In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section BeNeLux Politics and Government

  • Introduction
  • Political History
  • Political Science Journals

Political Science BeNeLux Politics and Government
Min Reuchamps
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 March 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 March 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0372


Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands are known as the BeNeLux countries and in the field of political science, but also in history, as the Low Countries. This expression is the English translation of the French Les Pays-Bas that refers only to the Netherlands and of the Dutch de Nederlanden that refers to Dutch and Flemish lands. Historians and political scientists have enlarged the understanding of Low Countries to include her smaller neighbors of Belgium and Luxembourg for geographical and historical as well as political reasons. These three countries are indeed first and foremost low countries in a geographical sense: large portions of their territory are at sea level, sometimes even below, and their highest point never reaches 700 meters high—322 meters for the Netherlands, 560 meters for Luxembourg, and 694 meters for Belgium (even though these altitudes have been contested). The same goes for their territories. For centuries, the territories in these Low Countries were intermingled into smaller entities governed by often changing—and sometimes the same—rulers, and their current delimitation into three different states came only in the 19th century. In 1815, after the Napoleonic Wars and a French occupation, the Congress of Vienna redrew the map of Europe and merged the territories—referred as provinces—of the Low Countries into a single state made of the northern provinces (that were united and independent as Republic of Seven United Provinces between 1648 and the French period), the southern provinces (that would become Belgium) and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (that was to be part of the German Confederation but ruled by the Dutch Crown). Fifteen years later, the southern provinces broke away to form an independent Belgium (including the western part of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg that became Belgium’s Province of Luxembourg) that was recognized by the Netherlands in 1839. With this treaty, the remaining—eastern—part of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg received its independence with the title of Grand Duke of Luxembourg still being held by the Dutch monarch until 1890 when the Grand Duchy started to have its own monarchy. Such a combination of common geography and history fostered similar political dynamics such as consociationalism and politics around cross-cutting cleavages, neocorporatism, fragmented party competition, proportional representation and compulsory voting, democratic innovations, and Europeanization patterns in three small founders of the Europen integration. These peculiar political features led political scientists to study and sometimes compare the Low Countries. They did so in the vernacular language of these countries but also—progressively—in English, although at a difference pace (earlier on in the Netherlands, more recently for Belgium and Luxembourg). This bibliography cites only references in English that are often based on these non-English-language sources, which are definitely worth reading for a full understanding of BeNeLux politics and government. The author would like to thank Ezechiel Lerat for his highly efficient research assistance as well as several colleagues from the Low Countries for their suggestions of landmark publications on these countries in their respective fields: Benjamin Biard, Sven Biscop, Marleen Brans, Scott Brenton, Caroline Close, Léonie de Jonge, Lieven De Winter, Patrick Dumont, Anna-Lena Högenauer, Kristof Jacobs, Vincent Jacquet, Maurits Meijers, Ank Michels, Christoph Niessen, Eline Severs, Audrey Vandeleene, Yannick Vanderborght, Ramon van der Does, Julien van Ostaaijen, Ruud Wouters. Needless to say, all editorial choices and any remaining errors are the sole responsibility of the author.

Political History

The three countries share an intertwined political history. This is due to their geographical closeness, but also because some of their territories shared the same rulers for several decades and even centuries, even though they formed a single political unit for only short periods of time. Historians have looked at the common history of the Low Countries, with different starting points: both Arblaster 2018 and Blom and Lamberts 2006 at Roman times or Kossmann 1978 in 1780 at the end of the Ancien Régime. The specific history of the Netherlands has been explored by several books in English. Two of them offer a short history that goes back to prehistory: Rietbergen 2015 and Kennedy 2017. Wielenga 2019 focuses on the five hundred years before the 21st century. The history of Belgium has traditionally been told in Dutch or in French; in English, Cook 2002 retraces Belgium’s history and Witte, et al. 2009 offers the landmark monography of Belgium’s political history. The history of Luxembourg has mostly been written in French, German, or Luxembourgish. Barteau 1996 offers a historical dictionary of Luxembourg. A concise political history of the country is proposed in Margue 1970 and in Kmec and de Jonge 2019. Martí-Henneberg 2021 offers a short political history of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg in order to shed light on the process of European integration. The political history of the Low Countries also entails, for The Netherlands and Belgium, a long and disputed colonial past. Oostindie 2011 and van Engelenhoven 2022 look at colonial and postcolonial Netherlands in relation to its former colonies: Indonesia, Suriname, and the Antilles. Poddar, et al. 2008 provides several contributions examining the topic of Belgium and its colonies. Van Reybrouck 2014 offers a history of Congo, which was for several decades Belgium’s main colony.

