The Netherlands’ drop in the Soft Power rankings this year comes as Prime Minister Mark Rutte attempts to raise his profile in the European Union and fights to maintains his popularity and fragile coalition at home. There is a new populist challenge in the form of the Forum for Democracy party, but Rutte’s pro-EU message has continued to resonate with the Dutch electorate. The most recent European elections were a prime example of this and will have encouraged Rutte, who has long been touted as a candidate for some of Europe’s top jobs. Despite fears that instability in Europe could affect one of Europe’s smallest and most open nations, multinationals continue to flock to the country’s urban hubs and the Government runs a 1.2% budget surplus. With a strong economy and global outlook, the Netherlands appears to be finding a new role as “the English-language economy in the EU” that the world may need after Brexit. Boasting seven of the world’s top 80 universities, an outward-looking approach and sensible fiscal policy, the Netherlands is best placed to assume this mantle. Its soft power should soon reap the rewards.
Government remains the Netherlands strongest sub-index by some distance. It continues to set the standard for being an equal and tolerant society and is famed for liberal attitudes to matters such as euthanasia and sexuality. This was most clearly demonstrated when, upon its release in January, a document signed by 250 Dutch clergy members against progressive ideas about sex and gender received unanimous backlash from Dutch society.
The Netherlands continues to perform well across the board, but it is by no means immune to the populist surge seen in other parts of Europe. Increasing, healthcare and housing costs, rising inflation and impending pension cuts are worrying Dutch voters. The face of Dutch populism has shifted to Thierry Baudet, a smooth operator who has spoken out in favour of strict immigration policies, defended misogynist comedians, and called Brussels “the root of all evil”. Baudet looks like the biggest threat to the Netherlands’ strong government index performance.
Digital is another sub-index in which the Dutch Government has room to grow. Continuing to build on improvements to its digital infrastructure will encourage further companies to relocate to the Netherlands, boosting the country’s Enterprise sub-index score as well.