The development of democracy in the province

The history of Groningen goes back many centuries. Traces of early settlements, dated to around the second and third centuries were found during  excavations. The city was important for the province and vice versa. History shows us that, because the developments within the province of Groningen go hand in hand with the development of the city Groningen.

Villa Cruoninga

The First settlement of the city Groningen was built on the northern tip of the ‘Hondsrug’: this is the most northern situated dry spot in an environment that was once surrounded by turf and bogs. In the year 1040, the original name of the city Groningen, ‘Villa Cruoninga,’ was first mentioned in a letter.

With this letter, king Henry III granted the domain wares to the diocese of Utrecht. In the eleventh century, Groningen got a rampart, which was reinforced by a city-wall in the thirteenth century. This enabled Groningen to develop into a strong and stable commercial city: concluding treaties with the ‘Ommelanden’(surrounding areas, the "lands around") Hunsingo, Fivelingo en Westerkwartier. Troubles were met along the way because during the sixteenth century, tensions rose due to internal struggles over power and judicial control in the city.

Staple Rights

The biggest point of dispute between the city and the ‘Ommelanden’ was the so called ‘Staple Rights.’ Settlers of the ‘Ommelanden’ were obligated to trade their grain in the city and were allowed to brew beer for personal use only. Opposition against the Staple Rights increased and eventually in 1575, the Ommelanden seceded from the city. In 1579, the Ommelanden signed the Union of Utrecht and joined the Calvinist rebellion against Spain.

Member of the Republic of the United Netherlands

However, secession did  not last long. In 1594, the combined armies under prince Maurits and Willem Lodewijk, Earl of Nassau, captured the pro-Spanish Catholic city Groningen. In 1594, in the so called ‘Traktaat van Reductie’ (Treaty of Reduction) the States General determined that the city and the Ommelanden were to be united into one ‘Gewest’ (region). On 17 February 1595, the city of Groningen and the Ommelanden were admitted to the Republic of the United Netherlands as the seventh province.

The Provincial Council of the ‘Stad en Lande’ made up the General Executive Government of this new region, which was comprised of the Mayor and Council of the city of Groningen and the States of the Ommelanden. Both parties had one vote. The Provincial Executive made up the executive committee. The highest ranking Provincial administrator was the ‘Stadholder’ (regent). His most important post was Captain-General of the armed forces in the region.

Kaart provincie Groningen
Historical map of the province of Groningen

French occupation leads to new government structure

During the French occupation (1795-1813), the Batavian-French period, the Dutch governmental organisation was fundamentally changed. Napoleon laid the foundations for the governmental organisation as we know it to this very day. The Departments in The Hague wield the scepter. The borders and name of the current province of Groningen have changed several times during that period.

It was called ‘Westereems’ during 1799 and 1801 with Leeuwarden as its capital. This was later replaced by the Department of Groningen. In 1811, a Department of Westereems was formed. The Department of Westereems was comprised of the current provinces of Groningen, Drenthe and the area between the Eems and the current state border. For the first time, municipalities were established which was an important new development. Since 1808, some 62 municipalities have been established in the province of Groningen.

The Departmental Board is made up of twelve persons whose  sole respons ibilities are to collect taxes and improve infrastructure. Since 1807, the ‘landdrost’ (préfet) is the highest ranking provincial administrator. Six assessors (sous-préfets) assist him.

Kingdom of the Netherlands

In 1814, the domination by the French came to an end: the Kingdom of the Netherlands was founded. The Departments were replaced by the Provinces. The powers of the Provincial Council are described in detail in the Constitution. The king appoints a governor for each province who will have a deciding voice in the State Executive. He has direct access to the king.

The members of the Provincial Council are elected by a group of men who pay a certain amount of land taxes. This is known as census suffrage. There are about 450 electorates on a total population of 145.000 people. They vote for electors who in turn vote for the members who will make up the Provincial Council. The democratic role of the Provincial Council at that moment is relatively small.

The Province Law of Thorbecke

The new Province Law of 1850 was based on the Constitution of Thorbecke (1848) and helped secure the future of democracy. From that time onwards, the province was allowed to levy its own taxes and issue regulations. State meetings became public, however, only the most well-to-do men could vote for State members. In 1917, universal suffrage for men was enacted, followed in 1919 by women suffrage. This effectively marked the end of census suffrage.

A dark chapter in the history of democracy during the Second World War

During the Second World War (1940-1945), the provincial Government functioned until 1941. On September 1, 1941,  regulation 152/1941 took effect. This meant that all activities both of the Provincial Council and the municipal councils were postponed. This was the end of parliamentary democracy. The Provincial Council was obligated to end all its activities. The Queen’s Commissioner was fired. All delegates were forced to resign. They were replaced by six Governing Counselors (members of the NSB, the Dutch Nazi party). In February 1942, a member of the NSB was appointed as Provincial Commissioner by the German occupiers. 

Painting 'Vrijheidsboom' ('Freedom tree'), 1795 (J.L. Hauck, collection Groninger Museum)

From the post-war period until now

A new time of change dawned after the Second World War. It was yet again possible to hold elections for the Provincial Council. In 1962, a new Province Law was enacted. The Provincial Council  received more tasks and powers.
Dualism was established after the State elections of 2003. The delegates were no longer members of the Provincial Council. The members of the Provincial Council have become representatives of the people and also check the supervisory board of the Provincial Executive.

Would you like to know more?

Do you want to know how everything is organised right now and who are seated in the provincial Government? For more information please check the link for the Provincial Council & Provincial Executive. We have put together a brochure called ‘de Statenzaal,’ describing the history and management the Provincial Executive of the past four centuries. You can request this brochure or download it here below.