Politics of the Netherlands (terminology)
Learn more about Politics of the Netherlands (terminology)
There are several terms used in Dutch politics which are not easily translated into English. Many of these terms are also used in Belgian politics. Most of the terms are alien to the Anglophone world because they are meaningful within the system of proportional representation and coalition government that is practiced in The Netherlands and Belgium. Where possible, a translation is given. The links in the explanations are to the corresponding entries in this list, where applicable. These links are marked with 'single quotes'.
Mirror college. A version of the municipal executive ('College van Burgemeesters en Wethouders') representing all parties represented in the municipal legislative ('Gemeenteraad'). Most municipal executives in rural areas are afspiegelingscolleges. The current executive of Schagen for example includes all three major parties, including the social-democratic PvdA, the christian-democratic CDA and the locally based Duurzaam Schagen. Contrast with 'programcollege'.
 Algemene Beschouwingen
Parliamentary debate on the national budget. Literally: general reflections. After the presentation of the budget the Tweede Kamer starts the parliamentary year by a cycle of parliamentary debates on the budget. These are called the algemene beschouwingen. It is the most important moment for parliamentary policy making, as MPs can amend the budget to finance specific plans.
 Algemene Rekenkamer
General Chamber of Auditors. The Algemene Rekenkamer is an independent organ that audits the spending of the national government on its efficiency and legitimacy. The Algemene Rekenkamer is appointed by cabinet on advise of the Tweede Kamer.
Conflict between christian-democratic, 'confessionele' parties, united in the 'coalitie' and liberal parties, united in the 'concentratie' between 1888 and 1918. Literally antithese means antithesis. The conflict concerned the 'equalization of payment for religious schools' and universal suffrage. To realize both issues a constitutional revision was necessary, which needs the support two-thirds of both houses of parliament. Both political parties held about fifty percent of the MPs however. The issue was forced by ARP-leader Abraham Kuyper, who hoped that an alliance of catholics and protestants would gain the necessary number of seats, this strategy failed. In 1918 the issue was finally resolved in the 'pacificatie van 1918'.
Testimonial party. A party that focuses on its general principles, instead of adapting them to local or temporal issues in the pursuit of coalition participation. Examples of parties that have referred to themselves as "testimonial" include the orthodox protestant ChristenUnie and the SGP. Contrast with 'programpartij'.
In New Zealand, Christian Heritage New Zealand may have been an exported version of a 'testimonial party' to a foreign national context, whose Mixed Member Proportional electoral system discouraged the success of such small fundamentalist-based political parties.
Mayor. Leader of the municipal executive ('College van Burgemeester en Wethouders'). In the Netherlands, burgermeesters are de facto appointed by the national cabinet, de jure by the queen. They preside both the municipal executive and the legislative ('gemeenteraad'). The title is sometimes translated as burgomaster, to emphasize the appointed, rather than elected, nature of the office. The appointment procedure was recently brought for discussion. The appointment procedure is considered undemocratic. Alternatives are direct election of the mayor by the people or appointment by the gemeenteraad. A constitutional change to allow this failed to pass the Eerste Kamer in May 2005.
 College van Burgemeester en Wethouders
- The Coalition (De Coalitie). An alliance of the three "Confessional" parties CHU, ARP and KVP;
- any coalition of parties, normally referring to the current governing parties.
Litt. Confessionali.e. based on (the Christian) confession, usually short for Christian democratic. The protestant ARP and the CHU and the catholic General League/RKSP/KVP were the three major confessionele parties in the Netherlands. Between 1888 and 1918 this alliance was known as the Coalition (Coalitie). The Coalition was opposed to the liberal 'Concentration' in the so-called 'Anti-these'. Between 1918 and 1939 the confessional parties continuously were in government. Before 1918 they also formed government, but were often replaced after the elections by liberals. Since 1946 the confessional parties have always been forced to cooperate with either liberals or social-democrats. In 1974 the three confessional parties formed the christian-democratic CDA. Main issue for the confessionele parties is the 'equalization of payment of religious schools'.
The name of a stadsdeel in Rotterdam.
