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The Netherlands (pronounced /ˈnɛðərləndz/ ( listen); Dutch: Nederland, pronounced [ˈneːdərlɑnt] ( listen)) is a constituent country in Northwestern Europe of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, comprising the majority of its territory. It is a parliamentary democratic constitutional monarchy. The Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east. The capital is Amsterdam and the seat of government is The Hague.
The Netherlands is often called Holland, a pars pro toto, as North and South Holland are actually two of its twelve provinces (see terminology of "the Netherlands"). The word Dutch is used to refer to the people, the language, and anything pertaining to the Netherlands. This lexical difference between the noun and the adjective is a peculiarity of the English language and does not exist in the Dutch language. The adjective 'Dutch' is derived from the language that was spoken in the area, called 'Diets', which equals Middle Dutch.
Being one of the first parliamentary democracies, the Netherlands was a modern country from its inception. Among other affiliations the country is a founding member of the European Union (EU), NATO, OECD, WTO, and has signed the Kyoto protocol. With Belgium and Luxembourg it forms the Benelux economic union. The country is host to five international courts: the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Court and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The first four are situated in The Hague as is the EU's criminal intelligence agency Europol and judicial co-operation agency Eurojust. This has led to the city being dubbed "the world's legal capital".
The Netherlands is a geographically low-lying country, with about 27% of its area and 60% of its population located below sea level. Significant land area has been gained through land reclamation and preserved through an elaborate system of polders and dikes. Much of the Netherlands is formed by the estuary of three important European rivers, which together with their distributaries form the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta. Most of the country is very flat, with the exception of foothills in the far southeast and several low-hill ranges in the central parts.
The Netherlands is a densely populated country in Europe. It is known for its windmills, tulips, clogs, delftware, gouda cheese, visual artists, bicycles, traditional values, and civil virtues such as its social tolerance. The country has more recently become known for its liberal policies toward drugs, prostitution, immigration, homosexuality, euthanasia and abortion.
Under Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and king of Spain, the region was part of the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands, which also included most of present-day Belgium, Luxembourg, and some land of France and Germany. The Eighty Years' War between the provinces and Spain began in 1568. In 1579, the northern half of the Seventeen Provinces formed the Union of Utrecht, a treaty in which they promised to support each other in their defense against the Spanish army. The Union of Utrecht is seen as the foundation of the modern Netherlands. In 1581 the northern provinces adopted the Act of Abjuration, the declaration of independence in which the provinces officially deposed Philip II of Spain. Queen Elizabeth I of England sympathized with the Dutch struggle against the Spanish, and in 1585 she concluded a treaty with the Dutch whereby she promised to send an English army to the Netherlands to aid the Dutch in their war with the Spanish. In December 1585, 7,600 soldiers were sent to the Netherlands from England under the command of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. However, the English army was wasted away in fruitless military campaigns in the Netherlands and had no real effect of helping the Dutch rebellion. Robert Dudley returned to the Netherlands in November 1586 with another army. However, the result was no better than it had been in 1585. Philip II, the son of Charles V, was not prepared to let them go easily, and war continued until 1648, when Spain under King Philip IV finally recognised the independence of the seven northwestern provinces in the Peace of Münster. Parts of the southern provinces became de facto colonies of the new republican-mercantile empire.
Dutch Republic 1581–1795
After independence, the provinces of Holland, Zeeland, Groningen, Friesland, Utrecht, Overijssel, and Gelre formed a confederation known as the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. All these provinces were autonomous and had their own government, the "States of the Province". The States-General, the confederal government, were seated in The Hague and consisted of representatives from each of the seven provinces. The sparsely populated region of Drenthe, mainly consisting of poor peatland, was part of the republic too, although Drenthe was not considered one of the provinces. Drenthe had its own states, but the landdrost of Drenthe was appointed by the States-General.The Republic occupied a number of so-called Generality Lands (Generaliteitslanden in Dutch). These territories were governed directly by the States-General, so they did not have a government of their own and they did not have representatives in the States-General. Most of these territories were occupied during the Eighty Years' War. They were mainly Roman Catholic and were used as a buffer zone between the Republic and the Southern Netherlands.
