Dutch regions have been in the spotlight several times recently. For example, the Provincial Council elections, where the gap between ‘Randstad and region’ seemed wider than ever. Or the recent report “Every Region Counts!”, which exposed the differences in broad prosperity between regions: essential facilities such as schools, GP surgeries, shops and bus stops are disappearing, putting pressure on the liveability of communities in the region. This development cannot be dissociated from the growing popularity of regional parties and thus also has repercussions on the national political agenda.
Recently, the report ‘Every Region Counts! was published by three advisory councils: The Council for the Environment and Infrastructure (Rli), the Council for Public Health & Society (RVS) and the Council for Public Administration (ROB). The report shows that regional disparities in broad prosperity have widened in recent years and, perhaps more importantly, that government policies are contributing to this. As a result, a number of regions outside the “Randstad” (the central-western part of the Netherlands that connects the country’s four largest cities – Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Utrecht – and where almost half the population lives) are struggling with an accumulation of disadvantages in various aspects, such as income, living environment, public facilities and employment. Reacting to the report, minister Bruins Slot of the Interior and Kingdom Relations therefore agreed that in the past, the government has too often looked away from the interests of the region.
The region is also underrepresented within “The Hague”, according to recent research by the University of Groningen. In recent decades, a significant majority of MPs came from the Randstad, and most parliamentary questions focused on the Randstad region. This disproportionate representation has led to regional discontent, according to the researchers, as there is a feeling that politicians overlook certain regions and interests.
Regional parties and the growing role of the region
Regional parties have become increasingly successful in regional elections in recent years. A good example of this development is of course the unprecedented victory of ‘farmers’ party’ BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB) in the last Provincial Council elections, where it became the largest party in all 12 provinces. This trend also seems to be continuing at the national level. For instance, BBB is currently the largest party in the Netherlands, according to the latest polls.
The growing focus on the region has also led to a reconsideration of the role of provinces and municipalities in national politics. Besides the increasing focus on regions, decision-making is also increasingly shifting towards the local level. As a result, municipalities and provinces are playing an increasing role in important social issues, such as climate change and energy transition. All this offers opportunities for better alignment of policies with the specific needs and challenges of the different regions in the Netherlands. However, this also requires good and structured lobbying from the region.
Meanwhile, The Hague seems to be paying more attention to the region, as seen, for instance, in increasing attention from parties and MPs in various debates and parliamentary questions. Parties such as the Christian Democrats (CDA), for example – which have seen many voters leave the region in recent years – have recently been focusing more and more emphatically on regions outside the Randstad. The House of Representatives will also discuss the conclusions and implications of the report Every Region Counts! with several regions during a round-table discussion on 31 May.
Clearly, the region is back on the map in The Hague.