A Bird's Eye View of Dutch Constitutional Law

12 Pages Posted: 13 May 2016

See all articles by Wim J. M. Voermans

Wim J. M. Voermans

Leiden University - Leiden Law School

Date Written: May 11, 2016


This brief contribution provides a bird’s eye view of the second eldest written and still existing constitution in the world: the Dutch Constitution (1814). One would think that this is cause for great popular pride, for warm constitutional patriotism in the Netherlands. In fact it isn’t. Although the Dutch indicated that they think the Constitution is important in national survey in the run up to the bicentennial anniversary of the Constitution, they hardly know the content and do not seem particularly taken with the document. An bit of an enigma. What do these lukewarm feelings of the Dutch as regards their Constitution tell us? Maybe that the Dutch do not have strong cultural constitutional tradition. The Dutch constitution with its 142 provisions has a very austere quality. No big symbols, preambles or constitutional poetry, or moral appeals. Just some basics: a relatively small catalogue of fundamental rights (most of them covered in human rights treaties to which the Netherlands are party), the main state institutions (King, cabinet, parliament, the judiciary and high offices of state), their relation, elections, taxes, the military, international law, provinces and municipalities, professional bodies and the revision process. No explicit mention of the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, sovereignty of the people, the idea of limited government. Fertile soil for a strong constitutional tradition that raises the people into the core constitutional values of a political system seems to be completely absent. But this maybe to superficial a view. One can also argue that after 200 years the core constitutional values of rule of law and democracy need no longer to be amplified by the constitutional document, they have already been ingrained in political, social and cultural life.

Note: This contribution gives a very brief overview of Dutch Constitutional law in its context – of course this will not help to solve the riddle. For that we refer to further reading in: W. Voermans, Constitutional Law - Chapter 15. In: Chorus, J., Hondius,E.,Voermans, W.(eds.) Introduction to Dutch Law (5th edition) Alphen aan den Rijn: Wolters Kluwer 2016, p. 317-367.

Keywords: Constitution, Dutch constitutiional law, parliamentary system, elections, judiciary, judicial review, decentralization, fundamental rights

JEL Classification: K1, K10

Suggested Citation

Voermans, Wim, A Bird's Eye View of Dutch Constitutional Law (May 11, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2778622 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2778622

Wim Voermans (Contact Author)

Leiden University - Leiden Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 9520
2300 RA Leiden, NL-2300RA

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