6: The last decades of the Twentieth Centery; 1967-2000
1967 - Political changes
The 1960s saw truly revolutionary advances in terms of personal freedom. One such development was the advent of oral contraception, commonly known as 'the pill', which in turn unleashed a revolution in sexual mores. Another was the appearance on the airwaves of Radio Veronica, a pirate offshore radio station which began in 1960 to broadcast the kind of music that young people in the Netherlands actually wanted to hear. It was a refreshing change from the dull, old-fashioned programming of the existing Dutch broadcasting stations. Even the Catholic church was changing.
In 1962 Pope John XXIII convened the first Ecumenical Council in over a hundred years and asked it to "renew" the Roman Catholic Church. The church in the Netherlands welcomed the call for internal reform and modernisation with open arms. Traditional certainties began to be replaced by fresh new ideas and attitudes, for example towards the use of the pill. This was proclaimed by the Dutch bishops to be a matter of personal conscience (a position not shared by the Vatican, then or now). There was also greater freedom in terms of leisure time. The two-day weekend spread to ever more sectors of industry. It was a time in which everything began to be up for discussion. And the discussion was no longer led by the traditional religious and political leaders of the community, but by the young. It was they who exploited the prosperity and freedom of the day to break down the barriers of religion, political affiliation, gender and class dividing Dutch society and let in fresh air. And they were given every opportunity to devote themselves to the task. The availability of student grants enabled young people of all classes to enter higher education. In 1969 there were more than 100,000 students and they turned their years at college and university into one huge happening.
The general election of 1967 brought the confessional parties their first defeat in many years. Among the winners was Democrats '66 (D'66), a party founded the previous year and advocating a more transparent two-party system and an elected prime minister. Other new parties followed. In 1968 left-wing members of the Catholic People's Party (KVP) founded the Radical Political Party (PPR), an explicitly Christian party advocating global disarmament, environmental conservation and the abandonment of nuclear energy. The youth wing of the Labour Party (PvdA) was also restive. As early as 1957 dissatisfied party members had set up a new party: the Pacifist Socialist Party (PSP), which was strongly anti-military and opposed to the continuance of the Cold War. In later years, the 'New Left' movement rose rapidly to acquire a key position within the Labour Party. The Catholic People's Party (KVP) strove with the 'Group of Eighteen' to increase cooperation with two other major confessional parties, the ARP and CHU, in order to counter the attraction of left-wing political reforms. In 1980 this culminated in a merger of the three parties to form a new party known as the Christian Democratic Alliance (CDA).
1973 - Oil crisis
In Vietnam, America was waging a war which could be followed virtually as events unfolded on televisions throughout the Western world. Every evening, viewers could sit at home and watch the battle going on between the Communist peril and the free world. The spectacle roused violent emotions, especially among the young. Wars were also raging in the Middle East, in this case between Israel and its Arab neighbours. In 1973 they, together with other members of OPEC, announced an oil boycott against the United States and the Netherlands, in the hope of forcing them to pay higher prices for their oil. The Netherlands was probably targeted because of its open support for Israel.
In that same year, the first Labour government since 1958 had come to power under the leadership of Joop den Uyl (1919-1987), in coalition with the Radical Political Party and D'66. The new government also included a number of ministers from the confessional parties. This 'left-wing' government was committed to ensuring wider access to knowledge, wealth and power. In short, it intended to respond to the slogans that had been echoing through the universities, the factories and left-wing political groupings for some years past. The oil boycott cancelled all its plans. Den Uyl appeared on radio and television to announce petrol rationing and a ban on Sunday driving. However, the big oil companies had huge stocks in reserve and their tankers were soon setting course for Rotterdam. The need for the ban on Sunday driving was soon a thing of the past. The boycott did have a longer-term impact, however, since the OPEC countries went ahead and phased in higher oil prices, sending the whole world into recession.
