Capital: Amsterdam
Population: 16,527,000

Political Rights Score: 1 *
Civil Liberties Score: 1 *
Status: Free


Minority integration and freedom of speech remained top political concerns in the Netherlands throughout 2009. Geert Wilders, the leader of the anti-immigrant Party for Freedom (PVV), was charged with inciting hatred and discrimination in January for his comments about Muslims in recent years. The PVV won 17 percent of the Dutch vote in the June European Parliament elections, and polled well throughout the year. However, Rotterdam elected the Netherlands' first immigrant mayor that same month.

After the Dutch won their independence from Spain in the 16th century, the princely House of Orange assumed the leadership of the Dutch Republic, which later became the Republic of the United Netherlands. Following a brief period of rule by Napoleonic France, the Kingdom of the Netherlands emerged in the 19th century as a constitutional monarchy with a representative government. The Netherlands remained neutral in both world wars, though the invasion of Nazi Germany in 1940 influenced the country to join NATO in 1949. In 1952, it became a founding member of the European Coal and Steel Community, a precursor to the European Union (EU).

The integration of immigrants has remained a prominent area of concern in Dutch politics since the murder of right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn in May 2002. His newly formed party, the Pim Fortuyn List (LPF), had placed second in that month's parliamentary elections, running on an anti-immigrant platform. However, party infighting led to the collapse of the new government in October. The center-right Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) led the ensuing elections in 2003; it formed a coalition government with the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the smaller Democrats-66 (D66) party.

In May 2006, immigration and integration minister Rita Verdonk moved to annul the citizenship of a fellow VVD member of parliament, the Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, after it was discovered that she had lied in her 1992 asylum application. Hirsi Ali had received death threats for being an outspoken critic of Islam and for the film Submission, which she had made in collaboration with controversial filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who was killed by a radical Islamist in 2004. D66 quit the government over the handling of the incident, causing the coalition to collapse in June.

In November 2006 elections, the CDA again led the voting with 41 seats, followed by the Labor Party (PvdA) with 32, the Socialist Party with 26, and the VVD with 22. A new centrist coalition government took office in February 2007, consisting of the CDA, the PvdA, and the Christian Union party. The CDA's Jan-Peter Balkenende continued as prime minister. The coalition government included the country's first Muslim cabinet ministers – Ahmed Aboutaleb, deputy minister for social affairs, and Nebahat Albayrak, deputy minister of justice – and marked the morally conservative Christian Union's debut in government. The LPF gained no seats in the 2006 elections and has since disbanded.

The right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV), led by Geert Wilders, has continued to make immigration a dominant political issue. In the 2006 elections, the PVV gained nearly 15 percent of the vote, and 17 percent in the June 2009 European Parliament elections. The PVV states that its platform is not racist, but the party advocates ending immigration to the Netherlands from non-Western countries and takes an aggressive assimilationist attitude toward existing immigrants. Former integration minister Verdonk's party, Proud of the Netherlands (TON), also takes a hard line on immigration but has not garnered the same level of support as the PVV. Wilders was refused entry to the United Kingdom in February 2009,though the ban was subsequently overturned by the United Kingdom's Asylum and Immigration Tribunal in October.

In January 2009,Aboutaleb was inaugurated as mayor of Rotterdam, becoming the first mayor of a major Dutch city from a Muslim or immigrant background. However, controversy erupted in August over Aboutaleb's firing of Tariq Ramadan, his integration advisor, after it was discovered that Ramadan had been hosting a chat show on state-financed Iranian television. The Rotterdam government argued that Ramadan's action implied Dutch approval of Iran's regime. Meanwhile, Ramadan had been previously cleared in April of making homophobic remarks.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

The Netherlands is an electoral democracy. The 150-member lower house of parliament, or Second Chamber, is elected every four years by proportional representation. The 75-member upper house, or First Chamber, is elected for four-year terms by the country's provincial councils. Foreigners resident in the country for five years or more are eligible to vote in local elections. The Netherlands extended voting rights to Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles for the first time in the June 2009 European Parliament elections.

The leader of the majority party or coalition is usually appointed prime minister by the monarch, currently Queen Beatrix. Mayors are appointed from a list of candidates submitted by the municipal councils. The monarch appoints the Council of Ministers (cabinet) and the governor of each province on the recommendation of the majority in parliament.

The country has few problems with political corruption. The Netherlands was ranked 6 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The news media are free and independent. In January 2009, Geert Wilders was charged with inciting hated and discrimination for editorials in which he called the Koran fascist and said it should be banned, as well as his controversial film Fitna. Wilders could face up to 16 months in prison and a fine of nearly $13,000. His trial was scheduled for January 2010. In September 2009, the public prosecution office decided that the Arab European League (AEL) will be brought to trial for an anti-Semitic cartoon. The rarely enforced 1881 lese majesty law restricting defamation of the monarch was used in August after the Associated Press published pictures of the royal family on vacation. The court ruled that the Associated Press should pay EUR 1,000 ($1,400) every time the pictures are republished, up to a maximum fine of EUR 50,000 ($70,000).

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and religious organizations that provide educational facilities can receive subsidies from the government. Members of the country's Muslim population have encountered an increase in hostility in recent years, including vandalism, arson, defacement of mosques or other Islamic institutions, harassment, and verbal abuse. The government requires all imams and other spiritual leaders recruited from Muslim countries to take a one-year integration course before practicing in the Netherlands. The government does not restrict academic freedom.

People have the right to assemble, demonstrate, and generally express their opinions. National and international human rights organizations operate freely without government intervention. Workers have the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike. Two of the largest trade unions opened their ranks to self-employed workers in 2007.

The judiciary is independent, and the rule of law prevails in civil and criminal matters. The police are under civilian control, and prison conditions meet international standards.

The population is generally treated equally under the law, although human rights groups have criticized the country's recent asylum policies for being unduly harsh and violating international standards. Nongovernmental organizations had noted weak procedures for protecting asylum seekers who could face persecution at home. The government subsequently implemented a policy of automatically accepting asylum seekers based on country of origin. However, this policy was terminated in December 2009, and asylum applications will be assessed on an individual basis.

The country is a destination and transit point for trafficking in persons, particularly women and girls for sexual exploitation. A 2005 law expanded the legal definition of trafficking to include forced labor and increased the maximum penalty for traffickers to 12 years in cases of serious physical injury and 15 years in cases of death.

*Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.