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Democracy in the Low Countries


Admission requirements

Students should be able to study sources in Dutch. Knowledge of French is useful.


At the beginning of the nineteenth century the Netherlands and Belgium belonged to one ‘United Kingdom’ (1815-1830), and in particular in 1960-1990 political science and historiography both their political systems were often characterized as ‘consociational democracies’ (no dominating majority but many minorities, seeking consensus through negotiation). Both have been liberal democracies for a long time and both democracies did not succumb to the fascist temptations of the 1930s. The two neigbouring countries have a lot in common. Yet, there are a number of striking differences, too. The Belgian constitution introduced a sort of popular sovereignty already in 1831, the Dutch constitution does ignore it even today. Dutch mayors are still being appointed, the Belgian mayors have been elected for a long time. Belgian political life has often been more active than Dutch political life, Belgian parliaments are much more unruly than Dutch are. It could be argued that Belgian politics has been inspired by the French political tradition, whereas the Dutch tradition seems to be a combination of liberal British and admistrative German tradition. In this class we will investigate this difference by comparing the two countries on a number of accounts: parliaments, newspapers, political parties, constitutions, political leaders etc. It is also possible to look for local case studies or study historiography and theory in this context. The comparison will be facilitated by a cooperation with the University of Antwerp, where prof.dr Marnix Beyen will teach a class with the same subject. We will arrange meetings in order to learn about the other country and to exchange views.

Course objectives

  • Comparison of Dutch and Belgian democracy and political life.

  • Knowledge and understanding of the history of Dutch and Belgian political cultures.

  • Knowledge and understanding of relevant parts of the debate about (consociational) democracy in both countries.


See here.

Mode of instruction

Research Seminar

Course Load


Assessment method

  • Written papers (70 %).

  • Oral presentations and small assignments (20 %).

  • Participation in class (10 %).


Blackboard will be used.

Reading list

To be announced.


See here.

Contact information

E-mail: Prof. Dr. H. te Velde.