vrijheid, Amsterdam University Press, 2018

S. Kaag, Abel Herzberg Lezing 2018 : Wees niet stil, wij zijn met velen,Toespraak | 30-09-2018,Minister Kaag (Buitenlandse Handel en Ontwikkelingssamenwerking) hield op 30 september 2018 in Amsterdam de Abel Herzberglezing 2018.

Elsevier Weekblad, Dit zijn de omstreden uitspraken van Stef Blok, 20 August, 2018 (elsevierweekblad. nl, accessed 7 November 2018)

NRC-Handelsblad, De boer moet beter op de natuur letten, 10 September 2018

WRR Verkenning nr. 38, De nieuwe verscheidenheid. Toenmende diversiteit naar herkomst in Nederland, 29 May 2018

Party Polarization

Polarization strongest
on cultural issues
At the national level, the Dutch political party landscape is more fragmented than ever, with relatively moderate polarization on economic issues and substantial polarization on cultural issues. In particular, debates related to immigration, multiculturalism and the social integration of ethnic minorities are particularly polarized.
Number of sitting parties reaches all-time high
Following the 2017 electoral results, several existing trends combined to increase political polarization: the Rutte II coalition cabinet that comprised the conservative-liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), and the Labor Party (PvdA) lost heavily; the number of effective political parties in parliament reached an all-time high; the three main centrist political parties – Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), PvdA and VVD – won fewer parliamentary seats than ever; electoral volatility was only higher in 2002 when Pim Fortuyn List (LPF) entered parliament with a stunning 24 seats; and left-wing political parties won an all-time low of only 42 parliamentary seats, having lost a combined 20 seats.
Larger choice between closely related parties
Volatility and fragmentation is primarily caused by voters having a greater choice of closely related political parties. For example, voters can choose between a confessional set of three parties (i.e., CDA, SGP and CU), a socioeconomically moderate right-wing set of three parties (i.e., VVD, CDA and D66) and a progressive left-wing set of five parties (i.e., PvdA, D66, GreenLeft, Socialist Party and Party for the Animals (PvdD)), in addition to a cluster of outsider parties (e.g., PvdD and PVV) and several newcomers (50PLUS, DENK and Forum for Democracy). Of the new parties, 50PLUS appeals to discontented pensioners; DENK appeals to well-educated, young voters of Turkish and Moroccan descent; and Forum for Democracy appeals to culturally conservative, younger voters with anti-elite and anti-Europe sentiments.
Moderate right-left polarization
Ideological polarization on the economic left-right dimension is moderate. Over the last 25 years, Dutch voters have held relatively stable preferences on issues like income inequality and redistribution, taxation, and the economy. However, on the cultural dimension several issues have seen substantial shifts in public opinion. In particular, public opinions on immigration, integration and European unification have become more negative. Voters that combine left-leaning socioeconomic preferences with conservative-nationalist cultural and ethical preferences feel underrepresented by national political parties.
Large voter share still
feels unrepresented
Even in one of the most proportional representative systems in the world, with very few entry restrictions on new political parties, about a third of the electorate – disproportionately in the lower income and lower educational attainment brackets – feel there is no party they can sufficiently identify with. Competition for these voters may have resulted in more inter-group polarization among political parties (on issues like immigration, religion and education), and has manifested itself impolite, harsh and frequently insulting statements by politicians in the press, on social media and even in parliamentary debates. This has also resulted in lower levels of public trust in the major political institutions and parties, and in particular politicians.
Forming coalitions
now more difficult
At the national level, the record number of days required to form the Rutte III cabinet is a sign of political fragmentation making government formation and policymaking more difficult. In its latter days, the Rutte II cabinet lost its majority in the Second Chamber but remained capable of governing through the formation of ad hoc majorities in the Senate.
worse at local level
Fragmentation and polarization appear to be much more of a policymaking problem at the level of local politics and administration. Fragmentation is worse at the municipal level because local political parties have won well over a third of the total number of seats in local councils, with a large influx of relatively inexperienced politicians and radical political agendas. Frequent political party schisms at the local level also make the formation of working majorities more difficult to achieve and result in longer periods for local government formation. National political parties, at both extremes of the political spectrum, managed to win a considerable share of municipal council seats. At the local level, one frequently observes issue linkages of traditional issues (e.g., parking spots in cities or social housing with “preferential treatment” of refugees) and immigration/integration issues. (Score: 7)
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S. de Lange, Besturen in een gepolariseerde samenleving, Binnenlands Bestuur, 18 January 2018

Ben Meindertsma en Hugo van der Parre (accessed 18 November)

A. Krouwel en B. Geurkink, Politieke fragmentatie in Nederlandse gemeenteraden, Jaarboek van de Griffier, 2016, 127-139
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