Guest lecturer: Mark Rutte

The Netherlands and the rest of the world

14 June 2016

During the closing lecture of the series Hoe werkt Nederland (How does the Netherlands work), the guest speaker will, for the first time in this series, be welcomed with a great applause. Mark Rutte will enter the hall, with his recognisable presidential smile of course. How does the Netherlands work according to the current prime minister? And how does the Netherlands relate to the rest of the world?

‘I just came back from the Innovation Expo, which thousands of entrepreneurs attended. I was asked several times there: “What is the current state of the Netherlands, prime minister?” To answer this, I propose that we all step in the bus and join in the lecture Hoe werkt Nederland (How does the Netherlands work). 

The country of traditional dress and Gay Pride

‘At the beginning of this lecture series you were asked: Who thinks that the Netherlands is the best country to live in?  Who put their hand up then?’ Approximately 30% of the hall put their hand up. ‘ And who thinks that the Netherlands is the best country to live in at the end of this series?’ Approximately 50% of the hall put their hand up now. Mark smiles contentedly.

‘If you think of the Netherlands, the first things that come to mind are often frugality and reliability. We do not tolerate hierarchies. That is the strength of the Netherlands. We are creative and have no respect for the boss just because he or she is the boss, but only if he or she delivers good work. We are the country of traditional dress, but also of Gay Pride. We are trendsetting with an international business instinct, but also the country of Jan Salie (link

New Amsterdam

‘Russel Shorto (writer of Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City) spoke to me about the historical significance of the Netherlands in America. What Shorto finds unique about the Netherlands is that it is also ordered anarchically. Historically, we have never had a strong federal structure, but have learnt to depolderise socially. That is still in our culture; the Netherlands is a partnerships of equals. What I feel in the Netherlands, I also feel in New York. I feel immediately at home there. You are not a tourist there. As a Dutch person, you fit in perfectly with the multicultural society and the social system of individualism and personal responsibility.’

The Netherlands belongs to the world’s top

‘Did you know that the Dutch healthcare system is one of the best systems in the world? In Europe in any case? It is impossible to compare it with America or Japan. And that our pension system is in the top 3 globally? In addition, the Netherlands is in the top 5 of the most competitive economies in the world? My sister lived in Connecticut for a while with her husband. She first lived in a beautiful house, and then in a mobile home. All the friends she had there still liked to drop by, even if they were sitting in that mobile home. The view that if you persevere and do you best that you will automatically end up back in that house was prevalent. I use this example because an atmosphere of “just act normal”, “it’s best to put your money in the bank” and “above all, don’t take any risks” has been prevalent in the Netherlands for many years. I have seen this change significantly in the last 10 to 15 years. People are much more enterprising and this is also being noticed abroad. Amsterdam is the number 1 place in Europe to set up business as a foreign company; a city in which the entreprenurial spirit is very much alive.’

What is not going well in the Netherlands?

‘Of course, there are things that are not going well. We are lagging behind considerably in the field of environmental innovation and energy supplies. This in spite of the fact that growth and green go well together. There must be more investment into circular energy and Cradle to Cradle.  I personally don’t believe so much in windmills. The technology for this changes too quickly and it requires investments that are too large. However, the Netherlands is, above all, a country that is big on complaining. Maybe this is part of the anti-hierarchical culture. We can be quite proud of ourselves. I also notice that among students, where a culture of mediocrity is too prevalent. It is not sexy to only get nines, although you should actually be proud that you work hard and are one of the best. There is a lot of pressure on students. They have to graduate quickly. The university is a place that shapes you greatly and there is nothing wrong with taking one or two years extra to finish your study. Of course, you shouldn’t just hang around in bars. I am not going to pay for that.’

‘What am I most proud of? Very childish, but the fact that I can now text Merkel and Cameron with the message that the Dutch economy is growing 30% to 40% faster than the German or English economies.’

The prime minister in the hall for an hour? No problem. That’s the way the Netherlands works.

Published by  Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies