Constitution and Charter

The Constitution is the most important state document and the highest law in the Netherlands. It dates from 1814. The version of the Constitution currently in force dates from 1983. It combines the rules governing the Dutch system of government and fundamental rights.

The Constitution contains:

  • Fundamental rights that give individuals the freedom to live and to take part in society and politics without interference from government. Fundamental rights include:
    • freedom of expression;
    • the right to privacy;
    • the right to vote and to stand for election;
    • the right to equal treatment.
  • Important rules on the organisation of the Dutch system of government, such as:
    • how representatives of state institutions (such as parliament, government and the courts) are elected or appointed and what their duties and powers are; 
    • how laws are made and how the Constitution itself can be amended; 
    • how provinces and municipalities are governed.

The Constitution is subordinate to the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which regulates the constitutional relationship between the different states constituting the Kingdom, i.e. the Netherlands, Curaçao, St Maarten and Aruba.

Fundamental rights

Chapter 1 of the Constitution lays down the rights of all persons in the Netherlands. These ‘fundamental rights’ are principally human rights and democratic rights. They include freedom from discrimination, freedom of religion and expression and the right to privacy. Social rights, such as the right to housing and health care, are also laid down in the Constitution.

No review of constitutionality of primary legislation

The courts cannot review primary legislation to see whether it is compatible with the Constitution and then declare it unlawful if it is not. Such review is permitted in most other countries in the European Union.

Amendment of the Constitution

The legislative procedure to amend the Constitution differs from that for ordinary legislation. The Constitution is revised in two stages, or readings. At second reading, a majority of two-thirds is required in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.