Netherlands | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


A coalition of the centrist Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), the far-right populist Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF), and the right-of-center Liberals (VVD), took office on July 22, 2002. However, the coalition collapsed on October 16 because of internal conflict within the LPF. Human rights groups criticized the tightening of asylum procedures, as anti-immigrant feeling developed in the traditionally tolerant Netherlands.

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. Today, 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.

Following the general election on May 15, a coalition of the centrist CDA, the far-right populist LPF, and the right-of-centre VVD, took office only to collapse on October 16, after internal conflict within the LPF led to the resignation of two of its ministers. A new election will be held on January 22, 2003. Pim Fortuyn, the founder and leader of LPF, was fatally gunned down just nine days before the May general election in an attack blamed on an animal rights activist. Fortuyn had wooed many voters with his slogan "The Netherlands is Full," a call to close Dutch borders.

The Netherlands adopted the euro in January 2002 as the national currency. The European Parliament amended the 1997 European Community directive on privacy in telecommunications in May 2002 to oblige member states to retain all telecommunications data on individual citizens for one to two years and to provide the relevant authorities unrestricted access to these data to assist law enforcement officials in eradicating crime. Human rights groups attacked this move as an assault on privacy and civil liberty.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

The Dutch can change their government democratically. The 150-member lower house, or Second Chamber, is elected for a 4-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 EU without elected mayors. The government appoints mayors 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. Reporters Sans Frontieres ranked the Netherlands (in a tie with Finland, Iceland, and Norway) as having the greatest press freedom in the world, in its Worldwide Press Freedom Index for 2002.

Freedom of religion is respected. Approximately 31 percent of the population is Roman Catholic; Protestants constitute 21 percent; and Muslims make up 4.4 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.

Membership in labor unions is open to all workers, including military, police, and civil service employees. Currently, about 28 percent of the workforce is unionized. The Aliens Employment Act, which took effect in 2000, is intended to further increase the employment opportunities of minority groups and asylum seekers.

As of May 2002, asylum seekers without identity papers were not allowed to request political asylum in the Netherlands--even though about 80 percent of asylum seekers arrive without such documentation. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the measure risks lumping legitimate refugees fleeing persecution with illegal immigrants. Because the Foreign Affairs Ministry now regards Afghanistan as safe, the government decided in September that failed Afghan national asylum seekers must return to Afghanistan; an estimated 30,000 Afghans live in the Netherlands.

The judiciary acts independently, though 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. In April 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to legalise euthanasia.

Transparency International ranked the Netherlands seventh (tied with Luxembourg) on its 2002 Corruption Perceptions Index, the fourth highest evaluation of any EU member state.

In December 2001, the Council of the European Union adopted by "written procedure" antiterrorism legislation that requires member states to prevent "the public" from offering "any form of support, active or passive" to terrorists and to check all refugees and asylum seekers for terrorist connections. Human rights groups criticized the legislation because it does not distinguish between conscious and subconscious assistance, treats would-be immigrants as criminals, and was not debated in parliament.

Gender-based discrimination is prohibited, and women are well represented in government, education, and other fields. Legislation to better regulate prostitution and to end the 88-year-old ban on brothels went into effect in 2000.

A new marriage law stipulates that same-sex marriages are legal and confers on homosexual couples the same pension, social security, and inheritance rights accorded to married heterosexual couples. Adoption by same-sex couples is also allowed. The law took effect in April 2001.