A Survey of the Constitution of the Netherlands

by JRO on November 19, 2013

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Most of us know at least parts of the United States Constitution. As Americans, we know we have the right to vote, to freedom of speech, and to worship any God we choose.

While we are somewhat versed in our own freedoms, we are certainly not the only country with a constitution. In fact, in many ways, the Constitution of the Netherlands is similar to the one we wrote in 1787.

The System of the Netherlands

The Netherlands is a parliamentary democracy, meaning that the government is composed of a Monarch, the Prime Minister, and Ministers, and is subject to scrutiny by the Parliament, which consists of an upper house (the Senate) and a lower house (the House of Representatives). While the Monarch is the head of state, the Constitution of the Netherlands mandates that the Ministers are responsible for governmental acts.

The History of the Constitution

The Constitution of the Netherlands is derived from its 1815 version, which asserted that the Netherlands was a constitutional monarchy. In 1848, the constitution was revised to change the government to a parliamentary democracy, and in 1983, another major revision was undertaken. This revision modernized the text, added new civil rights, fully abolished the death penalty, and named Amsterdam as the capital.

The Rights Set Forth by the Constitution

According to the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the Constitution of the Netherlands begins with a basic list of rights, similar to the US Bill of Rights. These rights include: equality before the law; prohibition of discrimination; the right to vote; the right of written petition; freedom of religion; freedom of speech and the press; freedom of association; freedom of assembly; the right to privacy; protection from forced medical experiments, corporal punishment, torture, and mutation; prohibition of unlawful entry to a home; the right to privacy of correspondence; prohibition of unlawful expropriation; the right to liberty; the right to a competent court; and the prohibition of punishment for things that have no-preexisting penal law.

In addition to the above rights, the 1983 revision introduced additional rights, including: the right to counsel; labor rights (such as protection against on-the-job accidents); welfare of the people; the right to environmental protection (the government, for instance, must ensure the habitability of the land); and the rights to health, housing, culture and recreation.

The Constitution of the Netherlands also proclaims a right to education, which allows people the right to receive education of any kind, and the right for parents to choose their choice of school for their children. This right is an extension of the Freedom of Religion right and allows schools to freely choose their underlying religion or philosophy.

While many of the above rights are similar to those in the US, it’s important to note that the Netherlands is without one of the United States’ most fundamental laws: in the Netherlands, there are no trials by jury.

The Makeup of the Government

The Constitution of the Netherlands details the responsibilities of the nation’s government. In short, it states that the King or Queen is Head of State but the Prime Minister and the Ministers are Heads of Government. It also states that all functions of Parliament are given to both houses. The exception of this is the rights of initiative and amendment; these rights are only granted to the House of Representatives.

The Constitution further states that both houses of the Parliament are responsible for appointing a monarch in the event there is no heir to the throne or if the heir is unable to exercise his or her powers.

The Constitution also mandates that the Council of the State is separate from Parliament and is responsible for guarding the legislative quality of the nation.


Clyde Benson writes on a variety of topics including International Law, European Union Law, U.S. Constitutional Law, Labor Law and Wrongful Termination and other topics as well.

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