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How to – Elections in the Netherlands

Welcome back to the ESN blog! With this blog, we are going to put a short break on the mental health series. As some of you might have heard Dutch elections will be held on the 17th of March. What kind of election this is and how the Dutch political system works in general, will be explained in the following blog. So let’s dive right in!


The Gemeente

The Dutch government consists of multiple levels: The most local instance is the Gemeente and the decision-making part in it is the Gemeenteraad or the city council. The Gemeenteraad is elected every four years by the citizens of the municipality that includes EU citizens that have been registered there. In the Netherlands, there are 355 municipalities including the Gemeente of Groningen which we are part of. The tasks of the Gemeente include urban planning, traffic, and transport (including cycling paths), education, …, basically anything that concerns the city and its citizens. Most of you have probably been in contact with the Gemeente of Groningen when you moved here and had to register yourself. For more information click here.


The Provincies

The next level in governing institutions is the Provinciale Staten. The Netherlands is divided into twelve different Provincies that have their own Provinciale Staten. They represent the administrative layer between the national government and the local municipalities. Their tasks are mainly granting authorizations, providing funding means, and setting the political agenda on certain topics. The city of Groningen is also part of the Provincie of Groningen. For more information click here.


The National Government

The last and highest instance in the Dutch political system is the national government. The government consists of two parts: the Eerste and Tweede Kamer. Members of the Eerste Kamer form the Senate and are elected by the Provinciale Staten. The parties and politicians forming the Tweede Kamer are elected by eligible Dutch citizens every four years. Together the two parts work on the laws and political agenda for the Netherlands. If a majority of the Tweede Kamer votes for a law, it will be given to the Eerste Kamer. They will check if the content of the law is compliant with the Grondwet, the most important law in the Netherlands. The Eerste Kamer has to approve the law for it to be binding.


The Elections

The upcoming elections will decide which parties and politicians will form the Tweede Kamer. Every Dutch citizen from the age of 18 can take part in these elections. The polling is organized by the municipalities who provide the voting stations. Citizens can vote for a party in choosing the party leader (lijsttrekker). If they would prefer another politician of a party, they can vote for this person as well. The so-called voorkeursstem will receive a seat in the parliament if they have received a certain amount of votes. In the end, the party with the most votes wins. To form a government the party has to have a majority of the Tweede Kamer seats. This means they need 76 seats or more. This number is reached by the formation of a coalition with another party or several other parties. The coalition parties will form the government. Parties that are not part of the coalition – but have received votes in the election – form the Opposition. Their ideas and wishes will influence the law-making process and politics of the country and likewise ensure equal representation of all political orientations in the Netherlands.


Some Dutch words and their meaning that you might hear a lot in the upcoming weeks:

Parlement: Tweede + Eerste Kamer
Kabinet: Ministers and Staatssecretarissen
Regering: Ministers + King


If you are a Dutch citizen and you are not sure if you want to vote this term, here is a short statement of my Dutch committee member Lidewij on why voting is so important:

The Dutch parliament (Eerste + Tweede Kamer) does not represent the diverse Dutch population very well. Only 32% of the people who represent our country is female and only 11% have a non-Dutch background, while this group forms 24% of the population. The biggest part of the House of Representatives are white middle-aged men (House of Representatives from 2017-2020, source). Since these are the people that make decisions about our country and our lives, it is important that this group represents the population they talk about. That is why it is so important to vote during the elections. You need people that look, think and speak like you to talk for you and make decisions about you. Everyone in the Netherlands should see people in the parliament in whom they recognize themselves and who they can trust. So if you’re not sure if and why you should vote, this is your sign: go vote! Choose a party that suits your ideas and feelings and tell the Netherlands that you want to see them in the Tweede Kamer.


Want to vote but not sure which party? A Stemwijzer can help you during your orientation:

You can also search for ‘stemwijzer + topic you think is important’ for a more specific Stemwijzer.