Author: Veerle Korsten

Freedom, equality, solidarity and participation. These are the universally agreed-upon four Dutch core values (DUO 2020).

Since 2017, the Dutch participation statement process aims to acquaint status holders with these principles (SZW 2017). In fact, within a year of receiving a residence permit, a status holder must have taken civic integration courses and signed this statement (DUO 2020).

Municipalities are free to interpret their task to organize the courses’ trajectory (DUO 2020a). The Hague municipality for example organizes two half-day dialogue-based courses (Gemeente Den Haag 2017). Yet, many have criticized the participation in these courses as being meaningless (Schram 2016). 

New Integration Policy

The participation statement has been a mandatory element of the Dutch civic integration process since 2017 (SZW 2017). Completing the participation statement process is mandatory for everyone who entered an obligation to integrate after October 1st, 2017 and is registered in the Municipal Personal Records Database. These rules exclude children below the age of 18 (SZW 2016). The participation statement process ends when a status holder signs a participation statement. Before signing, the status holder must understand the participation statement’s content: Dutch norms, values, and the constitution (VluchtelingenWerk Nederland 2019).

Within a year after receiving a residence permit, a status holder must finish the participation statement process. If a status holder does not sign the participation statement within a year, DUO – the Dutch education service and body that provides loans to refugees – imposes a fine: The status holder loses the right to apply for a DUO loan in order to finance the integration program. Furthermore, if the process remains unfinished, the status holder will be barred from taking the civic integration exam (SZW 2016). Thus, some status holders focus on finishing this mandatory integration step first (DUO 2020).

The Philosophy Behind the Plan 

Why is the Dutch civic integration trajectory structured in this way? At its core lies the status holder’s continuous learning path (VNG 2020).

In the asylum-seeking center – the AZC – a status holder first comes in contact with Dutch social rules. During the participation statement trajectory, the status holder is meant to learn about Dutch values. The status holder then deepens this knowledge during the civic integration exam trajectory (VNG 2020). 

However, in many cases the status holder’s learning path is not as linear. In reality, the participation statement trajectory runs parallel to a status holder’s other obligations such as language or civic integration courses (DUO 2020). 

The Hague’s Trajectory

Municipalities have a lot of freedom in the interpretation of their obligation to organize the participation statement trajectory. For example, municipalities can choose to outsource the service to other municipalities or social organizations (DUO 2020a). They are also free to choose the length of the trajectory and the educational session’s format, such as workshops or discussions. However, they cannot change the content of the participation statement as it is a nationally uniform document. These official “certificates” or “contracts” are ordered from the government (DUO 2020a).   

The Hague municipality requires the status holders to follow two half-day courses. VluchtelingenWerk Nederland – an independent organization representing the interests of refugees, asylum seekers and status holders residing in the Netherlands (VluchtelingenWerk Nederland 2020) – provides these workshops (Gemeente Den Haag 2017).

During these workshops, status holders engage in dialogues to learn about the Dutch core values. For instance, status holders talk about the differences between the values of their country of origin and The Netherlands. Status holders also share their visions and views of the definitions of freedom, equality, solidarity, and participation (VluchtelingenWerk Nederland 2020a). 

100 percent attendance is a requirement for the status holders (Gemeente Den Haag, 2017). Only after the successful completion of both workshops can they sign their participation statements and complete this step of their civic integration process (Gemeente Den Haag 2020).     

Critique on the Participation Statement

The participation statement is a contested policy tool. Many politicians and journalists criticized the participation statement for being toothless and symbolic (Schram 2016). Opponents hold three main criticisms of the statement. 

  1. Wrong incentives are in place to motivate status holders to sign the participation statement. Non-compliance leads to fines. Consequently, status holders might sign the statement regardless of their understanding of the content and whether they agree with the statement (Waal 2017; Schram 2016). 
  2. Demanding status holders to sign the statement is at odds with the Dutch core values. In the Netherlands, people have freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and expression, or as the participation statement mentions: “Everyone can choose what they believe” (DUO 2019). Yet, the government forces status holders to “support” specific ideas, such as “Everyone can choose their partner” (DUO 2019). Many thus argue that it would be better to ask status holders to respect the Dutch legal order (Waal 2017). 
  3. The statement affects equal citizenship. The government introduced the statement because status holders do not “clearly” understand Dutch society’s “rules” and therefore need education. Consequently, status holders must be “perfect” citizens before they deserve Dutch citizenship. But citizens without a migration background never have to learn about Dutch values, regardless of their respect and support for Dutch values or lack thereof (Waal 2017).

VluchtelingenWerk Nederland agrees that signing the statement indeed “only has value if people recognize what they are signing for” (VluchtelingenWerk Nederland 2018). To combat superficiality of the program, they developed an addition to the half-day workshops: four in-depth meetings. During these follow-up meetings, status holders engage in dialogue about the Dutch core values and constitution (VluchtelingenWerk Nederland 2020). Municipalities can decide to collaborate with VluchtelingenWerk Nederland to organize such an elaborate trajectory (VluchtelingenWerk Nederland 2018). The municipality The Hague does work together with VluchtelingenWerk Nederland but has not adopted the extensive trajectory.  

To conclude, shared values and a shared understanding of participation are the glue that holds our multicultural community together (KIS 2017). The Dutch government hopes to strengthen this social glue by teaching status holders about freedom, equality, solidarity, and participation. But the question remains whether the participation statement process is the optimal way to do so. 


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How do Status Holders Learn About the Four Dutch Core Values: Freedom, Equality, Solidarity and Participation?

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