The Dutch Empire grew to become one of the major seafaring and economic powers of the 17th century. In the so-called Dutch Golden Age ("Gouden Eeuw"), colonies and trading posts were established all over the world. Dutch settlement in North America began with the founding of New Amsterdam, on the southern tip of Manhattan in 1614. In South Africa, the Dutch settled the Cape Colony in 1652. By 1650, the Dutch owned 16,000 merchant ships. During the 17th century, the Dutch population increased from an estimated 1.5 million to almost 2 million.
Many economic historians regard the Netherlands as the first thoroughly capitalist country in the world. In early modern Europe it featured the wealthiest trading city (Amsterdam) and the first full-time stock exchange. The inventiveness of the traders led to insurance and retirement funds as well as such less benign phenomena as the boom-bust cycle, the world's first asset-inflation bubble, the tulip mania of 1636–1637, and, according to Murray Sayle, the world's first bear raider, Isaac le Maire, who forced prices down by dumping stock and then buying it back at a discount. The republic went into a state of general decline in the later 18th century, with economic competition from England and long standing rivalries between the two main factions in Dutch society, the Staatsgezinden (Republicans) and the Prinsgezinden (Royalists or Orangists) as main factors.
In the 17th century, plantation colonies were established by the Dutch and English along the many rivers in the fertile Guyana plains. The earliest documented colony in Guiana was along the Suriname River and called Marshall's Creek. The area was named after an Englishman. Disputes arose between the Dutch and the English. In 1667, the Dutch decided to keep the nascent plantation colony of Suriname conquered from the English, resulting from the Treaty of Breda. The English were left with New Amsterdam, a small trading post in North America, which is now known as New York City.
French domination (1795–1815)
On 19 January 1795, one day after stadtholder William V of Orange fled to England, the Bataafse Republiek (Batavian Republic) was proclaimed, rendering the Netherlands a unitary state. From 1795 to 1806, the Batavian Republic designated the Netherlands as a republic modelled after the French Republic.
From 1806 to 1810, the Koninkrijk Holland (Kingdom of Holland) was set up by Napoleon Bonaparte as a puppet kingdom governed by his brother Louis Bonaparte in order to control the Netherlands more effectively. The name of the leading province, Holland, was used for the whole country. The Kingdom of Holland covered the area of the present day Netherlands, with the exception of Limburg and parts of Zeeland, which were French territory. In 1807, Prussian East Frisia and Jever were added to the kingdom. In 1809, however, after a failed British invasion, Holland had to give over all territories south of the Rhine to France.
King Louis Napoleon did not meet Napoleon's expectations — he tried to serve Dutch interests instead of his brother's — and he was forced to abdicate on 1 July 1810. He was succeeded by his five-year-old son Napoleon Louis Bonaparte. Napoleon Louis reigned as Louis II for just ten days as Napoleon ignored his young nephew’s accession to the throne. The Emperor sent in an army to invade the country and dissolved the Kingdom of Holland. The Netherlands then became part of the French Empire.
The Netherlands remained part of the French Empire until the autumn of 1813, when Napoleon was defeated in the battle of Leipzig and forced to withdraw his troops from the country.
Kingdom of the Netherlands
William I of the Netherlands, son of the last stadtholder William V van Oranje, returned to the Netherlands in 1813 and became Sovereign Prince of the Netherlands. On 16 March 1815, the Sovereign Prince became King of the Netherlands.
In 1815, the Congress of Vienna formed the United Kingdom of the Netherlands by expanding the Netherlands with Belgium in order to create a strong country on the northern border of France. In addition, William became hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg. The Congress of Vienna gave Luxembourg to William as personal property in exchange for his German possessions, Nassau-Dillenburg, Siegen, Hadamar, and Diez.
