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EACEA National Policies Platform


5. Participation

5.1 General context

Last update: 27 March 2024

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  1. Definitions and concepts
  2. Institutions of representative democracy

Definitions and concepts

Social domain

The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy a decentralized unitary state with a parliamentary system. Since January 1st 2015 the social domain has been decentralized. This means that municipalities are now responsible for the social domain, which includes youth care (see par 1.2).

What is youth participation? 

Youth participation means that children and young people actively participate in discussions and make decisions about matters that are important to them and in places in which they themselves are part off. Youth participation is the active engagement of young people. Three ways of youth participation can be distinguished:

Vertical youth participation (formal) – youth is formally involved in decision-making processes. This happens by means of voting, political membership, through youth councils and student unions. This occurs on international, national, local, community and institutional level. In this chapter the majority of information concerns vertical youth participation.

Horizontal youth participation (informal) – the participation of youth in sports, school, creative activities, etc. This happens mostly through voluntary activities. More about this type of youth participation can be read in chapter 2. Voluntary activities.

Diagonal youth participation (formal/informal) – this is a mixture between vertical and horizontal youth participation. Informal ways of youth participation are used to give young people a say in their daily environment.

Client participation

A key principle of the Youth Law is based on the ability and strength of clients to give direction to their lives and to solve problems independently as much as possible . Care professionals can provide support when needed. More about client participation can be found in paragraph 5.4. 

Institutions of representative democracy

At the national level the King is the head of the Dutch state and forms the government together with the ministers. King Willem-Alexander has been the head of state of the Kingdom of the Netherlands since 2013. The Prime Minister is head of the Cabinet (Ministers and State Secretaries).

The Parliament (in English) consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives. It monitors the government and is responsible, with the government, for enacting legislation. Legislation only becomes effective after it has been passed by Parliament. The government and individual ministers are accountable to Parliament. The Netherlands has a multiparty system. Every four years a new Parliament is chosen.

At the regional level (in English) the Netherlands has 12 provinces that represent the administrative layer between national government and the local municipalities, carrying responsibility for matters of subnational or regional importance.

The government of each province consists of three major parts:

  • Provinciale Staten (States-Provincial) is the provincial Parliament elected every four years. The number of members varies between 39 and 55 (as of 2015), depending on the number of inhabitants of the province. Being a member is a part-time job. The main task of the States-Provincial is to monitor the work of the provincial government.
  • Gedeputeerde Staten (Provincial-Executive) is a board elected from the members of the States-Provincial charged with most executive tasks. Each province has between three and seven deputies, each with their own portfolio. The task of the Provincial-Executive is the overall management of the province.
  • The Commissaris van de Koning (King's Commissioner) is an official appointed by the Crown who presides over the States-Provincial as well as over the Provincial-Executive. The Commissioner is appointed for a term of six years, following which reappointment for another term is possible.

At the regional level Dutch municipalities have the right to cooperate with each other. This so-called Joint Arrangements Act (Gemeenschappelijke Regeling) is a regulation between the municipalities. This can be used for joint action on any matter for which municipalities have authority.

At the local level the municipal council and the size of the municipal council depend on the number of inhabitants of the municipality: the maximum is 45 seats (large cities) and the minimum is 7 seats as in the smallest municipalities. The municipal council supervises the College van Burgemeester en Wethouders (municipal executive board i.e. mayor and aldermen), questions, criticizes and opposes when necessary and expedient. And if the municipal executive board does not do what (the majority of) the council wants, the council can send the entire municipal executive or an individual alderman home.

For more information on the institutional representatives of the Netherlands please visit the website of the Vereniging van Nederlandse Gemeenten (VNG) (The Association of Dutch Municipalities) (only in Dutch). The Association of Dutch Municipalities is a public agency and represents the interests of all Dutch Municipalities.

The Kieswet (Electoral law) (only in Dutch) contains the main legal principles concerning the elections. These legal principles are divided into national, province and local:

National: The Tweede Kamer (The House of Representatives) (only in Dutch) has 150 members, elected for a four-year term. Elections are also called after a dissolution of the House of Representatives. All elections are direct, except for the Eerste Kamer (Senate) (in English), which has 75 members, elected for a four-year term by provincial councillors on the basis of proportional representation at the provincial elections. Voting is not compulsory (in English).

  • The voter must possess Dutch nationality
  • The voter may not be debarred from voting

Province: The members of the provincial council are elected directly once every four years. Voting is not compulsory.

  • The voter must be a resident of the province concerned on election day
  • The voter must possess Dutch nationality
  • The voter may not be debarred from voting

Local: In the Netherlands, elections for the municipal councils take place once every four years. Voting is not compulsory.

  • The voter may not be debarred from voting;
  • The voter must have been a resident of a Dutch municipality on nomination day, as evidenced by the Personal Records Database BRP (Basisregistratie Personen). 

The Kiesraad (Electoral Council) (in English) has an overview of the elections of the Tweede Kamer (House of Representatives). The votes are cast as follows:

  • Polling stations are open from 7.30 a.m. to 9.00 p.m. Only special polling stations may open their doors at an earlier time. No station may be open after 9.00 p.m. As many polling stations as possible, but no fewer than 25% of the total number, must be in buildings accessible to voters with physical disabilities and be in a location that is easy to reach for such voters.
  • Everyone who is eligible to vote will receive an invitation to cast their vote by mail at their home address no later than fourteen days prior to Election Day. This invitation includes their poll card. The poll card allows the voter to cast their vote in the polling station of their choice within the municipality's borders. Holders of a voter card may cast their votes in any municipality in the Netherlands.
  • Voters unable to cast their vote in person on Election Day may have their vote cast by proxy. In the Netherlands it is possible since 1928 to vote by proxy (in Dutch: stemmen per volmacht) for example for citizens who are unable to vote in person, because they are on vacation abroad, ill or in custody. There are two ways of voting by proxy:  by handing over the poll card, which is signed by both voters. The voter who has the proxy  will have to show his ID and a copy of the ID of the person he votes for by proxy. Or by written request, until five days before the voting day, and addressed to the mayor of the municipality in which the voter is registered.
  • All voters casting their vote must show identification. Any such identification may not have been expired by more than five years.

For more information about the Dutch elections please visit the website of Kiesraad (Electoral Council) (in English). The Electoral Council consists of seven members. These members are appointed by Royal Decree for a period of four years, and can be reappointed twice. They are appointed on the basis of their expertise in giving advice on the Election Law and elections.