12 provinces, 12 councils and some very big issues to solve

all flags of the Netherlands regions. vector illustrations
Illustration: Depositphotos.com

The Netherlands goes to the polls to vote for members of the 12 provincial councils on March 15. While the pundits are watching the outcomes to try to find out what they will mean for national government – the provincial councillors vote for the senate – the provinces have some big issues of their own to deal with.

Provincial elections reveal deep-seated mistrust in Dutch politics

From wolves to nitrogen, from roads to housing – here’s a quick round-up of the main topics of conversation on a province by province basis.

Provincial capital: Assen
King’s commissioner: Jette Klynsma
Seats on the council: 41
Current coalition: VVD, GroenLinks, PvdA, CDA, ChristenUnie
Website (Dutch only)

Big issues: The return of the wolf is a major source of contention in the third of the northern provinces, particularly among farmers, and the province has a special consultant who focuses on wolves and a plan of action to deal with them. Energy is another thorny problem – with big divisions between the pro and anti wind and solar farm lobbies. A third major issue is what to do about the N34 ‘hunebed’ highway which crosses the province. Some argue it should be doubled in size, others want the speed limit cut to 80 kph.

A Drenthe hunebed. Photo: Niels van der Pas

Provincial capital: Lelystad
King’s commissioner: Leen Verbeek
Seats on the council: 40
Current coalition: VVD, GroenLinks, PvdA, CDA, ChristenUnie, D66
Website (Dutch only)

Big issues: Measures to combat nitrogen-based pollution are high on the agenda in this farm-based province as is the future of Lelystad airport – plans to turn it into Schiphol overspill are currently on ice. Plans to develop a direct train route from Groningen to Amsterdam, taking in Lelystad, are also a hot topic.

Provincial capital: Leeuwarden
King’s commissioner: Arno Brok
Seats on the council: 49
Current coalition: VVD, PvdA, CDA, FNP (Frisian nationalists)
Website (Dutch and Frisian)

Big issues: The arrival of wild wolves back in the Netherlands is one of the dominant themes in Friesland where the provincial authorities came up with plans to put a fence round the entire province to keep them out. The decline of the Frisian language is also an issue.

Photo: Depositphotos.com

Provincial capital: Arnhem
King’s commissioner: John Berends
Seats on the council: 55
Current coalition: VVD, GroenLinks, PvdA, CDA, ChristenUnie
Website  (Dutch, English, German)

Big issues: Gelderland hit the headlines at the end of last year after giving approval to fire paintballs at wolves in an effort to keep them away from visitors to the Veluwe national park. The courts later ruled the plan off limits but the arrival of the wolf is still a major concern. Gelderland is also home to a large part of the country’s poultry industry, which is still being affected by bird flu. Given the emphasis on farming, opposition to the government’s plans to cut nitrogen pollution are top of the list of concerns in Gelderland.

Provincial capital: Groningen
King’s commissioner: René Paas
Seats on the council: 43
Current coalition: VVD, GroenLinks, PvdA, CDA, ChristenUnie, D66
Website (Dutch only)

Big issues: The province has had a key role in the campaign to get proper compensation for locals whose homes have been damaged by the gas-related earthquakes and welcomed last month’s damning report on the government and energy firms’ performance. In addition, Groningen has been struggling to deal with the shortage of refugee housing, and is home the country’s only reception centre in Ter Apel where hundreds of people were forced to sleep outdoors last summer.

The Sint Servaasbrug in Maastricht. Photo: Depositphotos

Provincial capital: Maastricht
King’s commissioner: Emile Roemer
Seats on the council: 47
Current coalition: VVD, GroenLinks, PvdA, CDA, D66, EENLokaal
Website (Dutch only)

Big issues: People living in Limburg were most likely to cite the nitrogen pollution issue as the biggest concern, followed by ‘poverty and high prices’ and ‘immigration’ in a recent RTL survey. Problems paying for damage after the 2021 floods, which have still not been resolved, are also a major local issue as is the future of Maastricht Aachen airport.

Provincial capital: Den Bosch
King’s commissioner: Ina Adema
Seats on the council: 55
Current coalition: VVD, GroenLinks, PvdA, CDA, D66
Website (Dutch and English)

Big issues: Noord-Brabant is big on livestock farming so little wonder that the nitrogen issue and farmers are top of the list of concerns and the pro-farmers BBB is set to become one of the biggest parties in the province. The future of Eindhoven airport is also a big issue, as is investment in combating drugs and other organised crime. Rural public transport and keeping the province’s village life alive also feature high on the list of locals’ concerns.

Photo: DutchNews.nl

Noord Holland
Provincial capital: Haarlem
King’s commissioner: Arthur van Dijk
Seats on the council: 55
Current coalition: VVD, GroenLinks, PvdA, D66
Website Dutch and English

Big issues: Housing is top of the list of concerns, particularly in the Amsterdam region, where waiting lists for social housing keep on stretching, and there is little available to buy or rent. Pollution from the Tata steelworks in IJmuiden and noise and other issues at Schiphol airport were also high on the list of concerns compiled by RTL Nieuws. Alternative energy sources, such as the local of wind farms, is another major issue.

Provincial capital: Zwolle
King’s commissioner: Andries Heidema
Seats on the council: 47
Current coalition: CDA, VVD, PvdA, ChristenUnie, SGP
Website (Dutch only)

Big issues:
Mistrust of the government’s plans to slash nitrogen pollution runs high in the largely rural province of Overijssel, where the pro-farmers party BBB is set to emerge as the biggest. Water is another major issue. Local drinking water company Vitens warned last year that it was unable to provide drinking water to several companies in the province because of shortages and that new sources in the region were desperately needed. Research by Ipsos indicates that 74% of the province’s rural population think ‘things are not going well in the Netherlands’.

Provincial capital: Utrecht
King’s commissioner: Hans Oosters
Seats on the council: 49
Current coalition: VVD, GroenLinks, PvdA, D66, ChristenUnie
Website (Dutch and English)

Big issues: One of the most controversial regional plans in recent years is Utrecht’s decision to widen the A27 motorway, which will involve cutting down thousands of trees. Housing is a major issue, with the main parties in conflict about what proportion of social housing new developments should include. Wind turbines too are a source of controversy, with GroenLinks saying the province should have the power to force towns and villages to accept them even if locals object.

Photo: DutchNews.nl

Provincial capital: Middelburg
King’s commissioner: Han Polman
Seats on the council: 39
Current coalition: VVD, PvdA, CDA, SGP
Website (Dutch only)

Big issues: The risk posed by carcenogenic PFAS in the Westerschelde estuary is a major concern in the Netherlands’ most western province, as is the campaign to scrap tolls in the Westerschelde tunnel for locals. The decision to build two more nuclear power stations at Borssele is also dividing local politicians along traditional party lines. Depopulation and keeping the province’s villages and traditions alive are also hot topics.

Provincial capital: The Hague
King’s commissioner: Jaap Smit
Seats on the council: 55
Current coalition: VVD, GroenLinks, PvdA, CDA, SGP/ChristenUnie
(Website) Dutch only

Big issues: The nitrogen issue is a major source of division in Zuid-Holland, where much of the country’s greenhouse horticulture is based. Housing too is a touchy subject. The province needs to build 235,000 new homes to meet demand and far right parties have suggested allowing people to live permanently on holiday parks as one way round the shortage. Traffic and mobility are also high on the political agenda, particularly calls by the left for more investment in public transport at the expense of cars.

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