 Demissionair Kabinet
A special type of caretaker government. Between the dissolvement of parliament by the Dutch Monarch and the installment of a new parliament by elections, the incumbent cabinet remains in place, limiting itself to urgent and pressing matters and traditionally not taking any controversial decisions. This is not a desirable situation. However, the formation of a cabinet is sometimes said to be more important than the elections themselves (because that is when the 'regeerakkoord' is formed). An example of a very long-lasting caretaker government was the cabinet Den Uyl between 22 March and 18 December, 1977, during the formation of the cabinet Van Agt-I.
Breakthrough. After the Second World War there was wide spread feeling that the pillarized politics was to be broken open. In order to force this breakthrough the socialist SDAP, the left-liberal VDB and the christian-socialist CDU united to form the PvdA. They however did not gain enough support and the PvdA became encapsulated in the socialist pillar. In 1966 social-liberal D66 attempted another breakthrough of the political system, again unsuccessful.
Political dualism. The separation of powers between the Dutch cabinet and parliament. In this respect, the way the Dutch cabinets function is somewhere in between the USA and UK systems of government. Unlike the US system, the legislative consists of the cabinet together with the parliament and cabinets are formed on basis of a majority in parliament. Unlike the UK system, cabinet ministers cannot be members of parliament. An important political issue is whether ministers and leaders of governing parliamentary parties should pre-cook important political decisions. According to the dualistic position, members of parliament of governing parties should function independent of their cabinet. Contrast with 'monisme'.
Parliamentary party, 'fractie', formed by only one person. Sometimes parties obtain only enough votes to get one seat under proportional representation. In 1994 Bertus Leerkes was elected member of parliament as only member for the Unie 55+. More often members of parliament leave their own party to continue as independents or eenmansfracties. Currently there are four such parties in parliament. The Group Lazrak of former SP-member of parliament Ali Lazrak, who left over an internal financial conflict, the Group Wilders of former VVD-member Geert Wilders, who left after a conflict over migration, the Group Nawijn of former LPF-member Hilbrand Nawijn, who left after a series of personal and organizational conflicts within the LPF and the Group van Oudenallen of former Lijst Pim Fortuyn-member Gonny van Oudenallen, who was removed for the party ranks after a financial scandal.
 Extra-parlementair kabinet
A cabinet not based on a parliamentary majority. The last extra-parliamentary cabinet was the cabinet Den Uyl. It consisted of members of the three progressive parties (the social-democratic PvdA, the social-liberal D66, and the progressive-christian PPR) and progressive members from the christian-democratic ARP and KVP. Contrast with 'parlementair kabinet'.
Politician who leads the formal talks that lead to the formation of a cabinet, often the leader of the largest party. Often the formateur presides the talks about the ministerial positions that are held between the parties that have already written a communal program, the 'regeerakkoord'. The formateur's work is preceded by the 'informateur'. Neither of these positions is described in any law, instead they are part of Dutch political tradition. The formateur is appointed by the monarch. As the leader of the largest party, the formateur usually becomes prime minister. Jan Peter Balkenende was the formateur of the Balkenende-II cabinet.
The formation of a new cabinet. Since it never happens that a single party has the majority of the seats in the Tweede Kamer, a coalition of two or often three parties is always necessary. After the elections the Queen, the independent head of government, has an important role in the formation process, appointing the 'Informateur', who chairs explorative talks between prospective partners and a 'Formateur' who chairs the final talks, the core of the formation. After he is finished the Queen appoints the ministers.
Chairperson of a parliamentary party. After the election most Lijsttrekkers become fractievoorzitter of their parliamentary party. Often the fractievoorzitter is the most influential politician of the party, and often the main media contact. They will also be the spokespersons during the main two debates with the cabinet in a parliamentary year, one on next year's government budget and one on the previous year's government budget. As an example, Andre Rouvoet is the current fractievoorzitter of the ChristenUnie Christian Union.
 Gedeputeerde Staten (GS)
Provincial executive. The provincial executive consists of the cabinet appointed Queen's Commissioner and the provincially appointed Gedeputeerde Staten. Due to 'Dualisme', Gedeputeerde Staten can not be member of the provincial legislative ('Provinciale Staten').