The second oil crisis in 1979 brought an abrupt end to the prolonged period of prosperity in the Netherlands. Unemployment rose and national income declined. There were widespread redundancies, especially in the shipbuilding, metallurgical, textile and construction industries. In other respects, however, the social revolution in the Netherlands continued unabated. The position of women became an increasingly thorny issue. The 'Dolle Mina' (Furious Mina) women's liberation movement demanded the right for women to control their own bodies, in particular via abortion. In 1981, following a series of disturbances surrounding the Bloemenhove abortion clinic (which was closed down on government orders), the Netherlands legalised abortion. Homosexuality also became more widely accepted. The Netherlands came increasingly to be seen as a shining example of tolerance and freedom.
1980 - Abdication of Queen JulianaOn 6 September 1948, Princess Juliana was invested as queen during a plenary meeting of the States General held in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. Queen Wilhelmina had abdicated just two days earlier. Juliana's reign saw a number of dramatic events, including the transfer of sovereignty to Indonesia in 1949 and the independence of Suriname in 1975. Queen Juliana enjoyed unprecedented personal popularity among the general public. This was demonstrated in particular by the annual birthday procession of ordinary people coming to place flowers in front of her palace at Soestdijk. In 1980, however, Juliana abdicated in favour of her daughter, Beatrix. The investiture of Queen Beatrix in Amsterdam triggered riots similar to those at her wedding. This time the cause was squatters protesting at the housing shortage in the city. The squatters movement went back to the 1960s, when young people squatted (occupied) empty premises in protest at housing policies in the major cities. Initially they enjoyed the sympathy of the public but forfeited it as a result of the riots during the investiture and their violent resistance to eviction from squats in Amsterdam and elsewhere. However, the squatters movement did prompt the Dutch government to take measures (including the Disused Buildings Act of 1981) to prevent property speculators from deliberately keeping housing and commercial premises standing vacant.
1982 - The Wassenaar Agreement
During the 1980s, the worldwide economic crisis drove up unemployment in the Netherlands to more than 600,000. It began to be clear that something had to be done to improve the performance of Dutch industry and government finance. In 1982, Ruud Lubbers became Prime Minister at the head of a centre-right coalition between the CDA and the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). In the same year, two popular politicians left active political life: Dries van Agt of the CDA and Hans Wiegel of the VVD. Both became Queen's Commissioners: Van Agt in North Brabant and Wiegel in Friesland. The emergence of CDA politician Ruud Lubbers as Prime Minister ushered in a no-nonsense era. The policies of his government were directed at reducing government intervention in industry by way of decentralisation, deregulation and privatisation. For example, it stopped the payment of large subsidies to lame-duck enterprises. Measures were also taken to stimulate the economy, for example by passing the Investment Account Act (WIR), under which government reimburses a proportion of corporate investment. The Lubbers government also managed to reduce the government deficit from 11 per cent of national income in 1983 to 6.5 per cent in 1986.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Dutch public was both vocal and highly critical. Mass demonstrations were held against nuclear weapons, nuclear power and the deployment of cruise missiles. On 21 November 1981, 400,000 people marched in Amsterdam in protest against nuclear weapons. Similar demonstrations were taking place throughout Europe, but nowhere else did they bring so many people out onto the streets.
In 1983 a demonstration against the planned deployment of NATO cruise missiles in the Netherlands brought 550,000 people flocking to The Hague. The foreign media dubbed this sudden massive upsurge of anti-nuclear feeling 'Hollanditis', or the Dutch disease, and various groups immediately seized on the term as a badge of honour. In May 1984, a nation-wide week of protest was held against cruise missiles and 900,000 people participated in a 15-minute general strike. Their efforts were in vain: parliament gave consent for the deployment of the missiles and it would have gone ahead had not political changes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union removed the need for it.
The Lubbers government had another enemy in its sights. This was the high government deficit, which was then running at almost 12 per cent. In an attempt to reduce it, the government announced major spending cuts. To gain support for this, it asked the trade union movement and the employers to negotiate a formal agreement on pay restraint and the prevention of unemployment. It was agreed to put jobs above income and workers were given the option of trading pay increases for cuts in working hours. As a result, the working week in many sectors shrank from 40 hours to 38. The accord that was struck between the two sides of industry is known as the Wassenaar Agreement and has since become famous outside the Netherlands as 'the polder model'. Radical cuts were also made in the generous social security arrangements. Clearly, the time was ripe for such action, since the only person to protest was Joop den Uyl, by now getting on in years and the leader of the opposition Labour Party. He saw his old policy of ensuring wider access to knowledge, wealth and power being reversed. In 1986, however, Wim Kok - who had been chairman of the Netherlands Federation of Trade Unions (NVV) since 1973 - took Den Uyl's place as leader of the Labour Party.
