Click on the read more button below to learn more about the Dutch geography and the different languages that dutch people speak. In addition, you can read more about the currency and exchange rates, the Dutch culture & religion, the financial system & economy and the infrastructure.
The Netherlands (often called “Holland”) is a modern, prosperous nation located in north-west Europe. With a population of 17.4+ million people and an area of 41,543 km², it is one of the world’s most densely populated countries. The Kingdom of the Netherlands is made up of four countries: the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao and St Maarten. Bonaire, Saba and St Eustatius are special municipalities of the Netherlands.
The official language is Dutch, a language spoken by 23 million people worldwide. Dutch is spoken in the Netherlands, Belgium (Flanders) and Suriname. Dutch is also an official language of Aruba, Curaçao and St Maarten.
Approximately 90% of Dutch speak English — the global business language — and many people are multilingual.
The euro is the official currency in the Netherlands. The Euro Area refers to a currency union among the European Union member states that have adopted the euro as their sole official currency. In Netherlands, interest rate decisions are taken by the Governing Council of the European Central Bank.
The culture of the Netherlands is diverse, reflecting regional differences as well as foreign influences, thanks to the Dutch mercantile spirit and their zest for exploring, and the influx of immigrants. The Netherlands has a liberal image, which stems from pragmatism and a “live and let live” attitude. It is a consensus-based society, with making compromises and joint problem-solving being an essential part of the Dutch character.
Approximately 55% of the population consider themselves non-religious. The largest religious denomination is the Roman Catholic Church (23%), followed by the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (10%), and Islam (5%). The rapid secularisation of the Netherlands since the 1960s has meant that the importance of religion in the social and cultural lives of many Dutch people has decreased.
The Netherlands has the 17th-largest GDP in the world (2021) (IMF). It has a modern banking and financial system, which is fully integrated into the international system.
The Dutch economy has a strongly international focus. The Netherlands has had a long history as a trading nation. Foreign trade is the lifeblood of Dutch prosperity: it is the eighth-largest exporter of goods and capital in the world. Owing to its relatively small domestic market, the Dutch economy is one of the most open and outward-looking in the world.
The Netherlands lies on the North Sea at the delta of three major rivers leading into the heart of Europe: the Rhine, Maas and Scheldt. Due to its prime maritime location, the country has long played an important role as a key port and distribution centre for companies operating worldwide. The port of Rotterdam is the biggest port in Europe. Inland waterways and ports link the various parts of the Netherlands together and to its European neighbours.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is the largest airport and has 316 direct destinations. There are also a number of regional airports, the main ones being Rotterdam Airport, Eindhoven Airport, Groningen Airport and Maastricht Airport.
Furthermore, the Netherlands has an excellent infrastructure, good roads, a first-rate public transport system and a close-knit network of trains and buses. France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Austria and Switzerland are within easy reach by rail and road.
There is easy access from the Netherlands to the single European market (including the financial and commercial centres in Britain, France and Germany) and every corner of the European Union.
The Netherlands is one of the founding members of the European Union and plays an active role in many international organisations. It has active diplomatic and economic relations with most countries in the world. The Union currently counts 27 EU countries. The United Kingdom withdrew from the European Union on 31 January 2020.
The Netherlands is also a member state of the European Economic Area (EEA), the Schengen Area, the EU Customs Union and the Council of Europe.
The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system. Although His Majesty King Willem-Alexander formally heads the government, it is the prime minister who governs in practice, together with the other ministers and state secretaries. The ministers are accountable to the Dutch parliament for the government’s actions, including those of the monarch. The monarch also plays a role in the formation of a new government, which in the Netherlands always consists of a coalition of various political parties. Read more about the government.
The Dutch Parliament is called “the States General”. It is a bicameral, which means it consist of two chambers: the Senate (Eerste Kamer der Staten-Generaal) and the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal). Normally, every four years the Dutch citizens entitled to vote (Dutch nationals aged 18 or over) elect the people who will represent them in Parliament, so the elections are the basis of democracy. Members of the Senate are elected by the provincial counsils, i.e., by the members of the twelve provincial legislatures. Read more about the democracy in the Netherlands.
Every year, on the third Tuesday in September – a day known as Prinsjesdag – the government presents its budget for the coming year, and the King delivers a speech from the throne outlining the government’s policy and plans for the coming year. The budget requires the approval of parliament.
A legislative proposal is made by the minister responsible for the legislative domain (with government approval) or by one or more members of parliament (without government approval).
Before a legislative proposal is sent to the House of Representatives, it is reviewed by the Council of State (Raad van State). Sometimes the proposal is amended on the Council of State’s advice. The advice of the Council of State is sent to the House of Representatives at the same time as the legislative proposal and an explanatory memorandum.
