Freedom in the World
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The coalition government collapsed in April 2012 when right-wing politician Geert Wilders withdrew his party’s support for an austerity budget. Prime Minister Mark Rutte led his center-right VVD party to a first-place finish in the September general election. Rutte struck a coalition deal with the Labor Party in October, reaching agreement on further budget cuts to reduce the deficit.
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 by 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 center-right 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 Hirsi Ali 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 won the November 2006 elections and formed a centrist coalition government with the Labor Party (PvdA) and the conservative 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 Christian Union’s debut in government. The LPF later disbanded.
Elections were held again in June 2010 following the collapse of the CDA-led government in February. The VVD finished first with 31 seats, while 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 formed a coalition, but lacked a parliamentary majority. The PVV was not included in the government but pledged to give it voting support. In exchange, the new government backed several anti-immigration initiatives endorsed by the PVV. Mark Rutte of the VVD became prime minister, with his party leading the government for the first time.
The government collapsed in April 2012 after Wilders rejected proposed budget austerity measures as too severe. In the September general election, Rutte led the VVD to first place, winning 41 seats, while the PvdA took 38 seats. The PVV, which campaigned for leaving the EU and the euro, dropped to 15 seats. The Socialist Party also captured 15 seats, and the CDA fell to fifth place, with 13 seats. Six other parties took the remaining 28 seats.
In October, Rutte and Labor Party leader Diederik Samsom announced a coalition agreement following 47 days of talks. The deal called for budget cuts of €16 billion ($25 billion) over the next four years. Among the austerity measures was a ban on income assistance for immigrants who could not speak Dutch. Rutte and his new government were sworn in by the queen in November.
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 9 out of 176 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2012 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.
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 ($460) for the first violation. However, the measure did not come to a vote in parliament and was shelved after the Wilders-backed government fell in 2012. The VVD-PvdA October 2012 coalition agreement called for a ban on face-covering clothing in public settings, including schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings, and for withholding social security benefits from people who wore such garments. 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. Workers have the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike. Teachers at 2,000 schools went on strike in March 2012 to protest budget cuts.
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. The CDA proposed a bill in 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. In December 2012, the government announced that it would propose legislation to criminalize living in the country without permission, with illegal residency punishable by fines and an entry ban of up to five years. Requirements for passing the integration exam became more stringent in 2011, while failure to pass would result in revocation of one’s residence permit. The October 2012 coalition agreement called for granting residency to children who had been in the country for more than five years, as well as their relatives.
In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. In November 2011, 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 sexual orientation.
In April 2010, the Dutch high court ruled that the Calvinist political party, which holds three seats in parliament, must allow women to run on the party’s ballot; the party believes women should not have the right to vote, and has fielded only male candidates. In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights dismissed the party’s appeal against the ruling. 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, though links between prostitution and organized crime have been reported.