1989 - Coalition of social democrats and Christian democrats
The second Lubbers CDA-VVD coalition government fell on 2 May 1989. Its downfall was its attempt to gain parliamentary approval for the National Environmental Policy Plan (NEPP), which contained measures to fund the protection of the environment. There was a growing realisation of the need to reduce the pressure imposed on the environment by industry, agriculture and individual consumers. To fund the implementation of the plan, the government proposed to end tax deductions for travel to work and to increase the duty on diesel fuel and liquid petroleum gas. The liberal VVD faction in parliament refused to countenance this increase in the financial burden on business and on the general public and the government coalition duly fell apart.
Back in 1972, environmental concern had been boosted by the publication of a Club of Rome report entitled 'Limits to Growth'. This made various alarming predictions, including the eventual exhaustion of oil and gas reserves. This report had a strong influence on the Dutch public's view of national energy needs and how to meet them, and also on the country's thinking about the relationship between human activities and the environment. Growing concern led in 1989 to the establishment of 'Green Left', a merger between the Pacifist Socialist Party (PSP), the Radical Political Party (PPR), the Communist Party (CPN) and the Evangelical People's Party (EVP) to produce a new political party with a manifesto focusing strongly on the needs of the environment.
Up to 1987, economic growth in the Netherlands had run at a modest 1 to 2 per cent a year: below the average for the rest of Europe. In 1988 things started to improve, partly as a result of the spending cuts and changes in government finance made by the Lubbers government. At the general election following the fall of the second Lubbers government in 1989, the VVD suffered major losses, the CDA held on to its seats, the Labour Party lost some seats (but fewer than the VVD) and the new Green Left party entered parliament for the first time with six seats.
The following November, a coalition government was formed consisting of the CDA and (for the first time in years) the Labour Party. Under Wim Kok's leadership, this party had shifted a long way towards the centre, more or less jettisoning its left-wing ideals. Like the VVD and the CDA, it now targeted middle-of-the-road voters.
This coalition was to continue the policy of reducing government spending and restructuring the social security system. One of the statutory benefits it reviewed was the invalidity benefit scheme (WAO), which was costing the country huge amounts of money because it was being widely used as a humane alternative to redundancy. In addition, it privatised state-run enterprises like the post office and the railways, and also housing associations. The idea was that competition would drive down prices. 'Market forces' became the new buzz word of the Lubbers-Kok government.
Another novelty of this period was commercial television. Loopholes in the legislation led to the arrival of the first commercial television station, TV 10, shaking the denominationally based Dutch broadcasting system to its very foundations. Shortly afterwards, the Veronica broadcasting organisation - which had been admitted to the public broadcasting system in 1976 - also went 'commercial'. TV 10 was banned but Veronica, which had joined forces with the Luxembourg station RTL, was allowed to continue commercial broadcasting because it was regarded as a foreign station. In the early '90s, Dutch viewers had a choice of nine different broadcasters, three of them based in the Netherlands. The expansion forced the 'public broadcasting organisations' to embark on closer mutual cooperation.
1994 - The first 'purple' coalition
The '90s also saw changes in the Dutch political scene. The 1989 general election had given the Centre Democrats (CD), a party of the extreme right, their first seat in parliament. Their success was a reflection of voter dissatisfaction, particularly with Dutch policies on refugees and immigration. As a result of developments like the influx of guest workers from Turkey and Morocco and immigration from the former colonies in Indonesia, Suriname and the Antilles, Dutch society was starting to become more multicultural. The Centre Democrats' leader, Hans Janmaat, played on underlying racist sentiments with inflammatory slogans suggesting that Dutch people were being disadvantaged compared with the newcomers. Nevertheless, the CD remained a marginal force in politics and was to disappear entirely from the political stage at later elections.