A policy of 'toleration', not enforcing certain laws. The Dutch government tolerates some offences. Some things like smoking marijuana are formally forbidden by law, but the Dutch government abstains from bringing criminal charges to these offenders. Often these policies are brought about by a tension between treaty obligations and domestic politics. See policies on marijuana and euthanasia for more information.
Municipal council. The "gemeenteraad" is the legislative assembly of a "gemeente".
 Hoge Colleges van Staat
High Colleges of State. There are five High Colleges of State, which are explicitly regarded as independent by the Constitution. They are the Eerste and Tweede Kamer, the Raad van State, the Algemene Rekenkamer and the Nationale Ombudsman.
Information. In the process of cabinet of the Netherlands formation an Informateur appointed by the Queen first researches the possibilities a new cabinet in explorative talks between potential partners.
Politician who researches the possible coalition options before a new cabinet is formed, often a veteran politician, member of the Eerste Kamer or Raad van State. Often the informateur presides talks with possible coalition partners, leading to a communal program, the 'regeerakkoord'. The informateur is succeeded by a 'formateur'. Sometimes, after the formation of a cabinet, the informateur becomes a minister. Piet Hein Donner was the informateur of the Balkenende-I cabinet.
Cartel. An electoral alliance between two parties in Belgium. This involves a 'lijstverbinding' which connects two party lists and a common program. The SP.A-SPIRIT cartel between the socialist SP.A and the left-liberal SPIRIT is an example of such a cartel.
Liveable. Leefbaar was a political movement in the Netherlands. It is not a party in itself but consists of a national branch, Leefbaar Nederland and many municipal branches, the most famous and most successful of which is Leefbaar Rotterdam. These branches have no formal ties, and often have radically different programs, sharing only their disdain for the political establishment. The movement started in 1993 in Hilversum due to dissatisfaction with many issues on a local level. Leefbaar Hilversum was able to get seats in the city council, and in the 1998 municipal elections Leefbaar Utrecht was successful as well, after which Leefbaar Nederland, a national branch, was created by, amongst others, Radio DJ and singer Henk Westbroek. It entered the 2002 national elections with Pim Fortuyn as their main candidate, but during the campaign he had to leave the party over differences of opinion on key issues and formed the LPF. On the 6th of May, 2002, he was assassinated in Hilversum. The municipal parties were hugely successful during the 2002 elections, but lost a lot of their seats during the Dutch municipal elections, 2006.
A well known non-politician who is officially a candidate for parliament, but put at the end of the party list, merely to endorse the party, in order for it to receive more votes. The candidate is not likely to become member of parliament, nor does he want to. In 2003 writer Harry Mulisch was lijstduwer for the Party for the Animals.
Top candidate of a party and the first person on the party list. After the election this person usually functions as party leader, either as leader of the parliamentary party, as minister or as minister-president. During the election campaign these persons attract the most attention, for example in lijsttrekker-debates, where the lijsttrekkers debate important issues with other lijsttrekkers on television. For example in the 2003 elections, Wouter Bos was lijsttrekker for the social-democratic PvdA; the miraculous recovery of the PvdA is often credited to his personality. If, however, the party is unsuccessful in the elections, the lijsttrekker will often resign his post or leave politics entirely. This for instance happened to Thom de Graaf, who instead of gaining seats as expected, lost a seat in the Dutch general election of 2003.
Electoral alliance between two or more parties. In a system of proportional representation not all seats are immediately divided, some seats remain undivided remainder seats. In the Netherlands these are allocated by the D'Hondt method. This method strongly favours larger parties (often smaller parties get no remainder seats, whereas the three largest parties get two each). But if smaller parties form an alliance their votes are added up for the distribution of seats, so this increases their chances of getting one. Often these two parties are ideologically related, in the 2003 general elections for example the socialist SP and the green GroenLinks formed a lijstverbinding. In the 2004 european elections the social-democratic PvdA and GroenLinks formed a lijstverbinding. The SGP and the ChristenUnie also usually form a lijstverbinding.
