Governing the Netherlands

Governing the Netherlands

Teleac, NTR

Ministers and Members of Parliament are in the news every day. They are involved in national politics in The Hague. Politicians take decisions about road construction, building houses, the army, the amount of taxes to be paid, and so on.

Complete text

Just suppose you want to go and live on your own in a couple of years, leaving home a place of your own. How are you going to do that? Would you buy a house or rent one? If you have enough money or a loan, then buying is no problem at all. Then you just buy a nice house. Or, after a long time waiting, you could finally get a rented home. Then you usually need to have lots of patience, because in the Netherlands there's still a big housing shortage. There are waiting lists. There is a huge shortage of affordable, rented housing. And that shortage will continue to exist for some time to come. About one hundred years ago, many people had miserable housing. The houses were small. They had neither showers nor toilets. Life in the city or near the smoke of the factory was unhealthy. Then the politicians started to get involved with housing construction for the first time. Housing Acts were introduced to regulate the building of good housing. By the end of the Second World War many houses had been destroyed.

The housing shortage was large. The politicians did everything they could to build as many houses as possible. But today there are still not enough houses in the Netherlands. People in the Netherlands want it all, but who determines what happens? The politicians do. Not just in terms of housing. But also when it comes to things like the roads, traffic congestion safety on the streets, health care, building railways, education. That costs billions of euros. There is not enough money for that. So choices need to be made. And that's what the politicians do. In this case, we're talking about the cabinet, the Upper and Lower Chambers of Parliament the ministries, the civil servants. It's a different world here in The Hague. The center, the political heart of the Netherlands. This is where it all happens. The entire country is governed from The Hague. This is where the laws are made. It's the 'office' for the government ministers and members of the Upper and Lower Chambers. And they all need each other. Every week the ministers have a meeting. We speak of the 'cabinet' when we're talking about all the ministers together. They talk about the decisions they take and the laws they want to make. The Prime Minister (minister-president) is in charge of the ministers. He presides over the cabinet. The building where a minister works is called a 'Ministry'. There's a Ministry of Education, of Public Health, of Public Housing, Justice, Interior Affairs, and Foreign Affairs. Thousands of civil servants work at those ministries. They help the ministers, because - of course - the ministers cannot do everything on their own. They come up with measures that are necessary and they prepare new laws. For housing, this is the ministry you need. The Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment, or VROM.

Right, so the V is for Public Housing  (Volkshuisvesting) and that's what we're interested in. Here they know everything about homes to buy, and rented and newly-built housing. The minister drafts all kinds of laws here, together with her civil servants. Laws related to housing. Where should these houses go and how many of them? First she records her plans in a legislative proposal or 'bill', because a minister cannot say: I'm governing, I'm the minister, so I'll quickly introduce this law myself. She might want to do that at times, deep down, but a minister does not have that much power. First, she always needs to have her legislative proposals approved by the Lower Chamber of Parliament (Tweede Kamer), because it's the body that decides. The Tweede Kamer consists of 150 people. They sit in groups that represent the different political parties. The Netherlands has a great number of political parties. The most well-known are GroenLinks, the CDA, D66, the VVD, the PvdA, the SP, the SGP and a few smaller ones. Those 150 Members of Parliament are elected by the Dutch population.

That happens once every four years, during the elections for the Tweede Kamer  (Lower Chamber).  For those elections, the political parties make a list with names of the people they would like to have here in the Tweede Kamer. Those are their candidates. Political parties have programs that set out their plans for all kinds of things. For example, about health care, education and about housing. When the elections are approaching, they try to attract as much attention as possible from the voters. They advertise on TV and party leaders appear in TV shows. They hope that, this way, people will vote for their party, because then they'll have also a good chance of being elected to the Tweede Kamer themselves. More votes means more people from your own party in the Chamber. All Dutch people aged 18 years and older are allowed to vote.

Partij van de Arbeid (Labour) I think. Party for the Animals. I'm still going to vote and I'll vote CDA (Christian Democrats). D66 (Democrats 1966). It's just very hard. Absolutely. Who's going to win? Which party in theTweede Kamer will be very big or small? Are you going to stay in the Tweede Kamer or not? The results of those elections are always very exciting and not only for the candidates. The whole country is watching: what is the Tweede Kamer going to look like? How big will the parties become? Which parties will be able to work together in a new government?

The election results are broadcast the same night on TV. After that a new cabinet can be formed. It has to have the support of more than half of the Tweede Kamer, so more than 75 seats. No one party has ever managed to obtain more than 75 votes. That is why 2 or 3 political parties make mutual agreements and they form the new cabinet with their own ministers as part of it.Then the cabinet can start governing the country, but first all the ministers have their picture taken together, with the monarch. The Ministers need the Tweede Kamer to govern. This is because the Tweede Kamer needs to approve the ministers' proposals. Once a bill proposed by the minister has been approved by the Tweede Kamer perhaps with a few changes, but still approved, then it's still not law yet. Then it's still a legislative proposal. It then passes to the First Chamber (Eerste Kamer). The Eerste Kamer also discusses the proposal and votes on it. It could be that the Tweede Kamer forgot something or made a mistake. Only after the Second and the First Chamber have approved the bill, can it become law. And then the monarch also signs it, next to the minister's signature. Now it is a Law which can be implemented. Not only legislative proposals, but also other plans that ministers have need to be presented to the Tweede Kamer. Minister Dekker of Public Housing is presenting a plan to the Tweede Kamer. She wants to do something about rent prices. She thinks that rents in expensive neighborhoods are too low. She says that for a nice, rented house in a good neighborhood it's okay to pay a little more. But what do the members of the Tweede Kamer think? They study the plan. Are the figures correct? And does the plan actually benefit Dutch citizens?

Is it difficult to convince the Tweede Kamer that your plans are good? Well, if I look back on this period of three years, then all my plans have been approved by the Tweede Kamer. But not without difficulty. Sometimes it takes extra effort or intense debates. For example, about rental policies, that's something people feel strongly about. And what do you do when a plan is not approved by the Tweede Kamer? Well, then you need to think things through first. And most of all make sure you understand why such a comment is made. Why people are against it or why people are partly against it. So then you need to consider it carefully and try to convince people or you make another adjustment to your plan. How do you feel about being a minister? I like it very much. It's hard work. When people maybe see us as ministers… nice cars, getting out everywhere nicely, of course that's not all there's to it. You need to work hard, read a lot, hold a lot of  meetings with the Tweede Kamer, and pay visits around the country a lot. I am out visiting places every week. I visit districts and neighborhoods. I look at houses, at housing production and at how people are being involved in it. And then I always like to talk, not just with the bigwigs but also with the residents.

Citizens who don't agree with the minister's plans are raising their voices now. Four thousand people are protesting in Amsterdam against Minister Dekker's plans. The minister stops to talks to the protestors. She tries to explain her plan to the people, buthey continue opposing the minister's plan. Some Members of Parliament also think that she should change her plans.

-...that liberalization of a tense rental market is asking for trouble.

-...D66 wants to build first, and then raise rents.

-...those plans concerning liberalization of rents. And those enormous rent increases as far as D66 is concerned.

Governing is not that easy. The Tweede Kamer can give the minister a pretty hard time. When the majority of the Tweede Kamer agrees with the minister the minister can go ahead with the implementation of her plans. So, when you start looking for your own home later, then I hope that meanwhile the minister and the Tweede Kamer have also ensured there's sufficient housing. So that you don't have to go on a waiting list first.