Change in the Netherlands is s-l-o-w

Shifts in official policy in the Netherlands take a long time but when a decision is finally made, it is not going to change, writes economist Mathijs Bouman.

Change in the Netherlands is slow and sluggish. The process usually starts with a warning from experts that a certain situation could become untenable. It’s a phase that can last years. Then, slowly, the realisation takes hold that something should be done. The SER publishes a report and then the unions and employers lumber into action.

They become deadlocked in ever-lasting negotiations. Every once in a while someone gets upset, organises a demonstration and leaves the negotiating table in a huff. But he will always return to the other barons and together they hammer out half a deal after which the politicians take over.

The politicians wait for the elections so they can turn the accord into a policy during the cabinet formation. Cue some major concessions to iron out the differences and they’re on their way. After a couple of angry motions by MPs and some grumblings from the Senate, at long last we have a policy change.


It’s an agonisingly slow process but it does have one advantage: the decision is set in stone. Everyone has put his oar in so a decision is irrevocable. It may be slow but it’s steady.

Take the pension age hike. At the beginning of the nineties economists pointed at the aging population and said we needed to work longer. Everyone chewed on this for the next 20 years but in the end even the social conservatives of the SP and the PVV agreed to the hike. The PVV succumbed in 2010 when it supported the VVD-CDA cabinet and the SP in 2012 when a CPB report showed it too wanted to increase the pension age to 67.

Two consecutive cabinets have now decided to increase the pension age. Both chambers have agreed to it. The consensus model has done it again – albeit even more slowly than usual.

So forget the FNV’s call for a new early retirement plan. Ignore the false arguments which claim this will mean jobs for young people. Don’t pay attention to the polls that say the Dutch want to work fewer years. And don’t listen to the SP and PVV politicians who pretend to be in favour of lowering the pension age again.

We are going to work longer. That’s a fact. It’s a decision, set in stone. No one is going to turn back the clock, not the FNV, not the SP and certainly not the PVV, no matter what they say. Everyone knows that a higher pension age is logical, reasonable and necessary.

This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad

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