The legislative proposal is first discussed in the House of Representatives, which has the right to amend it. After a legislative proposal has been adopted by the House of Representatives, it is sent to the Senate. The Senate does not have the right to amend the proposal. It can merely adopt or reject it.
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The Dutch constitution provides for the legal system and enshrines the independence of the judiciary. It is the role of the legislature (with the advice of the Council of State) to ensure that laws are constitutional. In the Netherlands, the constitutionality of a law is not a matter for the courts.
The Netherlands has a civil-law system similar to that used in France, Germany and many other countries. As a member of the European Union, the Netherlands is also subject to European law. Civil cases are dealt with by eleven district courts located throughout the Netherlands, four courts of appeal, and the Supreme Court of the Netherlands (Hoge Raad). The courts are divided into various sectors, for example the family sector and commercial sector. The district courts also have a special chamber that deals with claims under €25.000 and disputes concerning employment, tenancy and consumer sales. This chamber is also referred to as the subdistrict court (kantongerecht).
Some courts have specific expertise in and jurisdiction over cases in specific areas. For example, the Enterprise Chamber (Ondernemingskamer) of the Amsterdam Court of Appeal has exclusive jurisdiction over certain matters relating to corporate law. Patent matters must be submitted to The Hague District Court and maritime matters to the Rotterdam District Court. International business disputes can be heard by the Netherlands Commercial Court in Amsterdam (see below).
Both at first instance and on appeal, cases are examined on both their facts and their legal merits. The Supreme Court, however, does not review the facts of a case.
Civil litigation in the Netherlands is often a relatively expeditious process – it may take several months to a year (but occasionally longer) to obtain a final decision. Often the courts try to expedite matters by calling on the parties to enter into settlement negotiations during a rather informal hearing (mondelinge behandeling). If the matter at hand is urgent and, in view of the parties’ interests, requires an immediate remedy, it is possible to start summary proceedings to obtain provisional measures. Sometimes a decision can be obtained in just a few days. It is not unusual for litigation to continue no further than these summary proceedings, the parties considering the summary decision to be a reliable indication of the eventual outcome in the proceedings on the merits. In the Netherlands, unlike its neighbours, the time limits for bringing a civil claim are relatively long. The applicable time limit is determined by the nature of the claim. Usually, it is five years. However, a time limit of two or three years applies with respect to certain types of claims.
Two key elements stand out with regard to such time limits in the Netherlands. The first is that a time limit may be interrupted (and extended) by an ‘act of interruption’ (stuitingshandeling), such as a letter in which a creditor stipulates the intention to use the right of performance. A new time limit will begin following such an act of interruption. The second is that a creditor must complain in due course after discovering a failure in the performance of an obligation, at the risk of forfeiting all rights to a legal claim.
In most administrative law matters the party who does not agree with the administrative decision must object to the decision-maker itself and ask for reconsideration. If the decision is not reconsidered, the party can start proceedings at the competent court. This can be the administrative section of one of the eleven district courts or a specific administrative court, such as the Administrative Jurisdiction Division of the Council of State (Afdeling rechtspraak van de Raad van State). This court decides in the first and only instance disputes concerning decisions or orders issued by municipal, provincial or central government bodies (decisions in individual cases as well as orders of a general nature). Applications for provisional relief (pending the outcome of the proceedings) can also be submitted to the Administrative Jurisdiction Division of the Council of State.
A decision of the district court can be appealed at the competent administrative court of appeal. Depending on the matter this can be the Administrative Jurisdiction Division of the Council of State, which is the highest general administrative court when acting as appellate court, the College van Beroep voor het bedrijfsleven (for economic administrative law), the Centrale Raad van Beroep (for social security and public service law) or Hoge Raad (for tax matters).
Criminal cases are dealt with by the criminal sector of the eleven district courts located throughout the Netherlands, four courts of appeal, and the Supreme Court of the Netherlands (Hoge Raad).
On 1 January 2019, the Netherlands Commercial Court (NCC) opened its doors for international business disputes. It provides for proceedings and judgments in English. The NCC District Court and the NCC Court in Summary proceedings are a special chamber in the Amsterdam District Court. Their decisions can be appealed to the NCC Court of Appeal, a chamber in the Amsterdam Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court can hear the NCC Court of Appeal’s decisions.
An international business dispute can in general be submitted to the NCC if it concerns a civil or commercial matter within the autonomy of the parties, unless the matter must be decided by the subdistrict court or by another court that has exclusive jurisdiction. The Amsterdam District Court must have jurisdiction to hear the case, for example on the basis of a choice of forum by the parties. Moreover, the parties must expressly (not in general terms and conditions) agree in writing that the court proceedings will be held in English before the NCC. More information can be found on the NCC’s website.