Belgium rebelled and gained independence in 1830, while the personal union between Luxembourg and the Netherlands was severed in 1890, when King William III of the Netherlands died with no surviving male heirs. Ascendancy laws prevented his daughter Queen Wilhelmina from becoming the next Grand Duchess. Therefore the throne of Luxembourg passed over from the House of Orange-Nassau to the House of Nassau-Weilburg, a junior branch of the House of Nassau.
The largest Dutch settlement abroad was the Cape Colony. It was established by Jan van Riebeeck on behalf of the Dutch East India Company at Cape Town (Dutch: Kaapstad) in 1652. The Prince of Orange acquiesced to British occupation and control of the Cape Colony in 1788. The Netherlands also possessed several other colonies, but Dutch settlement in these lands was limited. Most notable were the vast Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and Suriname. These 'colonies' were first administered by the Dutch East India Company and the Dutch West India Company, both collective private enterprises. Three centuries later these companies got into financial trouble, and the territories in which they operated were taken over by the Dutch government (in 1815 and 1791 respectively). Only then did they become official colonies.
During its colonial period the Netherlands was heavily involved in the slave trade.The Dutch planters relied heavily on African slaves to cultivate the coffee, cocoa, sugar cane and cotton plantations along the rivers. Treatment of the slaves by their owners was notoriously bad, and many slaves escaped the plantations. Slavery was abolished by the Netherlands in Suriname in 1863, but the slaves in Suriname were not fully released until 1873, after a mandatory 10 year transition period during which time they were required to work on the plantations for minimal pay and without state sanctioned torture. As soon as they became truly free, the slaves largely abandoned the plantations where they had suffered for several generations in favor of the city Paramaribo. Every year this is remembered during Keti Koti, 1 July, Emancipation Day (end of slavery).
During the 19th century, the Netherlands was slow to industrialize compared to neighbouring countries, mainly because of the great complexity involved in modernizing the infrastructure, consisting largely of waterways, and the great reliance its industry had on windpower.
Although the Netherlands remained neutral during World War I, it was heavily involved in the war. Count Schlieffen had originally planned to invade the Netherlands while advancing into France in the original Schlieffen Plan. This was changed by Helmuth von Moltke the Younger in order to maintain Dutch neutrality. Later during the war Dutch neutrality proved essential to German survival up till the blockade integrated by the United States and Great Britain in 1916 when the import of goods through the Netherlands was no longer possible. However, the Dutch were able to remain neutral during the war using their diplomacy and their ability to trade.
Second World War
The Netherlands intended to remain neutral during the Second World War. There were, however, contingency plans involving the armies of Belgium, France and the United Kingdom. Regardless, Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940 as part of their campaign against the Allied forces. French forces in the south and British ships in the west came to help but turned around quickly, evacuating many civilians and several thousand German prisoners of war from the German elite airborne divisions. The country was overrun in five days. Only after, but not because of, the bombing of Rotterdam the main element of the Dutch army surrendered on 14 May 1940; although a Dutch and French force held the western part of Zeeland for some time after the surrender. The Kingdom as such, continued the war from the colonial empire; the government in exile resided in London.
During the occupation, over 100,000 Dutch Jews were rounded up to be transported to Nazi German concentration camps in Germany, German-occupied Poland and German-occupied Czechoslovakia. By the time these camps were liberated, only 876 Dutch Jews survived. Dutch workers were conscripted for forced labour in German factories, civilians were killed in reprisal for attacks on German soldiers, and the countryside was plundered for food for German soldiers in the Netherlands and for shipment to Germany. Although there were thousands of Dutch who risked their lives by hiding Jews from the Germans, as recounted in The Heart Has Reasons by Mark Klempner, there were also thousands of Dutch who collaborated with the occupying force in hunting down hiding Jews. Local fascists and anti-Bolsheviks joined the Waffen-SS in the 4th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Brigade Netherlands, fighting on the Eastern Front as well as other units.
