Netherlands | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2012

2012 Scores



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(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
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Political Rights
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The coalition government proposed or adopted anti-immigrant measures during 2011, including tighter restrictions on naturalization. In March, the parties of the governing coalition lost support in provincial elections, leading to the loss of their majority in the upper house of parliament. Meanwhile, right-wing politician Geert Wilders was acquitted of charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims.

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 1940 invasion of Nazi Germany 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).

In May 2002, right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn was murdered a few days before general elections. His newly formed party, the Pim Fortuyn List (LPF), had been running on an anti-immigrant platform, returning issues of immigrant integration to the forefront of Dutch politics. Following the elections, a new coalition—consisting of the center-right Christian Democratic Appeal party (CDA), the far-right populist LPF, and the right-of-centre People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD)—took office in July, only to collapse that October due to party infighting. The CDA narrowly won ensuing elections in January 2003, and subsequently formed a center-right coalition government with the 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 a film 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 2006.

The CDA led the voting in the November 2006 elections and formed a centrist coalition government with the Labor Party (PvdA) and the Christian Union party in February 2007. The CDA’s Jan-Peter Balkenende continued as prime minister. The coalition government included the country’s first Muslim cabinet ministers and marked the conservative Christian Union’s debut in government. The LPF gained no seats and has since disbanded.

Elections were held again in June 2010 following the collapse of the CDA-led government in February. The VVD made major gains, winning a total of 31 seats. The PvdA followed with 30 seats, and the CDA took 21 seats. Geert Wilder’s right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV) won 24 seats, nearly tripling the number of votes it received in 2006. The VVD and the CDA entered into a coalition agreement in September, but did not hold a majority of seats. The two parties agreed to include the PVV in the coalition government. The new government’s policy statement included several anti-immigration initiatives endorsed by the PVV, such as reducing family migration, eliminating financial support for integration classes, withdrawing residence permits upon failure of an integration exam, and banning clothing that covers the face. Mark Rutte of the VVD became the country’s prime minister, with his party leading the government for the first time.

In the March 2011 provincial elections, the VVD captured 20 percent of the national vote, while the CDA took only 14 percent and the PVV received only 12 percent. The ruling coalition fell one vote short of a majority in the upper house of parliament after the new provincial councils elected members of the upper house in May.

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 residing 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 7 out of 183 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The news media are free and independent. The 1881 lèse majesté laws restricting defamation of the monarch are rarely enforced. In June 2011, PVV leader Geert Wilders was acquitted on charges of discrimination and inciting hatred of Muslims through his editorials and his film Fitna; the court ruled that Wilders’ comments were part of public debate and were not a direct call for violence. In August, the Netherlands Organization of Journalists complained that the PVV was collecting unauthorized personal data on journalists who attended party press briefings. The PVV and the Dutch national police maintained that the information was necessary for security purposes.

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Religious organizations that provide educational facilities can receive subsidies from the government. Members of the country’s Muslim community have encountered increased hostility in recent years, including harassment and verbal abuse, as well as vandalism and arson attacks on mosques. 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. In September 2011, the cabinet introduced a ban on clothing that covers the face, imposing a maximum fine of €380 (US$460) for the first violation. By year’s end, the measure, which is generally considered a ban on the burqa, had not come before the parliament, where it has majority support. The government does not restrict academic freedom.

Freedoms of assembly and association are respected in law and in practice. National and international human rights organizations operate freely without government intervention. Police arrested several students during protests in January 2011 against a measure that would impose a €3000 (US$3,600) fine for each year of study beyond the officially prescribed length. The “Occupy” movement spread to the Netherlands in October, leading police to clear protestors’ tents from Amsterdam at the end of the month. Police arrested 14 demonstrators in December after protestors failed to heed orders to reduce their presence at another location. Workers have the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike. In April 2010, sanitation workers ended a nine-week strike, the longest in the Netherlands since 1933. Employees at several government agencies, including public transit workers and members of the military, held strikes in 2011 to protest planned austerity measures that would cut jobs and partially privatize public transportation.

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 asylum policies for being unduly harsh and violating international standards. Following two highly publicized cases involving the deportation of young asylum applicants, the CDA proposed a bill in October 2011 that would allow underage asylum seekers to receive residence permits if they have been in the country for eight years or more due to delays in their applications; the bill had not been adopted by year’s end. However, the government has also proposed harsh measures to encourage failed asylum applicants to return home, such as confiscating their passports during asylum proceedings. Requirements for passing the integration exam became more stringent in 2011, while failure to pass would result in revocation of one’s residence permit. In November, a Dutch court ruled in favor of a gay teacher who had been fired by a Christian school because he was living with another man, clarifying a law that schools may not dismiss teachers on the basis of their sexuality.

In April 2010, the Dutch high court ruled that the Calvinist political party, which holds two seats in parliament, must allow women to run on the party’s ballot; the party has previously fielded only male candidates. However, implementation is on hold pending an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. The Netherlands is a destination and transit point for human trafficking, particularly in 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 convicted offenders. Prostitution is legal and regulated in the Netherlands, although links between prostitution and organized crime have been reported. In November 2011, Dutch police arrested three members of an Iranian human trafficking ring in Amsterdam who used the Netherlands as a transit point before moving victims on to other countries.