But immigration was not the only issue of the day. Law and order was also a hot topic. People were uneasy at the presence on the street of tramps, drug addicts and homeless people, who had fallen through the safety net of the social security system. On 8 May 1991, when a fare dodger stabbed a railway conductor to death, a wave of indignation swept the country. Several of the established political parties, as well as extreme right-wing groups, seized on concern about public safety issues to appeal to the electorate. VVD politician Frits Bolkestein expressed the public demand for a greater police presence on the streets. The government responded with more police, a harder-line attitude and an expansion of the prison service. Changing views on personal freedom and increasing individualism led to a hardening of attitudes in the once so liberal and humane Dutch society.
The election of 1994 demonstrated the changes taking place in the political views of a large slice of the electorate. By this time, Lubbers had been in office for longer than any previous Dutch prime minister and decided to call it a day. He handed over the reins to Elco Brinkman, from the Calvinist wing of the CDA. He was in the habit of making speeches stressing the importance of the family as the cornerstone of society, but now began to raise doubts about the future ability of the country to continue paying out old age pensions and to suggest that cuts might have to be made. Apart from being almost contradictory, these ideas were certainly not in the spirit of the times. They were one reason for the crushing defeat sustained by the CDA in 1994.
After half a century in government, the Christian democrats found themselves relegated to the opposition benches and the Labour Party, D'66 and VVD put together the first 'purple' coalition ('purple' being the result of mixing the red of the Labour Party with the blue of the liberal VVD). Wim Kok became the new prime minister.
1996 - The polder model
Wim Kok, the leader of the first 'purple' coalition government (1994-1998), is a man who always prefers the middle way. This appeals to Dutch people, who have traditionally tended to talk through their problems in a peaceful and rational way and seek consensus rather than conflict - a trait which has been known to lead outsiders to describe Dutch politics as 'dull'.
At the time of the first Lubbers government, Wim Kok was chairman of the Netherlands Federation of Trade Unions. In that capacity, he was partly responsible for the agreements made with the employers' organisations on pay restraint and shorter working hours. A dyed in the wool socialist, Wim Kok was even then not the sort of man to scale the barricades to whip up the fervour of striking trade unionists. He tended to get his way via consultation. And this was how he led the first 'purple' coalition. The motto of his government was 'work, work and work again'. Its aim was to create employment and in this it was clearly successful. Between 1994 and 2000, more than half a million people found jobs. Employment grew by an average of 2.6 per cent a year: well above the average for the European Union (0.6 per cent) or the United States (1.7 per cent). Indeed, over the period from 1989 to1998, the number of people in work increased by a massive 1.2 million (22 per cent).
The Netherlands is well-known for its consensus-based economy, sometimes described as the 'polder model', featuring systematic close consultation between trade unions, government and the private sector. One of the great advantages of the system is that it helps to maintain economic stability. In 1982, when unemployment was a problem, the government and the two sides of industry made an agreement directed at restoring employment through pay restraint. The basis for the good economic performance of the '90s was laid during the early '80s, when government policies were directed at restoring the health of the economy. Three major policy changes introduced at that time wrought great changes in the Dutch economy. The first was improved control of public expenditure in order to reduce the government deficit and reduce the tax burden on industry. This brought inflation and interest rates down to a low level. The second was the aim of achieving pay restraint. This led in 1982 to the signing by the two sides of industry of the Wassenaar Agreement, directed at restoring employment via pay restraint. The third was a substantial reform of the social security system to widen the income gap between benefit claimants and people in work and create a greater incentive to work.
The Dutch polder model has attracted considerable interest worldwide, partly because of the excellent economic results it has produced. The Dutch economy has performed outstandingly well in recent years. Average annual economic growth in the 1994-1998 period was 3.2 per cent, far higher than the average for the European Union as a whole (2.5 per cent) and equal to that of the United States.
