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The Netherlands (Holland) - Government and Politics

The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government. The ruling monarch, Queen Beatrix, is the Head of State. Holland's parliament (Staten Generaal) consists of an Upper House and Lower House, with members elected by the country's provincial councils and the general electorate, respectively, using a system of proportional representation. The seat of government is The Hague.

The political system of the Netherlands is characterized by a large number of political parties, many of whom are represented in government. Traditionally, the dominant political parties have included the Labour Party (PvdA), the Christian Democrats (CDA) and the Liberals (VVD).

The Head of State and the Prime Minister are responsible for signing laws and Acts passed by parliament, and Cabinet Ministers and State Secretaries are responsible for their implementation. Each year, Queen Beatrix delivers the Troonrede speech, which sets out the government policies for the year ahead.

Traditionally, the Netherlands has enjoyed a relatively stable political system which reflects the consensual and efficient organization of Dutch life in general and is based on what has been termed the "poldermodel", derived from the word for an area of land surrounded by protective dikes to protect it from high waters. In a similar way, it is argued, life in the Netherlands is highly organized and planned, and has traditionally been inclusive of different views and attitudes, with politics being based on negotiation and consensus rather than conflict. This is also reflected in the tolerant attitudes held by many Dutch people which have resulted in the country's liberal laws governing, for example, sexual practices and drugs.

In recent years, however, the poldermodel has been seriously shaken by a number of major political upheavals and scandals and two political murders, linked to growing public concerns about immigration and international terrorism. In 2002, the politician Pim Fortuyn, who had risen to fame on an anti-immigration platform, was killed, and 2004 saw the murder of Theo Van Gogh, who had made a controversial film on the position of women in Islamic society.

A period of considerable political instability followed, which included the collapse, over immigration issues, of Prime Minister Balkenende's centre-right coalition in June 2006, and an interim period of temporary government followed until Balkenende was re-appointed in February 2007 as the head of a three-party centrist coalition consisting of the Christian Democrats, the Labour Party and the Christian Union. This new government plans more moderate economic reforms than its predecessor, which had come up against considerable public protest, and is taking a softer line on immigration policy.

The Netherlands also has provincial and municipal governments with responsibility for the administration of various aspects of life in the Netherlands. Municipal governments generally deal with issues such as education, health, recreation and water supply, while provincial governments have responsibilities including environmental issues, urban and rural planning, sports and cultural affairs.

All EU citizens aged 18 or over who are resident in the Netherlands on the day that candidates are nominated, and non-EU nationals who have lived in the Netherlands for at least 5 years, are eligible to vote in municipal elections and EU citizens are also entitled to vote in European Parliament elections. EU nationals living in Holland can stand for Dutch elections to the European Parliament, while non-Dutch nationals can also stand for election to municipal councils if they are also resident in the Netherlands at the time of being admitted to the municipal council. Members of consular or diplomatic staff and their family members who are residing in the Netherlands are not allowed to vote.

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