Social safety in Dutch House of Parliament still insufficiently safeguarded

Tweede Kamer gebouwen bij avond

Researchers from Utrecht University have investigated the social safety in the Dutch House of Representatives at the request of the President of the House and the Registrar. In the final report 'Kracht zonder Tegenkracht' (Power without counter force), they conclude that the social safety of civil servants, political staffers and Members of Parliament is not well safeguarded yet.

Participants in this investigation feel socially safe in general. Still, some of them also feel little leeway to make mistakes and discuss this with each other. On top of that, some experience unacceptable behaviour from other House officials: from belittling remarks and bullying behaviour to discrimination, intimidation and sexually inappropriate behaviour. The experiences of participants who experienced this kind of behaviour show that the dealing with signals and reports vary strongly, and are still regularly insufficient.

Exactly in the heart of democracy, social safety as to be fundamental

Patterns and mechanisms that lead to risks

The research shows that the social unsafety a number of House officials experience is much more than a sum of incidents. The research shows underlying patters and mechanisms which form concrete and persistent risks for the social safety of civil servants, political staffers and Members of Parliament. The unequal power relations, political interests, a closed culture, strong feelings of loyalty and the pressure House officials experience are among the factors that play an important part in this.

Despite visible attempts by the Presidium and official supervisors to improve the social safety in the Dutch House of Representatives, the current policies and leadership at all levels turn out to currently provide insufficient counterbalance. Because of this, the social safety of House officials is insufficiently safeguarded. Even though exactly in the heart of democracy, where points of view should be exchanged freely and safely, social safety should be fundamental. All those involved - Members of Parliament, political staffers and civil servants - have roles to play in the necessary improvements. Civilians, political parties and media do as well.

Moral appeal to everyone who is a part of the environment in which House officials do their work

Disrupt the dynamic

The researchers offer twenty recommendations focused on improving social safety in the Dutch House of Parliament. As a part of this, they also make a moral appeal to everyone who is a part of the environment in which House officials do their work. The media, political parties and civilians, too. The research shows that risks to social safety in the Dutch House of Parliament do not come about in a vacuum. They come about in part in a complicated social dynamic we all uphold: some examples are the expectations we have of politicians and the way in which we express our criticisms of politics. An environment in which small and unintentional mistakes can also lead to harsh sanctions and more and more regulations will eventually be at the expense of the social safety needed to make high-level collaboration and thorough decision making possible.

Much can and should be expected of the Dutch House of Parliament. After all, their influence on society is big. However, things will go wrong in an institution as special as the Dutch House of Parliament, too. Any compassion, attention to nuance and delay of judgement could be meaningful, to make for space to take REAL responsibility and learn from mistakes. Such an attitude – from all of us – improves social safety in the long run, and the democratic process with it.

Conclusions and recommendations

The research report is completely public. The conclusions and recommendations can be found in chapters 5 and 6, respectively, of the research report (In Dutch): Kracht zonder Tegenkracht.

About the research team

The research was carried out by an independent and interdisciplinary team of academics. Besides research leader Prof. Leonie Heres, Dr. Marijke Naezer, Dr. Marij Swinkels, Isa Bertram MSc, Prof. Kees van den Bos and Bart Sprokholt were also members of the research team. The research team was supported internally by an expert team of three fellow academics who critically read along and commented at certain moments. The internal expert team consisted of Dr. Kim Loyens, Prof. Elaine Mak and Dr. Eva van Vugt.

The research team is bound by the Dutch code of conduct for academic integrity, which secures their independent position as well as the meticulousness, confidentiality and transparency of the research.

More information / the full research report

Would you like to know more about this research? If you do, please download the research report. You can also contact the research team via Press Officer Gert den Toom

Download the research report (in Dutch) 'Kracht zonder Tegenkracht' (pdf, 4,7 MB)