On 8 December 1941, the Netherlands declared war on Japan. The government-in-exile then lost control of its major colonial stronghold, the Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia), to Japanese forces in March 1942. "American-British-Dutch-Australian" (ABDA) forces fought hard in some instances but were overwhelmed. During the Japanese occupation of Indonesia, the Japanese interned Dutch civilians and used Dutch and Indos (Eurasians of Dutch and Indonesian descent) alike as forced labour, both in the Netherlands East Indies and in neighbouring countries. This included forcing women to work as "comfort women" (sex slaves) for Japanese personnel. The Dutch Red Cross reported the deaths in Japanese custody of 14,800 European civilians out of 80,000 interned and 12,500 of the 34,000 POW captured. A later U.N. report stated that 4 million people died in Indonesia as a result of famine and forced labour (known as romusha) during the Japanese occupation. Some military personnel escaped to Australia and other Allied countries from where they carried on the fight against Japan. The Japanese furthered the cause of independence for the colony, so that after VE day many young Dutchmen found themselves fighting a colonial war against the new republic of Indonesia.
Princess Juliana of the Netherlands, the only child of Queen Wilhelmina and heir to the throne, sought refuge in Ottawa, Canada, with her two daughters, Beatrix and Irene, during the war. During Princess Juliana’s stay in Canada, preparations were made for the birth of her third child. To ensure the Dutch citizenship of this royal baby, the Canadian Parliament passed a special law declaring Princess Juliana's suite at the Ottawa Civic Hospital “extraterritorial”. On 19 January 1943, Princess Margriet was born. The day after Princess Margriet's birth, the Dutch flag was flown on the Peace Tower. This was the only time in history a foreign flag has waved atop Canada’s Parliament Buildings. In 1944-45, the First Canadian Army was responsible for liberating much of the Netherlands from German occupation. The joyous "Canadian summer" that ensued after the liberation forged deep and long-lasting bonds of friendship between the Netherlands and Canada.
After the war, the Dutch economy prospered by leaving behind an era of neutrality and gaining closer ties with neighbouring states. The Netherlands was one of the founding members of the Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) grouping, was among the twelve founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), and was among the six founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community, which would later evolve, via the EEC (Common Market), into the European Union.
The 1960s and 1970s were a time of great social and cultural change, such as rapid ontzuiling (literally: depillarisation), a term that describes the decay of the old divisions along class and religious lines. Youths, and students in particular, rejected traditional mores and pushed for change in matters like women's rights, sexuality, disarmament and environmental issues. Today, the Netherlands is regarded as a liberal country, considering its drugs policy and its legalisation of euthanasia. Same-sex marriage has been permitted since 1 April 2001.
The country is divided into two main parts by three large rivers, the Rhine (Rijn) and its main distributaries, the Waal and the Meuse (Maas). These rivers functioned as a natural barrier between earlier fiefdoms and hence created traditionally a cultural divide, as is evident in some phonetic traits that are recognizable north and south of these "Large Rivers" (de Grote Rivieren).
The southwestern part of the Netherlands is a river delta and two tributaries of the Scheldt (Westerschelde and Oosterschelde). Only one significant branch of the Rhine flows northeastward, the IJssel river, discharging into the IJsselmeer, the former Zuiderzee ('southern sea'). This river also forms a linguistic divide: people to the east of this river speak Low Saxon dialects (except for the province of Friesland, which has its own language).
Over the centuries, the Dutch coastline has changed considerably as a result of human intervention and natural disasters. Most notable in terms of land loss is the 1134 storm, which created the archipelago of Zeeland in the southwest.
