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Holland marks 200 years parliamentary democracy

page19a128THE HAGUE--Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte gave a speech on Friday at the special joint assembly of the Dutch Parliament’s First and Second Chambers in The Hague. This special meeting at the Hall of Knights (Ridderzaal) was arranged as part of the merriments to celebrate parliament’s 200th anniversary.

On October 16, 1815, the Dutch Senate and the lower house of Parliament, together called the Estates-General (Staten-Generaal), met together in The Hague for the first time.

Prime Minister Rutte was initially not able to deliver a speech as he was scheduled to attend the European Council in Brussels. He would have been replaced by Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher. But since the European Council was cut short, Rutte was able to speak at the joint assembly himself.

Before an audience, which included King Willem-Alexander, former Prime Ministers and chairpersons of the First and Second Chambers and guests from the countries in the kingdom, Rutte said the Netherlands is having a parliamentary democracy to be proud of.

Former Prime Minister Wim Kok was more critical, and cautioned Parliamentarians to make more efforts to reduce the gap between residents and politicians.

Chairperson of the First Chamber Ankie Broekers-Knol and her counterpart in the Second Chamber Anouchka van Miltenburg also made speeches. Several performances by artistes were also part of the programme.

The First Chamber consists of 75 members chosen by the Provincial Estates, which are the councils of representatives of each province. These representatives are directly elected by the people in that province. However, this was not always the case.

Between 1815 and 1848, they were chosen and appointed by the King or Queen of the Netherlands. The number of members was also not always the same. It started with 40 to 60 members, was reduced and then increased again to the current 75 in 1956.

The Second Chamber is made up of 150 members elected directly by the people. There was a time that there was one representative per 45,000 citizens, but in 1956 the number was fixed to 150.

The Estates-General meet in the Binnenhof complex in The Hague. In these buildings, the Prime Minister also holds his office, which is called “The Turret” (Het Torentje), and the Council of Ministers meets in the complex every Friday as well.

The Second Chamber, however, moved from its original hall in the Binnenhof to a new building adjacent to it in 1992.

The Estates-General in its modern form with two chambers turned 200 years on Friday. However, the Estates-General already existed in a different form since 1464.

Back then, the Estates-General referred to the three estates of representatives for the people, whose support and consent the King needed to be able to reign properly. These were high clergymen, knights and the bourgeoisie. The French word états which referred to these three estates was translated into Dutch to Staten. This definition also goes for the earlier mentioned Provincial Estates.

The anniversary of the current Estates-General marked how special it is that the current parliamentary system is still in place, and that the Netherlands has one of the oldest parliaments in the world.