For a long time the Dutch concept of a multicultural society has been seen in Europe, and particularly in Germany, as a model of successful integration of people from different origins and of different religions.
The murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a fundamentalist Muslim in November 2004, however, sparked off an active debate in both the Netherlands and Europe more generally about the success or failure of this multicultural model of integration.
What is the "Dutch model"? Why did it serve as an example for Germany? And has this Dutch model of integration failed?
The relevant aspect of this "Dutch model" here is that of integration policy. A central element of this is what was in 1979 identified as a "Minority Policy", which aimed to support and empower different ethnic communities.
Under this policy, the most important ethnic minorities established state-funded advisory bodies, through which they could be represented on a wide range of issues affecting them. The opinions of these bodies had to be taken into consideration by all state bodies. The advisory bodies still exist today, although they are accorded less weight. In addition, the state promoted radio and television production in minority languages and allowed different denominations and religious groups to set up religious schools. It also ensured that students of immigrant families receive mother-tongue lessons on empowerment from their own cultural perspective.
The underlying ideal of state assistance to promote equality of minority groups should not be understood simply as a reaction to immigration in the 1970s and 1980s. It is based more on the concept of so-called "Verzuiling" (based on "pillars"), which constituted the historical foundation of the Dutch nation-state. Under this concept, the state structure is composed of a number of different cultural, religious or political groups, or "pillars" (Wielenga/Taute, 2004). The different groups are therefore represented in state policy through structured negotiations within the polder system. The participation of ethnic minority groups in society on the same basis was meant to be facilitated in 1985 by granting local voting rights to foreigners, a comparatively easy naturalisation process and comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation introduced in 1994. The approach therefore involved placing an emphasis on consensus and tolerance, and especially the incorporation of ethnic groups into all relevant areas of policy. These were also the features that characterised the "Dutch model" as it was understood abroad. In the international context of the 1990s the Netherlands even put itself forward as "gidsland" – leading country (Böcker/Thränhardt, 2003). Public servants spoke of the "Dutch model" at international conferences.
This comparative self-confidence on the part of the Netherlands is in stark contrast to the situation in Germany. For decades, German migration and integration policy has been characterised as "failed", "deficient", and certainly less effective than that of its European neighbours. Of the now three well known models of integration – assimilation (France), multiculturalism (Netherlands) and "guest worker" (Germany) – the German "anti-integration model" has been seen both in France and the Netherlands as an example of bad practice. The Dutch model of multicultural and tolerant coexistence of people from different cultures was taken as proof that such a diverse society was possible. The perception of the Netherlands as a model was then reinforced by the xenophobic fire-bombings and attacks on foreigners in Germany at the beginning of the 1990s. Thus the Federal Government Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration as well as other institutions and even the "Süssmuth Commission"
referred to the Netherlands as an example of good practice.
|1996||2005 (January)||2020 (Forecast)|
|Allochtonen* - Population in total||2.498.715 (16,1%)||3.112.431 (19,1%)||4.152.415 (24,7%)|
|Dutch Antilles, Aruba origin||86.824||129.721||188.865|
|Non-western Foreigners (Turkish, Africa, Latin America, Asia, with exception of Indonesia and Japan)||1.171.113 (7,5%)||1.691.982 (10,4%)||2.425.016 (14,4%)|
|Total poulation Netherlands||15.493.889||16.292.847||16.799.820|
|* In its population figures, the Netherlands distinguishes between "Autochtone" and "Allochtone". According to official Dutch CBS Statistics, a person with at least one parent born overseas is designated as "allochtoon", regardless of the place of their birth (Holland or elsewhere). This is an unusual way of categorising national data on immigration, and implies that Dutch figures on immigration appear as somewhat inflated in international comparisons.|
Source: Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek (CBS).
Ines Michalowski is completing her PhD at the Political Science Institute, University of Münster and the Centre for Sociology of Organisations (Sciences-Po/CNRS), Paris.