The Netherlands is located in Northwestern Europe and, along with three island territories in the Caribbean called Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba, forms the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The country of the Netherlands is composed of twelve provinces and shares borders with Germany (east), Belgium (south), and the North Sea (northwest) – it also shares maritime borders with Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom and covers an area of 16,000 square miles. Amsterdam is the capital city of the Netherlands, while the States General, Cabinet and Supreme Court are located in The Hague. Rotterdam has the largest port in Europe and the largest non-Asian port in the world. The population of the Netherlands is 17.25 million – it is one of the most densely populated countries on the planet. It was just the third country in the world to feature a representative government – it has been a parliamentary constitutional monarchy since 1848.
The Netherlands is a member of multiple international organisations. It is a founding member of the EU, Eurozone, G10, NATO, OECD, and WTO, as well as being part of the Schengen Area and the trilateral Benelux Union. It is one of the most prosperous countries in the world and ranks extremely high in terms of press freedom, economy, human development, and quality of life.
The Netherlands features several major political institutions, which include the monarchy, the States General, the cabinet, and the judicial system. In addition, there are also three other High Colleges of State which are equal to parliament but less influential politically.
The country differs from many others in the way in which power is distributed. Constitutionally, the States General and the government share legislative power, with all legislation passed through the Council of State and the Social-Economic Council providing advice on related legislation (the Social-Economic Council also has the right to make and enforce legislation on a number of sectors). Executive power is vested in the government.
The executive branch
The cabinet of the Netherlands is the principle executive body in the country – it is composed of ministers and state secretaries. The Prime Minister (currently Mark Rutte) leads the cabinet. Between twelve and sixteen ministers make up the cabinet, with most of them acting as heads of specific government ministries (most ministries, in turn, also have a state secretary, who is not a member of the Council of Ministers).
The Council oversees laws and policy, and meets every Friday, with the meetings chaired by the Prime Minister – however, all ministers, Prime Minister included, are considered equal.
The Council of Ministers forms the Government in collaboration with the King of the Netherlands, and collectively makes all major decisions. The King is kept up to date on proceedings through weekly meetings with the Prime Minister.
The legislative branch
The Dutch Parliament is known as the States General of the Netherlands, and is composed of a House of Representatives and a Senate, much like the United States. The Binnenhof of The Hague is the seat of both chambers, where they discuss legislation and evaluate the cabinet. The House of Representatives can propose or change legislation, while it is the Senate’s role to discuss its value in regard to Dutch law. House members are elected every four years through proportional representation, while members of the Senate are elected indirectly by provincial councillors, also every four years. The contemporary Senate is essentially a body of elderly statesmen discussing legislation at their leisure, with senators working on a part-time basis.
The current King of the Netherlands is Willem-Alexander, while the heir apparent is Catharina-Amalia, the Princess of Orange.
The monarch is head of state and helps form the government, co-signing every law to confirm its validity; he or she is also ex officio chairperson of the Council of State, which provides advise to the cabinet, and plays a key role in the formation of the cabinet in the wake of a general election or crisis.
The judicial branch
The judiciary branch is composed of eleven district courts, four courts of appeal, three administrative courts of appeal, and the Supreme Court. Judicial appointments are made by the Government, and all judges are appointed in lifelong roles until they retire at 70.