On 14 December 1287, St. Lucia's flood affected the Netherlands and Germany killing more than 50,000 people in one of the most destructive floods in recorded history. The St. Elizabeth flood of 1421 and the mismanagement in its aftermath destroyed a newly reclaimed polder, replacing it with the 72-square-kilometre (28 sq mi) Biesbosch tidal floodplains in the south-centre. The last major flood in the Netherlands took place in early February 1953, when a huge storm caused the collapse of several dikes in the southwest of the Netherlands. More than 1,800 people drowned in the ensuing inundations. The Dutch government subsequently decided on a large-scale program of public works (the "Delta Works") to protect the country against future flooding. The project took more than thirty years to complete.
The disasters were partially increased in severity through human influence. People had drained relatively high lying swampland to use it as farmland. This drainage caused the fertile peat to compress and the ground level to drop, whereby they would lower the water level to compensate for the drop in ground level, causing the underlying peat to compress even more. The problem remains unsolvable to this day. Also, up until the 19th century peat was mined, dried, and used for fuel, further adding to the problem.
To guard against floods, a series of defences against the water were contrived. In the first millennium AD, villages and farmhouses were built on man-made hills called terps. Later, these terps were connected by dikes. In the 12th century, local government agencies called "waterschappen" (English "water bodies") or "hoogheemraadschappen" ("high home councils") started to appear, whose job it was to maintain the water level and to protect a region from floods. (These agencies exist to this day, performing the same function.) As the ground level dropped, the dikes by necessity grew and merged into an integrated system. By the 13th century, windmills had come into use in order to pump water out of areas below sea level. The windmills were later used to drain lakes, creating the famous polders.
In 1932, the Afsluitdijk (English "Closure Dike") was completed, blocking the former Zuiderzee (Southern Sea) from the North Sea and thus creating the IJsselmeer (IJssel Lake). It became part of the larger Zuiderzee Works in which four polders totalling 2,500 square kilometres (965 sq mi) were reclaimed from the sea.
After the 1953 disaster, the Delta project, a vast construction effort designed to end the threat from the sea once and for all, was launched in 1958 and largely completed in 1997 with the completion of the Maeslantkering. The official goal of the Delta project was to reduce the risk of flooding in South Holland and Zeeland to once per 10,000 years. (For the rest of the country, the protection level is once per 4,000 years.) This was achieved by raising 3,000 kilometers (1,864 mi) of outer sea-dykes and 10,000 kilometers (6,214 mi) of inner, canal, and river dikes to "delta" height, and by closing off the sea estuaries of the Zeeland province. New risk assessments occasionally show problems requiring additional Delta project dyke reinforcements. The Delta project is one of the largest construction efforts in human history and is considered by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
Additionally, the Netherlands is one of the countries that may suffer most from climatic change. Not only is the rising sea a problem, but also erratic weather patterns may cause the rivers to overflow.
The predominant wind direction in the Netherlands is southwest, which causes a moderate maritime climate, with cool summers and mild winters. The following tables are based on mean measurements by the KNMI weather station in De Bilt between 1971 and 2000:
|Avg. maximum temp. (°C)||5.2||6.1||9.6||12.9||17.6||19.8||22.1||22.3||18.7||14.2||9.1||6.4||13.7|
|Avg. minimum temp. (°C)||0.0||-0.1||2.0||3.5||7.5||10.2||12.5||12.0||9.6||6.5||3.2||1.3||5.7|
|Avg. temp. (°C)||2.8||3.0||5.8||8.3||12.7||15.2||17.4||17.2||14.2||10.3||6.2||4.0||9.8|
|Avg. precipitation (mm)||67||48||65||45||62||72||70||58||72||77||81||77||793|
|Avg. hours sunshine||52||79||114||158||204||187||196||192||133||106||60||44||1524|
Phytogeographically, the Netherlands is shared between the Atlantic European and Central European provinces of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, the territory of the Netherlands belongs to the ecoregion of Atlantic mixed forests. In 1871 the last old original natural woods (Beekbergerwoud) were cut down, and most woods today are planted monocultures of trees like Scots Pine and trees that are not native to the Netherlands. These woods were planted on anthropogenic heaths and sand-drifts (overgrazed heaths) (Veluwe).
