1999 Scores

Status: Free
Freedom Rating: 1.0
Civil Liberties: 1
Political Rights: 1


In May 1999, the Netherlands' center-left coalition government collapsed during a dispute over a proposed constitutional reform to allow the public to amend and even veto laws already passed by the legislature. After the proposal was rejected by the upper house of parliament, the centrist party Democrats 66 (D 66) withdrew from its coalition with Prime Minister Wim Kok's Labor Party and the Liberal Party. The coalition had been in power since 1994, and D 66 was the junior partner. The coalition government tendered its resignation, but Prime Minister Kok withdrew the resignation after a brief meeting with Queen Beatrix.

The disagreements within the government continued throughout the year and culminated in December when the Liberal Party threatened to pull out of the coalition if the Labor Party and D 66 persisted in their demands to use tax windfalls and budget surpluses to increase government spending. The coalition held, however, and remained in power throughout the year.

Despite frictions among the coalition members, the government of Wim Kok has generally been successful. Under his leadership, the country has enjoyed four years of economic growth, prosperity, and social peace. The Dutch economy is among Europe's most robust, with unemployment in 1999 averaging four percent. In 1999, the Netherlands joined the European Monetary Union.

After the Dutch won independence from Spain in the sixteenth century, the government of the House of Orange assumed rule over the United Provinces of the Netherlands. A constitutional monarchy based on representative government emerged in the early 1800s. Queen Beatrix appoints the arbiters of executive authority (the council of ministers), and the governor of each province on the recommendation of the majority in parliament. The bicameral States General (parliament) consists of an indirectly elected First Chamber and a larger, more powerful and directly elected Second Chamber. From the end of World War II until December 1958, the Netherlands was governed by coalitions in which the Labor and Catholic parties predominated. From 1958 until 1994, governments were formed from center-right coalitions of Christian Democrats and Liberals, with the social-democratic oriented Labor Party usually in opposition. Since 1994, the Labor Party has been a member of the governing center-left coalition.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

The Dutch can change their government democratically. A series of amendments to the original constitution has provided for welfare and democratic reform. Local voting rights are accorded to foreigners after five years in residence. The Netherlands is the only country in the European Union without elected mayors. Mayors are currently appointed by the government from a list of candidates submitted by the municipal council.

The press is free and independent, although journalists practice self-censorship when reporting on the royal family. All Dutch newspapers cooperate in the administration of the independent Netherlands News Agency. Radio and television broadcasters operate autonomously under the supervision and regulation of the state and offer pluralistic views. Free speech is guaranteed, with the exception of promoting racism or incitement to racism.

Freedom of religion is respected. More than half of the population is Protestant. Approximately 36 percent is Roman Catholic. The state subsidizes church-affiliated schools. The subsidies are based on the number of registered students. Muslims make up about 4 percent of the population.

Immigrant groups face some de facto discrimination in housing and employment. Concentrated in larger cities, immigrants suffer from a high rate of unemployment. The government has been working for several years with employers' groups and unions to reduce minority unemployment levels to the national average. As a result of these efforts in recent years, the rate of job creation among ethnic minorities has been higher than among the general population. The Aliens Employment Act, which takes effect in 2000, is expected to further increase the employment opportunities of minority groups and asylum seekers.

A new law to tighten criteria for acceptance of refugees was implemented in 1997; nevertheless, the country's asylum policies remain generous. Refugees whose applications for asylum are denied are allowed to remain temporarily.

Membership in labor unions is open to all workers, including military, police, and civil service employees. Workers are entitled to form or join unions of their own choosing without previous government authorization, and unions are free to affiliate with national trade union federations. Currently, about 28 percent of the workforce is unionized.

A 24-member supreme court heads the country's independent judiciary, which also includes 5 courts of appeals, 19 district courts, and 62 lower courts. All judicial appointments are made by the crown on the basis of nominations by the parliament. Judges are nominally appointed for life, but retire at age 70. There is no jury system in Dutch courts.

Gender-based discrimination is prohibited. Women are well-represented in government, education, and other fields. Women make up about 36 percent of the members of parliament. Same-sex marriage, with the same pension, social security, and inheritance rights accorded to married heterosexual couples, was legalized in 1998. In 1999, a bill regulating same-sex adoptions was approved by the lower house of parliament.

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