 Minister van Staat
Minister of State. Honorary title given to former politicians by the Queen. There are currently eight ministers of state in the Netherlands, including former minister of foreign affairs and D66-founder Hans van Mierlo.
Political monism. A state of lack of separation of powers between the Dutch cabinet and parliament. The way the Dutch cabinets function is somewhere in between the USA and UK systems of government. Unlike the US system, the cabinet forms the legislative together with the parliament, and cabinets are formed on basis of a majority in parliament. Unlike the UK system, cabinet ministers can not be member of parliament. An important political issue is whether ministers and leaders of governing parliamentary parties should prepare important political decisions. According to the monistic position, members of parliament of governing parties should be able to prepare important decision with ministers in order to promote political stability. This should be contrasted with 'dualisme'.
 Nationale Ombudsman
National Ombudsman. The Nationale Ombudsman deals with citizens' complaints against improper conduct of government. He (or she) is appointed by cabinet on advise of the Tweede Kamer.
Purple. The nickname of a government coalition of social-democrats and liberals, excluding christian-democrats. It is derived from the combination of the colour of the liberals (blue) and social-democrats (red). Both the Netherlands and Belgium have had such governments. In the Netherlands the two cabinets of Wim Kok (Kok I and Kok II) were composed of social-democrats (PvdA), progressive liberals (D66) and conservative liberals (VVD). The formation of the first purple cabinet was very innovative at the time, combining what was perceived as two extremes: the social-democratic PvdA and the conservative liberal VVD. The centrist D66 was seen as the glue of the cabinet. The cabinet was characterized by consensus, known as the 'poldermodel'. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair hailed Wim Kok and his cabinet for being a perfect example of the so-called Third Way.
In Belgian politics, the term is used as a term for the two governments of Guy Verhofstadt, from 1999 to the current moment. These cabinets consisted out of social democrats (SP.A and PS) and liberals (VLD and MR). The first government also included the green parties Agalev and Ecolo.
 Pacificatie van 1918
The resolution of the 'antithesis 'conflict in 1918 by the 'extra-parlementary cabinet' led by Cort van Linden. They implemented both universal suffrage, proportional representation and 'equal payment for religious schools'.
 Parlementair kabinet
A cabinet based on parliamentary majority. Most Dutch cabinets are based on majority in parliament. Exceptions to this rule are called 'extra-parlemantaire kabinetten'. Since a parlementair kabinet is the normal state of affairs, the term is only used in contrast with extra-parlementair kabinets.
Party chairman. In the Netherlands and Belgium the position of party chairman differs greatly. In Belgium the chairman of a political party is the mightiest person within the party, controlling appointments etc. After the Prime Minister of Belgium the party chairmen are the most important figures in Belgian politics, sometimes characterized as a particracy. In the Netherlands, in contrast, the chairpersons are relatively weak, due to a separation of powers. Chairpersons of political parties merely control the party organization, the bureau, and its finances, while the political leader, often the chair of the parliamentary party, decides over the party's political course. Many party chairpersons go on to occupy more important posts. Ria Beckers for instance was chair of the Political Party of Radicals, before she became chair of its parliamentary party. There is one important exception to the above picture: Jan Marijnissen, political leader of the Socialist Party is both political leader of its parliamentary party and chairman of the party itself.
A municipal executive ('College van Burgemeester en Wethouders') based on a clear political program and a majority in the municipal legislative ('gemeenteraad'). Most executives in urban areas are programcolleges. These executives often include two or more parties with ideological links. The local executive of Rotterdam in the years 2002 until 2006 for example included the christian-democratic CDA, the liberal VVD and the locally based Leefbaar Rotterdam. The social-democratic PvdA, the second largest party of Rotterdam, was kept out of the executive because of ideological conflicts with Leefbaar Rotterdam. The same happened in city of Groningen, where a left wing executive was appointed on 26th of April, 2006. It consists of the PvdA, the socialist SP and the green Groenlinks. Contrast with 'afspiegelingscollege'.
A party explicitly seeking government participation in order to execute its program. Most Dutch parties seek government participation. Exceptions to this rule are called 'beginselpartijen'. The term programpartij is only used in contrast with this.
 Provinciale Staten (PS)
Provincial council, provincial legislative assembly.
