Freedom in the World 2014 - Netherlands


On January 28, 2013, three days before turning 75, Queen Beatrix announced that she would abdicate and clear the way for her son to become king. The coronation for King Willem-Alexander, age 45, was held on April 30.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his coalition government—which included his center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the center-left Labor Party (PvdA)—had become increasingly unpopular due to austerity measures they put in place after taking office in late 2012 amid a continuing recession and rising unemployment. The right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV), known for its anti-immigration and anti–European Union views, had regained popularity since suffering a setback in the 2012 elections, and led in public opinion polls during 2013.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Political Rights: 40 / 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12

The Netherlands is governed under a parliamentary system. The monarchy is largely ceremonial; its residual political role of mediating coalition talks on government formation was eliminated in 2012. The leader of the majority party or coalition is usually appointed prime minister by the monarch. The monarch appoints the Council of Ministers (cabinet) and the governor of each province on the recommendation of the majority in parliament. 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, which in turn are directly elected every four years.

General elections were held in September 2012 after the government collapsed in April. Rutte led the VVD to first place, winning 41 seats, while the PvdA took 38 seats. The PVV, which campaigned in favor of leaving the EU and abandoning the euro, dropped to 15 seats.

Mayors are appointed from a list of candidates submitted by the municipal councils, which are directly elected every four years. Foreigners residing in the country for five years or more are eligible to vote in local elections. Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles have had voting rights in European Parliament elections since 2009.


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 16 / 16

Political parties operate freely, and there are regular rotations of power in the country’s multiparty system. Right-wing parties with anti-immigration and Euroskeptic platforms have enjoyed some popularity over the past decade, though they have remained out of government. The ruling coalition that stepped down in late 2012 relied on external support from the PVV. In November 2013, Wilders and Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front in France, announced a new Euroskeptic alliance for the May 2014 European Parliament elections. Both parties were leading in the polls in their countries.


C. Functioning of Government: 12 / 12

The country has few problems with political corruption. The Netherlands was ranked 8 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index. In August 2013 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued a report warning that the Netherlands was failing to adequately enforce laws against bribery by Dutch individuals and companies doing business abroad. In March 2013, the parliament passed a new campaign financing law that took effect in May.


Civil Liberties: 59 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 16 / 16

The news media are free and independent. The 1881 lèse majesté laws restricting defamation of the monarch are rarely enforced. The government does not restrict access to online media, though users and website operators can be punished for content deemed to incite discrimination. In April 2013, at the request of the Netherlands, Spanish police near Barcelona arrested Sven Olaf Kamphuis, a Dutch citizen accused of launching a massive cyberattack that had caused global internet disruptions in March. Kamphuis, whose companies CB3ROB and CyberBunker were known for hosting thousands of spam websites, was extradited to the Netherlands in May.

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and the Netherlands has long been known as a tolerant society. However, rising anti-immigrant sentiment in recent years has been accompanied by more open expression of anti-Islamic views. Members of the country’s Muslim community have encountered increased hostility, including harassment and verbal abuse, as well as vandalism and arson attacks on mosques. Meanwhile, high-profile critics of Islam have faced the threat of violence. Politician Pim Fortuyn and filmmaker Theo van Gogh were assassinated in 2002 and 2004, respectively. 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 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 PVV-backed government fell in 2012. The VVD-PvdA coalition agreement of October 2012 also called for a ban on such clothing in public settings, including schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings, and for withholding social security benefits from people who wore the garments

Religious organizations that provide educational facilities can receive subsidies from the government. The government does not restrict academic freedom.


E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 12 / 12

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.


F. Rule of Law: 15 / 16

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. 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.

In January 2013, Russian citizen Aleksandr Dolmatov committed suicide in a Dutch detention center in Rotterdam, where he was being held while appealing the rejection of his application for political asylum. In April, a Dutch justice ministry report said Dolmatov should not have been held in detention.

In October 2013, the Council of Europe called on the Netherlands to stop evicting failed asylum seekers from refugee centers, warning that the government has an obligation to provide them with shelter, food, and clothing.

Also in 2013, a racial controversy erupted over the traditional figure of Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), a character central to the children’s festivities of Sinterklaas, the December 5 Festival of St. Nicholas. In October it emerged that experts advising the UN Commission on Human Rights had sent a letter to the Dutch government in January, raising allegations that the character, typically portrayed by white performers wearing blackface, was a racist stereotype offensive to Dutch citizens of African descent. In November, the UN experts issued a statement urging the Dutch government to “facilitate an open debate in Dutch society” about the issue.

Dutch laws protect LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people from discrimination and violence. The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, in 2001.


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 16 / 16

Residents of the Netherlands generally enjoy freedom of movement and choice of residence, employment, and institution of higher education. Property rights are upheld by the country’s impartial courts.

The government has vigorously enforced legal protections for women, including in employment and family law. In March 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that a “forced tongue kiss” should no longer be treated as rape, and instead should be classified as indecent assault, which carries a lesser sentence. The verdict narrowed a 1998 ruling by the court that any form of unwanted sexual penetration was rape.

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.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology

2014 Scores



Freedom Rating

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Civil Liberties

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Political Rights

(1 = best, 7 = worst)