The Netherlands has a prosperous and open economy in which the government has reduced its role since the 1980s. Industrial activity is predominantly in food-processing (for example Unilever and Heineken International), Financial services (for example ING Group), chemicals (for example DSM), petroleum refining (for example Royal Dutch Shell), and electrical machinery (for example Philips).
The Netherlands has the 16th largest economy in the world, and ranks 10th in GDP (nominal) per capita. Between 1998 and 2000 annual economic growth (GDP) averaged nearly 4%, well above the European average. Growth slowed considerably in 2001-05 with the global economic slowdown but accelerated to 4.1% in the third quarter of 2007. Inflation is 1.3%, and unemployment is at 4.0% of the labour force. By Eurostat standards however, unemployment in the Netherlands is at only 3.3% (June 2009) - the lowest rate of all European Union member states. The Netherlands also has a relatively low GINI coefficient of 0.326. Despite ranking only 10th in GDP per capita, UNICEF ranked the Netherlands 1st in child well-being. On the Index of Economic Freedom Netherlands is the 13th most free market capitalist economy out of 157 surveyed countries.
Amsterdam is the financial and business capital of the Netherlands. The Amsterdam Stock Exchange (AEX), part of Euronext, is the world's oldest stock exchange and is one of Europe's largest bourses. It is situated near Dam Square in the city's centre. As a founding member of the euro, the Netherlands replaced (for accounting purposes) its former currency, the "Gulden" (guilder), on 1 January 1999, along with 15 other adopters of the Euro. Actual euro coins and banknotes followed on 1 January 2002. One euro was equivalent to 2.20371 Dutch guilders.
The Netherlands' location gives it prime access to markets in the UK and Germany, with the port of Rotterdam being the largest port in Europe. Other important parts of the economy are international trade (Dutch colonialism started with cooperative private enterprises such as the VOC), banking and transport. The Netherlands successfully addressed the issue of public finances and stagnating job growth long before its European partners. Amsterdam is the 5th busiest tourist destination in Europe with more than 4.2 million international visitors.
The country continues to be one of the leading European nations for attracting foreign direct investment and is one of the five largest investors in the U.S. The economy experienced a slowdown in 2005 but in 2006 recovered to the fastest pace in six years on the back of increased exports and strong investment. The pace of job growth reached 10-year highs in 2007.The Netherlands moved up from the 11th position in the Global Competitiveness Index  to the 9th position in 2007
Infrastructure, agriculture and natural resources
Rotterdam has the largest port in Europe, with the rivers Meuse and Rhine providing excellent access to the hinterland upstream reaching to Basel, Switzerland, and into France. In 2006, Rotterdam was the world's seventh largest container port in terms of Twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) handled. The port's main activities are petrochemical industries and general cargo handling and transshipment. The harbour functions as an important transit point for bulk materials and between the European continent and overseas. From Rotterdam goods are transported by ship, river barge, train or road. In 2007, the Betuweroute, a new fast freight railway from Rotterdam to Germany, was completed.
A highly mechanised agricultural sector employs 4% of the labour force but provides large surpluses for the food-processing industry and for exports. The Dutch rank third worldwide in value of agricultural exports, behind the United States and France, with exports earning $55 billion annually. A significant portion of Dutch agricultural exports are derived from fresh-cut plants, flowers, and bulbs, with the Netherlands exporting two-thirds of the world's total. The Netherlands also exports a quarter of all world tomatoes, and one-third of the world's exports of chilis and cucumbers.
One of the largest natural gas fields in the world is situated near Slochteren. Exploitation of this field resulted in a total revenue of €159 billion since the mid 1970s. With just over half of the reserves used up and an expected continued rise in oil prices, the revenues over the next few decades are expected to be at least that much.
