Freedom in the World
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The three-party coalition, which includes Prime Minister Wim Kok's Labor Party, the Liberal Party, and the Democracts-66 party has been in power since 1994. The "purple" coalition remains popular because of favorable economic conditions and reforms made within the extensive social welfare system. Nevertheless, the prime minister announced in August that he will not seek a third term and publicly endorsed Ad Melkert, the Labor parliamentary party chief, as his successor. The next general elections are expected in May 2002.
After the Dutch won independence from Spain in the sixteenth century, the House of Orange assumed sovereignty 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.
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.
In July, the Dutch government ratified the Rome Statute, which provides for the establishment of a permanent International Criminal Court. Once established, the court will be headquartered in the Netherlands.
The Dutch can change their government democratically. A series of amendments to the original constitution has provided for welfare and democratic reform. The 150-member lower house, or Second Chamber, is elected for a four-year term by universal suffrage. The Second Chamber is empowered to debate bills and pass the approved measures to the upper house (First Chamber) for enactment. The 75 members of the upper house are indirectly elected for a period of four years. 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. Approximately 34 percent of the population is Roman Catholic; Protestants constitute 25 percent; and Muslims make up about 3 percent of the population. More than one-third of the population is unaffiliated with any religion. The government provides subsidies to church-affiliated schools based on the number of registered students.
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.
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.
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 took effect in 2000, is intended to further increase the employment opportunities of minority groups and asylum seekers.
Gender-based discrimination is prohibited. Women are well represented in the government, education, and other fields. Women constitute 36 percent of the membership in the lower house and 26.7 percent in the upper house. Legislation to better regulate prostitution and end the 88-year-old ban on brothels went into effect in 2000. However, some reports indicate that smaller, conservative towns have been slow to implement the legislation.
In April the upper house approved legislation to legalize euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide by a vote of 46 to 28. The Netherlands is the first country to make euthanasia legal. In 2000, the Dutch government voted to legalize same-sex marriages with the same pension, social security, and inheritance rights accorded to married heterosexual couples. A proposal to allow same-sex couples to adopt children was also approved. The new marriage law took effect in April 2001.