Legitimacy Research in Progress VIII: Bart-Jan Heine

Political scientist Bart-Jan Heine has entered the final phase of his PhD research within the Profile Area Political Legitimacy. He expects to complete his thesis, ”Consensus Politics in the Netherlands, A parliamentary-historical study of the political decision-making culture in the Netherlands (1946-2002)” in the first half of 2017. We are proud to publish an abstract of his research so far.


Bart-Jan Heine

Bart-Jan Heine

This PhD project investigated how the Dutch political elites deal with important and sensitive issues that could easily lead to political conflict and social unrest. In the standard view of the Dutch politics, the elites try to solve problems and (potential) conflicts by dialogue and negotiation rather than by adversarial and competitive politics. Therefore, the Netherlands is often classified as a ‘consensus democracy’ according to the literature. This conclusion is, however, primarily based on studying the formal political institutions of the country, and it is still the question whether the decision-making process is in practice more consensual or - its opposite - majoritarian in nature. Therefore, this project systemically analyzed parliamentary debates on some of the most explosive issues in the second half of the twentieth century like abortion, euthanasia and welfare state reform.

The main finding of this research was that the decision-making culture in the abovementioned period is still primarily consensual in nature. It appeared that consensus politics is the ‘default position’ for the political elites. Confronted with sensitive issues, the elites tried to solve these issues by following the rules of the consensus politics: they depoliticized, they agreed to disagree and they installed advisory commissions in order to get a compromise and to shape consensus. If this did not work out, they postponed the decision and avoided simple majoritarian decisions. However, it became harder to make compromises as a result of a more activistic parliament, and changing views on democracy (more majoritarian). Moreover, the issues were sometimes so fundamental that a compromise was almost impossible to reach. In these kind of cases, ‘consensus’ had to be enforced by the political leadership, and it became less a matter of voluntary consensus-seeking. To some extent the political elites performed a kind of ‘balancing-act’ between the demand of consensus as the norm of ‘input-legitimacy’ and the effectiveness of a government in terms of ‘output-legitimacy’.

PhD Candidate: Bart-Jan Heine
Title (provisional): Consensus Politics in the Netherlands, A parliamentary-historical study of the political decision-making culture in the Netherlands (1946-2002)
Started: 2011
Finished: expected in 2017
Department: Institute of Political Science, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (Leiden University)
Supervisors: prof. dr. R.A. Koole & mr. dr. H.M.Th.D. Ten Napel

Last Modified: 04-04-2016