Government and administration
The Netherlands has been a constitutional monarchy since 1815 and a parliamentary democracy since 1848. The Netherlands is described as a consociational state. Dutch politics and governance are characterised by an effort to achieve broad consensus on important issues, within both the political community and society as a whole. In 2008, The Economist ranked The Netherlands as the fourth most democratic country in the world.
The monarch is the head of state, at present Queen Beatrix. Constitutionally, the position is equipped with limited powers. The monarch can exert some influence during the formation of a new cabinet, where they serve as neutral arbiter between the political parties. Additionally, the king (the title queen has no constitutional significance) has the right to be informed and consulted. Depending on the personality and qualities of the king and the ministers, the king might have influence beyond the power granted by the constitution.
In practice, the executive power is formed by the ministerraad, the deliberative council of the Dutch cabinet. The cabinet consists usually of thirteen to sixteen ministers and a varying number of state secretaries. One to three ministers are ministers without portfolio. The head of government is the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, who often is the leader of the largest party of the coalition. In fact, this has been continuously the case since 1973. The Prime Minister is a primus inter pares, meaning he has no explicit powers beyond those of the other ministers. Currently, the Prime Minister is Jan Peter Balkenende.
The cabinet is responsible to the bicameral parliament, the States-General which also has legislative powers. The 150 members of the House of Representatives, the Lower House, are elected in direct elections, which are held every four years or after the fall of the cabinet (by example: when one of the chambers carries a motion of no-confidence, the cabinet offers its resignation to the monarch). The States-Provincial are directly elected every four years as well. The members of the provincial assemblies elect the 75 members of the Senate, the upper house, which has less legislative powers, as it can merely reject laws, not propose or amend them.
Both trade unions and employers organisations are consulted beforehand in policymaking in the financial, economic and social areas. They meet regularly with government in the Social-Economic Council. This body advises government and its advice cannot be put aside easily.
While historically the Dutch foreign policy was characterised by neutrality, since the Second World War the Netherlands became a member of a large number of international organisations, most prominently the UN, NATO and the EU. The Dutch economy is very open and relies on international trade.
The Netherlands has a long tradition of social tolerance. In the 18th century, while the Dutch Reformed Church was the state religion, Catholicism and Judaism were tolerated. In the late 19th century this Dutch tradition of religious tolerance transformed into a system of pillarisation, in which religious groups coexisted separately and only interacted at the level of government. This tradition of tolerance is linked to the Dutch policies on recreational drugs, prostitution, LGBT rights, euthanasia, and abortion which are among the most liberal in the world.
Due to the multi-party system no single party has ever held a majority in parliament since the 19th century, therefore coalition cabinets have to be formed. Since suffrage became universal in 1919 the Dutch political system has been dominated by three families of political parties: the strongest family were the Christian democrats currently represented by the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), second were the social democrats, of which the Labour Party (PvdA) is currently the largest party and third were the liberals of which the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) is the main representative. These cooperated in coalition cabinets in which the Christian democrats had always been partner: so either a centre left coalition of the Christian democrats and social democrats or a centre right coalition of Christian democrats and liberals. In the 1970s the party system became more volatile: the Christian democratic parties lost seats, while new parties, like the radical democrat and progressive liberal D66, became successful.
In the 1994 election the CDA lost its dominant position. A "purple" cabinet was formed by the VVD, D66 and PvdA. In the 2002 elections this cabinet lost its majority, due to the rise of the LPF, a new political party around the flamboyant populist Pim Fortuyn, who was assassinated a week before the elections took place. The elections also saw increased support for the CDA. A short lived cabinet was formed by CDA, VVD and LPF, led by the leader of the Christian democrats, Jan Peter Balkenende. After the 2003 elections in which the LPF lost almost all its seats, a cabinet was formed by the CDA, the VVD and D66. The cabinet initiated an ambitious program of reforming the welfare state, the health care system and immigration policies.
