The Netherlands are a decentralised unitary state in which provinces and municipalities have extensive powers to their own internal affairs. These powers are anchored in Articles 123 to 133 of the Dutch Constitution. Article 124(1) of the Constitution gives the provinces and municipalities the autonomy to adopt their own acts for their respective territories. Through Article 124(2) of the Constitution the central government may demand cooperation from the LRA in executing the national policies. Additionally, the Netherlands is also part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which includes the European Netherlands and some of the Caribbean Islands. The Kingdom is governed by the Kingdom Statutes. Yet, every country within the Kingdom has its own constitution (within the framework of the Kingdom Statutes) and enjoys extensive autonomy.
The Netherlands have a bicameral system. Both the Second and First Chambers do not have a system of regional representation. Though the First Chamber has a certain regional reflection included since it is elected by the provincial assemblies and not via popular elections. Additionally, membership of the First Chamber is being divided by certain regional representation. However, Article 50 of the Dutch Constitution explicitly mentions that the representative of both houses are representing the "entire people of the Netherlands" and Article 67(3) of the Dutch Constitution states that the Members of both Chambers vote “Free from burden”. Consequently, members vote free from party political lines, regional or local pressures, interest group pressures, etc.
The Netherlands have 12 provinces and 415 municipalities (on 1 January 2012). In addition there are six overseas entities (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius and Saba). Since 10 October 2010, Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten enjoy extensive autonomy from the Netherlands while still being subject to the Kingdom Statutes. Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba on the other hand, have become ‘special municipalities’ of the Netherlands. Legally, they are “public bodies” and fall under Article 134 of the Constitution rather than Article 123 of the Constitution. Consequently, they do not have the same legal status as municipalities. For instance, there is no regional level above them but they are directly connected to the central level and they are not part of EU territory. Though Dutch municipal legislation applies extensively to these islands, it will never fully apply due to their special status.
Regarding the key principles of subsidiarity and autonomy, the central level can interfere at any given time at the local and regional level. However, as a general principle, the local and regional levels enjoy autonomy and may act in any way as long as they are in line with national law. The key idea behind the autonomy principle is that it brings decision-making as close as possible to the population and only when needed, should decision-making be brought to a higher level.
Other legislative texts that are important for the functioning of the municipalities and the provinces are the Law on the Provinces and the Law on Municipalities. Here a legal framework is provided for consultation between the Provinces and the Municipalities with the Central Government.
Each governmental level has its own financial control and there is no shared tax. Provincial and municipal tax revenue comes entirely from own-sources. For municipalities the main sources are property taxes (about €3,5 billion in 2005 representing 48% of municipal tax), the refuse collection rate (about €1634 million in 2005 representing 22% of municipal tax) and the sewer tax (about €923 million in 2005 representing 13% of municipal tax). In addition municipalities may also levy other taxes such as tourist tax, dog tax, parking tax, etc. For provinces the main tax is surtax on the national motor vehicle tax which generated €1439 million in 2011. This represents about 19% of the provincial revenue.
In the Administration Agreement 2011-2015, the central government, the provinces and the municipalities agreed that more tasks of the central government will be carried out by municipalities and provinces. This decentralisation will in particular focus on the areas of youth, environment, various issues regarding employment and health care. Nevertheless, not everything will be decentralised. Currently a new police law is proposed which is scheduled for adoption in 2012. The police will become centralised at national level by merging the regional police bodies into one national police. The general idea is that the national level will be responsible for the administrative functioning of the police force, whereas the local levels will continue to have full control on the deployment and the implementation of the police force. Yet, critics of the new police act believe that this will constitute too much of a top-down approach. The coming months will give more clarity on the exact consequences of the new police act.
General division of powers
- Legislative power in all fields rests with the government and the States-General (Senate and Parliament) which jointly establish legislation.
- Administrative power rests with the central government, insofar as it is not exercised by the provincial and municipal authorities, which thus complement the work of the national level.
- The provinces and municipalities may issue provincial and municipal regulations, as long as they are in compliance with national law.
- Spatial-planning, urban development: the Provincial Assemblies draw up guideline plans for spatial development; the Provincial Executive Council is responsible for endorsing land-use plans.
- Housing: the provinces are responsible for allocating quotas with regard to social housing and they decide on the grants awarded to the municipalities.
- Culture and recreation: the provinces are responsible for the promotion of tourism and culture.
- Transport: the provinces are responsible for the development and maintenance of provincial roads.
- The environment: the provinces draw up and implement environmental protection plans.
- Employment: the provinces establish investment banks and are responsible for cooperation between the public authorities and business.
- Spatial planning and urban development: the municipalities draw up land-use plans for land within the municipalities and give planning permission.
- Housing: the municipalities build and manage social housing and manage land belonging to the community.
- Public order and safety: the mayors are responsible for public order in the municipalities and have a close working relationship with the police forces.
- Culture and recreation: the municipalities take part in the promotion of tourism and maintain cultural facilities.
- Public works, transport: development and maintenance of municipal streets and roads, traffic and parking regulations, provision of public transport and school buses.
- Public health: each municipality has a public health and hygiene department and the municipalities are also responsible for the vaccination of children.
- Education: the municipalities manage public primary schools and subsidise all the expenses of private primary schools in their areas.
- Employment: the municipalities are responsible for reintegrating unemployed people back into the labour market and provide for training.
- Welfare: the municipalities are responsible for social welfare and measures to help the unemployed, people with disabilities and the elderly.
- Young people: the municipalities establish offices offering support to children and young people, and are responsible for the planning of institutions and programmes providing such support.