Happy Little Country

The Dutch have never had it so good.

View of the Netherlands from the air
View of the Netherlands from the air (Skitterphoto)

The Dutch are happier than ever. Austerity is over. The immigration crisis has receded from the headlines. The government this week announced €3 billion in tax cuts and is planning a long-term investment fund worth up to €50 billion. Support for anti-establishment parties is down. Just 16 percent want to leave the EU anymore.

Happy

The Dutch place fifth in the 2019 World Happiness Report, their highest score since the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network started counting seven years ago. Only the Finns, Danes, Norwegians and Icelanders say they’re happier.

The Netherlands’ own research has similarly found that most people in the country are content with their lives. Statistics and more objective ratings show they have reason to.

Life expectancy, at 82, is among the highest in the world. The 2018 Euro Health Consumer Index (PDF) ranks the Dutch health care system as the best in the EU. Only non-EU Switzerland scores better. Same with education: only Switzerland places ahead of the Netherlands in Europe, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Netherlands is considered the second best country in Europe, and seventh in the world, for international students. All the major Dutch universities rank in the European top 25.

Economy

The Netherlands’ ratio of debt to gross domestic product is projected to fall below 50 percent next year, when the country will have a budget surplus of 1 percent of GDP.

Unemployment, at 3.3 percent, is the third lowest in Europe, after the Czech Republic and Germany. The Netherlands has more people in work than ever before — but more than half work part-time, most by choice, as a result of which the country has the shortest workweek in Europe.

Growth is expected to slow to 1.8 percent this year and 1.5 percent in 2020. Hence the government’s plan to borrow money now, when interest rates are virtually zero, in order to prepare for future economic shocks. After Ireland and Germany, the Netherlands would be hardest hit by a no-deal Brexit.

Politics

Trust in the political system is higher than it has been in a decade. The Dutch still worry about immigration, but there is a growing consensus about what it means to be Dutch and most name health and elderly care as the more important issues.

Support for anti-immigrant and Euroskeptic parties is down. Forum for Democracy, which unexpectedly placed first in midterm elections earlier this year, is down from a 17-percent high in the polls to 8 percent. Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party has barely benefited from the collapse of its younger competitor. It is up from a low of 5 percent to at most 9 percent.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal party is winning back right-wing voters. Its support is at 21 percent, the same it got in the last general election.

The other governing parties are doing so-so. Support for the Christian Democrats has hovered around 10 percent for the last three years. The smaller Christian Union is slightly up. The pro-European liberal Democrats are still down a few points. Some of their voters appear to be defecting to the Labor Party, which is getting back on its feet after posting its worst election result ever in 2017.

Labor has even pulled ahead of Forum, which means the three largest parties in the polls are now the same that have dominated Dutch politics for the last forty years: Labor on the left, the Christian Democrats in the center and the liberals on the right.

For the Dutch, it’s back to normal.