 Publiekrechtelijke Bedrijfsorganisatie
Public law corporationorganisation. PBOs is the whole of self-regulatory organizations for specific economic sectors. These specific organizations are called Product- en Bedrijfschappen (Product- and Company Boards). There is a productschap for dairy which can propose binding regulation for all companies in the dairy sector and which can set quality standards and quotas for dairy producing organisations. These Product- en Bedrijfschappen are formed by representatives of trade unions and employers' organizations in the sector. This is an important part of the corporatist social market economy of the Netherlands. At the top of all PBOs stands the Social Economic Council. It was instituted in the 1950s.
Coalition agreement. A Dutch cabinet subjects itself to a regeerakkoord, in which the most important goals and objectives of the cabinet are written down by the leaders of the parliamentary parties and the 'informateur'. The regeerakkoord of the Balkenende-II cabinet is called "Meer Werk, Meedoen, Minder Regels" ("More Work, Participation, Less Rules"), emphasizing the three goals of the cabinet: revitalization of the economy, integration of ethnic minorities and institutional reform.
Caretaker cabinet. A rompkabinet is the continuation of a Dutch cabinet when it has lost a coalition partner, a form of minority government, where the cabinet has not become demissionair, but seeks support from a majority of parliament to finish the work that was already introduced by the cabinet to the parliament. Normally the Dutch Monarch will call for dissolvement of parliament somewhat later, since the basis behind the regeerakkoord is gone.
Roman/Red. A term used to describe a centre-left coalition of catholic and socialist parties. Roman refers to Roman-Catholic and Red to the colour of the Socialists. Between 1946 and 1958 the catholic KVP and the social-democratic PvdA formed the core of several 'roman/red' cabinets, led by Willem Drees. After the catholic KVP merged with they two protestant parties to form the non-denominational CDA the term was used less in Dutch politics. In Belgian politics is still used to describe cabinets made up out of the catholic CD&V and CDh and the social-democratic SP.A and PS.
Historical conflict over the equalisation of public financing for religious schools. Protestant and catholic parties, the ARP and CHU and the Algemeene Bond respectively, wanted their religious schools to receive financing equal to that received by public schools. Liberals protected the privileged position of public schools. The conflict lasted from 1888 to 1918, when it was resolved in the 'pacificatie'.
Deputy minister, junior minister or vice-minister (plur. staatssecretarissen). Staatssecretarissen are members of cabinet, who work under a minister. They fall under the responsibility of the minister, but are separately responsible to parliament. They take over part of the minister's portfolio. Some staatssecretarissen have clearly defined portfolios like culture, science or the environment, while others' portfolios overlap with their minister's. Staatssecretarissen almost always have a different political affiliation than their minister. Staatssecretarissen do not attend the weekly ministerraad unless asked to do so. Some staatssecretarissen have impressive political careers after their staatssecretariaat while others disappear into oblivion. An example of a successful staatssecretraris is current European Commissioner of Competition Neelie Kroes. She was staatssecretaris of Transport, Public Works and Watermanagement between 1977 and 1981, minister of Transport, Public Works and Watermanagement between 1982 and 1989 and since 2004 serves as the Dutch European Commissioner.
Ward Council. Legislative of a Stadsdeel.
Ward Chairman. Head of the executive of a 'Stadsdeel'.
Preference vote. Because of the Open list proportional representation system voters can indicate their preference for a particular individual candidate by voting for him or her. Most people vote for the 'lijstrekker' indicating no special preference, but a support for the party in general. Sometimes, however, people want to express their support for a particular person. Many women, for example, vote for the first woman on the list. If a candidate gathers enough preference votes he gets a seat in parliament, even his position on the list would leave him without a seat. In the 2003 elections Hilbrand Nawijn, the former minister of migration and integration was elected into parliament for the List Pim Fortuyn by preference votes even though he was the 'last candidate on the list'.
Alderman. Together with the mayor ('burgemeester') the wethouders form the local executive ('College van Burgemeesters en Wethouders'). Wethouders cannot be members of the local legislative ('gemeenteraad'). They are appointed by the local legislative.