The Senior Civil Service in the Netherlands: A Quest for Unity

Frits M. Van Der Meer and Jos C. N. Raadschelders

in Bureaucratic Elites in Western European States

Published in print December 1999 | ISBN: 9780198294467
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191600067 | DOI:
 The Senior Civil Service in the Netherlands: A Quest for Unity

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Dutch society takes pride in its egalitarian character, and political and administrative officeholders are neither separated off nor placed on a pedestal. This general attitude originates in the predominantly middle‐class nature of Dutch society, in which the idea of formal incorporation of top civil servants in a separate class of administrative personnel is foreign; however, at the same time, there is a striving for unity in the national administration. The issue of tension between unity and fragmentation forces an assessment in this chapter of current developments in the higher civil service in comparison with the situation as it existed from the Second World War up to the early 1990s, with the emphasis on developments in the past two decades in which the most important event was the formation of a Senior Public Service (the Algemene Bestuursdienst, or ABD) after 1 July 1995. The first main section of the chapter (section II) examines what is meant by a ‘senior civil service’ in the Dutch context, where even the creation of the ABD does not provide a conclusive answer, since there are many senior civil servants outside it. In order to address this issue, the characteristics of the Dutch personnel management system are examined, and a brief outline given of the ABD and of the number of top civil servants working at central government level in the period 1976–1995. Section III turns to the political–administrative organization and the consultative structures at the top of the central government departments, and discusses the structure of the ABD, while section IV discusses the political affiliation (politicization) of top civil servants, and section V looks at functional mobility at the top, with special attention to the functional motives for creating the ABD. Finally, the social political structure of the civil service is reviewed, with sections on social (VI) and educational (VII) background.

Keywords: administrative organization; Algemene Bestuursdienst; central government; civil service; consultative structures; educational background; egalitarianism; fragmentation; higher civil service; mobility; national administration; Netherlands; personnel management; political organization; politicization; senior civil service; social background; top civil servants; unity

Chapter.  9604 words. 

Subjects: Comparative Politics

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