  • Arblaster, Paul. A History of the Low Countries. 3d ed. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.

    Now at its third edition, this book traces the history of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg back to 57 BC with the Gallic Wars.

  • Barteau, Harry C. Historical Dictionary of Luxembourg. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1996.

    This dictionary offers over three hundred short articles on the prominent persons, places, events, and institutions in the history of Luxembourg.

  • Blom, Johannes C. H., and Emiel Lamberts, eds. History of the Low Countries. 2d ed. New York: Berghahn, 2006.

    This edited volume is a (slightly amended) English translation of the Geschiedenis van de Nederlanden. It gathers eight chapters covering all the periods of the—sometimes common—history of the Netherlands and Belgium.

  • Cook, Bernard A. Belgium: A History. New York: Peter Lang, 2002.

    In this English-language book, Belgium’s history is covered from antiquity to post–World War II.

  • Kennedy, James C. A Concise History of the Netherlands. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781139025447

    This book reviews the history of the Netherlands starting from the first settlements until today.

  • Kmec, Sonja, and Léonie de Jonge. “Luxembourg: History.” In Western Europe. 22d ed. Edited by Catherine Hartley, 465-470. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2019.

    This short piece is one of the few publications in English presenting the political history of Luxembourg.

  • Kossmann, Ernst H. The Low Countries, 1780–1940. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.

    This book presents the common history of the low countries between 1780 and 1940, when the history of these countries was particularly intertwined.

  • Margue, Paul. A Short History of Luxembourg. Luxembourg: Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, Ministry of State, Information and Press Department, 1970.

    A short book describing the history of Luxembourg published by the Information and Press Department of the Ministry of State and reedited multiple times.

  • Martí-Henneberg, Jordi, ed. European Regions, 1870–2020: A Geographic and Historical Insight into the Process of European Integration. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2021.

    This edited volume offers a short political history of Belgium (chapter 3), the Netherlands (chapter 4), and Luxembourg (chapter 5).

  • Oostindie, Gert. Postcolonial Netherlands: Sixty-five Years of Forgetting, Commemorating, Silencing. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.5117/9789089643537

    Originally published in Dutch, this book looks at postcolonial Netherlands and in particular the political questions it raises.

  • Poddar, Prem, Rajeev S. Patke, and Lars Jensen, eds. A Historical Companion to Postcolonial Literatures: Continental Europe and Its Empires. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008.

    The first part of this volume gathers two dozen contributions about “Belgium and its colonies.”

  • Rietbergen, Petrus J. A. N. A Short History of the Netherlands: From Prehistory to the Present Day. Amersfoort, The Netherlands: Bekking & Blitz Publishers, 2015.

    This multi-edited book, which also exists in Dutch, briefly describes (in less than 200 pages) the history of the Netherlands.

  • van Engelenhoven, Gerlov. Postcolonial Memory in the Netherlands: Meaningful Voices, Meaningful Silences. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2022.

    DOI: 10.5117/9789463726177

    This book looks at how the Netherlands deals with its colonial past and the political questions and conflicts it sparks.

  • van Reybrouck, David. Congo: The Epic History of a People. London: HarperCollins, 2014.

    First published in Dutch as Congo: Een geschiedenis (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 2010) this book covers the history of today’s Democratic Republic of Congo, from the prehistory until the present time.

  • Wielenga, Friso. A History of the Netherlands: From the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day. Translated by Lynne Richards. 2d ed. London: Bloomsbury, 2019.

    Published in three languages—German, Dutch, and English—this work covers the last five hundred years of the Netherlands when it emerged as a united territory, enjoyed a Golden Age in the 17th century and a decline in the following century, and finally was in the middle of European geopolitical dynamics until today.

  • Witte, Els, Jan Craeybeckx, and Alain Meynen. Political History of Belgium: From 1830 Onwards. Brussels: ASP, 2009.

    This book is the landmark monography in English tracing the political history of Belgium since her independence.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.