Collective actions are becoming increasingly common in the Netherlands. The Netherlands has three different collective redress mechanisms: class action proceedings on the basis of Article 3:305a DCC, the bundling of claims (assignment model or mandate model), and an independent class settlement mechanism (WCAM settlements).
A representative entity, either a Dutch foundation or an association with full legal capacity, can initiate a class action to protect the similar interests of an unnamed group (the class). Since the entry into force of the Act on redress of mass damages in a collective action (WAMCA) on 1 January 2020, all remedies, including monetary damages, can be sought. The WAMCA also introduces stricter requirements for the standing of the representative entity and the international scope of collective actions. The WAMCA contains procedural changes to make proceedings more efficient and effective as well. Class members who do not want to be bound to the judgment can opt out. Foreign claimants must – in principle – opt in. If a settlement agreement is reached and declared binding by the court during the class action proceedings, all class members have an opportunity to opt out. The WAMCA applies to class actions that are brought on of after 1 January 2020 and relate to events that took place on or after 15 November 2016.
The Act on the collective settlement of mass damage (WCAM) provides for independent proceedings that allow the parties to a settlement agreement to jointly ask the Amsterdam Court of Appeal to declare the settlement binding on all class members. In doing this, the court assesses factors like the reasonableness of the agreed compensation. Class members who do not want to be bound can opt out. So far, nine class settlement agreements have been declared binding since the WCAM entered into force in July 2005. In three of those cases, the Amsterdam Court assumed jurisdiction although a substantial number of class members (the potential claimants and beneficiaries) were based outside of the Netherlands.
A judgment rendered by a foreign court is not automatically recognised and enforced by the courts of the Netherlands unless a treaty on recognition or enforcement is applicable. However, if a person has obtained from a foreign court a final judgment for the payment of money that is enforceable in the relevant jurisdiction, and if that person files the claim with a court in the Netherlands, the Dutch court will generally recognise the foreign judgment if the court finds that (i) the jurisdiction of the foreign court is based on grounds that are internationally acceptable and (ii) the appropriate procedures were duly followed. In this event, the Dutch court will render a similar decision to that of the foreign court and that decision – as a Dutch decision – will be enforceable in the Netherlands. However, a Dutch court will not allow a foreign judgment to be recognised if the court finds that the foreign judgment is (i) against “Dutch public order” according to Dutch legal standards or (ii) incompatible with a judgment rendered by a Dutch court in a dispute between the same parties, or incompatible with a prior foreign judgment that is subject to recognition in the Netherlands in a dispute between the same parties on the same subject matter and with the same cause.
For the enforcement in the Netherlands of a judgment in civil or commercial matters issued by a court in another EU member state following legal proceedings that were instituted on or after 10 January 2015, Council Regulation (EU) No. 1215/2012 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (recast) states that no leave to enforce is required anymore, meaning that such a judgment is directly enforceable. For a judgment to which Council Regulation (EC) No. 44/2001 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters continues to apply, the Dutch court’s leave for enforcement can be obtained within a few weeks. For EFTA member states, a similar procedure for obtaining leave for enforcement applies. For judgments made under the European Enforcement Order or the European Payment Order, the enforcement of judgments by other EU member states in the Netherlands (and vice versa) is even quicker and easier because, like Council Regulation (EU) No. 1215/2012, no leave for enforcement is required in the country where enforcement is sought.
Dutch courts generally recognise contractual choice-of-law clauses and jurisdiction clauses, but not if they are considered to contravene “public order” by Dutch legal standards.
Arbitration is quite common in civil and commercial cases. On 1 January 2015, the new Arbitration Act entered into force in the Netherlands. Principal reasons for modernising Dutch arbitration law include: the codification of best practices, increasing the consumer’s faith in arbitration, reducing the costs for parties, restricting the procedure for setting aside awards to one fact-finding instance, and making the Netherlands a more attractive venue for international arbitral proceedings. The new Arbitration Act awards greater power to the parties to structure the proceedings in a way they deem fit, while limiting court interference to a considerable extent. As the Netherlands is a party to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, Dutch arbitral awards are in principle easily enforceable in over 150 states worldwide (and vice versa).
Commercial contracts often bind parties to rely on the rules of the Dutch Arbitration Institute (Nederlands Arbitrage Instituut) in the event of a dispute. More information on this (including standard clauses) is provided at www.nai-nl.org/en.
Mediation is also becoming more common, not only in divorce and other family-related cases but also in civil and commercial cases. New legislation to strengthen the position of mediation and its quality has been proposed and is currently subject to negotiations in parliament. At Houthoff we have two IMI Qualified Mediators.