The limits of the Crown

By Siert van Kemenade

In the Netherlands, municipal majors are not directly elected, but appointed by the Crown (the King + Minister of Internal Affairs) on recommendation of the municipal council. The composition of the municipal council is determined via municipal elections. Legally seen, anybody could apply for a major position, but only 2 of the 335 majors in The Netherlands do not have any party affiliation. This makes being a major part of political life.

In addition, there is also no formal institution prohibiting the Crown to reject the person recommended by the Municipal council. More precisely, a municipal council deals with a King’s commissioner to discuss potential candidates that could receive recommendation from the council. After that, the commissioner takes the recommendation to the King for him to sign. Here, the King could theoretically just say no. This would greatly influence his power over municipal policy making, allowing him to effectively control urban life.

Yet in reality, such a rejection is highly unusual, due to an informal institution that limits the role the King has in the Dutch government.  Its result is the compliance of the King with whatever Dutch representatives agree upon, without formal enforcement. The informal institution was a causal effect of a principle in the constitution, making the King inviolable and the ministers responsible for everything he does. Whereas the ministerial responsibility is a formal institution, it lead to an informal institutional conversion of the assumed behavior of the King in government. Without it, the country would be ungovernable, leaving everyone worse off.  The inviolability of the King, which practice lead him to have some influence over procedural matters and a publicly paid salary, make this a preferable outcome for him as well. This informal institution explains the King’s behavior in appointing majors.