According to some Dutch historians, the polder model has its roots in the 17th century. At that time, many large land reclamation schemes were creating polders which subsequently had to be maintained. This required - as indeed it still does - constant consultation between a host of parties, including public authorities, landowners and district water boards. Each of these will have its own priorities. For example, the water boards will be anxious to drain away excess water as quickly as possible and the farmers will want a low water table to facilitate their activities, while nature conservationists will be keen on precisely the opposite to encourage wetland species. The ability to appreciate each other's point of view is indispensable if parts of the Netherlands are not to disappear under water again. Accordingly - so runs the argument - consultation and consensus-seeking is in Dutch people's blood and it should be no surprise that the Netherlands has come up with an economic system based on it.
1998 - The second 'purple' coalition
The first 'purple' coalition, led by Wim Kok, had the economic wind in its sails. At the following general election in 1998, the aim was to ensure its survival. And that is what happened. The Labour Party and VVD were the winners, while D'66 suffered a severe defeat and the CDA declined still further. Two small newer parties, Green Left and the new Socialist Party (SP), made electoral gains, the latter rooted in the Maoist movement of the 1960s and '70s.
The second 'purple' coalition government introduced new measures directed at strengthening the economy by improving the efficiency of product, service, capital and labour markets. Improved operation of the markets encourages entrepreneurs to reduce prices and to supply new and improved products and services. A major step forward was the Competitive Trading Act of 1998, which forbade businesses to limit competition by forming cartels or exploiting positions of market dominance. This benefits consumers by producing lower prices as a result of greater competition and also gives small businesses and new start-ups more chance of expanding. Through this and other policy instruments, the government gave entrepreneurs greater scope to develop their businesses. The burden of administration imposed by government was reduced and regulations impeding growth were revised. Current measures also include a reduction in the requirements for new entrepreneurs and greater freedom for shops to open in the evening and on Sundays. The rates charged by many businesses - estate agents, lawyers and road hauliers - have been deregulated to create greater scope for competition. The benefits of these policies for consumers and employment are apparent in the telecommunications market. Since this was opened up to new entrants in 1982, a host of new telecommunications products have come onto the market, prices have tumbled (down by between 10 and 35 per cent) and employment in the sector has risen by 120 per cent. Finally, the government has encouraged innovation, especially in the field of information and communication technology.
The final years of the 20th century saw important agreements between the member states of the European Union. The launch of the EMS (European Monetary System) in 1979 had already marked the beginning of monetary cooperation between them and the arrival of EMU (European Monetary Union) eliminated exchange rate risks within Euroland. As a consequence of EMU, the euro has been the official unit of currency since 1 January 1999 in eleven European countries meeting certain financial and economic conditions. These are: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. On 1 January 2001, Greece joined them. On 1 January 2002 the euro will become legal tender in all these countries and the new euro coins and banknotes will replace the national currencies.
2000 - The multicultural society
At the start of the new millennium, the Netherlands was prospering. Average economic growth in 2000 was 3.9 per cent and the foreign media were talking and writing admiringly about the 'polder model'. Even so, the policies of the second 'purple' coalition were not without their critics. The liberal attitudes of the government were denounced by religious minorities in particular and controversy surrounded such issues as the Dutch policy on euthanasia and the official tolerance shown towards soft drugs.
Another thorny issue for the present government is immigration. In 1999 the number of asylum applications was 39,299. By 2000 it had risen to 49,895. At present, 5 per cent of the population are non-Dutch nationals and the capital city, Amsterdam, is home to over 200 different nationalities. Clearly the Netherlands is becoming a multicultural society accommodating a host of communities of different ethnic origin.
The former 'pillarisation' of the country along religious and political lines may have been the butt of widespread criticism, but it had the advantage of ensuring that people in the Netherlands behaved tolerantly towards people with views different from their own. In fact, the roots of that tolerance go back to the 17th century, when the Netherlands was already providing a refuge for many victims of (particularly religious) persecution.
Another factor is that government in the Netherlands has openly favoured the development of a multicultural society in which individuals have the freedom to celebrate their own cultural background, religion and language. This means equal treatment for everyone. Article 1 of the Dutch Constitution states that: 'All persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race or sex or on any other ground whatsoever shall not be permitted.' In this sense, the Netherlands may be said to be a country in which a high political priority is attached to the existence of a healthy and tolerant society.