In June 2006 the cabinet fell, as D66 voted in favour of a motion of no confidence against minister of immigration and integration Rita Verdonk in the aftermath of the upheaval about the asylum procedure of VVD MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali instigated by the Dutch immigration minister Verdonk. A care taker cabinet was formed by CDA and VVD, and the general elections were held on 22 November 2006. In these elections the Christian Democratic Appeal remained the largest party and the Socialist Party made the largest gains. The formation of a new cabinet started two days after the elections. Initial investigations toward a CDA-SP-PvdA coalition failed, after which a coalition of CDA, PvdA and ChristianUnion was formed.
The Netherlands is divided into twelve administrative regions, called provinces, each under a Governor, who is called Commissaris van de Koningin (Commissioner of the Queen), except for the province Limburg where the commissioner is called Gouverneur (Governor). All provinces are divided into municipalities (gemeenten), 458 in total (1 January 2006). The country is also subdivided in water districts, governed by a water board (waterschap or hoogheemraadschap), each having authority in matters concerning water management. As of 1 January 2005 there are 27. The creation of water boards actually pre-dates that of the nation itself, the first appearing in 1196. In fact, the Dutch water boards are one of the oldest democratic entities in the world still in existence.
The Netherlands have an estimated population of 16,491,852 (as of 8 March 2009). It is the 11th most populous country in Europe and the 61st most populous country in the world. Between 1900 and 1950, the country's population almost doubled from 5.1 to 10.0 million people. From 1950 to 2000, the population further increased from 10.0 to 15.9 million people, but the population growth decreased compared to the previous fifty years. The estimated growth rate is currently 0.436% (as of 2008). The fertility rate in the Netherlands is 1.66 children per woman (as of 2008), which is high compared to many other European countries, but well below the 2.1-rate required for natural population replacement. Life expectancy is high in the Netherlands: 82 years for newborn girls and 77 for boys (2007). The country has a migration rate of 2.55 migrants per 1,000 inhabitants.
The majority of the population of the Netherlands are ethnically Dutch. A 2005 estimate counted: 80.9% Dutch, 2.4% Indonesian (Indo-Dutch, South Moluccan), 2.4% German, 2.2% Turkish, 2.0% Surinamese, 1.9% Moroccan, 0.8% Antillean and Aruban, and 6.0% others. The Dutch people are among the tallest in the world, with an average height of about 1.85 m (6 ft 1/2 in) for adult males and 1.68 m (5 ft 7 in) for adult females. People in the south are on average about 2 cm shorter than those in the north.
The Netherlands is the 25th most densely populated country in the world, with 395 inhabitants per square kilometre (1,023 sq mi)—or 484 people per square kilometre (1,254/sq mi) if only the land area is counted. It is the most densely populated country in Europe with a population over 16 million. The Randstad is the country's largest conurbation located in the west of the country and contains the four largest cities: Amsterdam in the province North Holland, Rotterdam and The Hague in the province South Holland, and Utrecht in the province Utrecht. The Randstad has a population of 7 million inhabitants and is the 6th largest metropolitan area in Europe.
Dutch people, or descendants of Dutch people, are also found in migrant communities worldwide, notably in Canada, Australia, South Africa and the United States. According to the 2006 U.S. Census, more than 5 million Americans claim total or partial Dutch ancestry. There are close to 3 million Dutch-descended Afrikaners living in South Africa. In 1940, there were 290,000 Europeans and Eurasians in Indonesia, but most have since left the country.
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The official language is Dutch, which is spoken by a majority of the inhabitants.
Another official language is Frisian, which is spoken in the northern province of Friesland, called Fryslân in that language. Frisian is co-official only in the province of Friesland, although with a few restrictions. Several dialects of Low Saxon (Nedersaksisch in Dutch) are spoken in much of the north and east, like the Twentse language in the Twente region, and are recognised by the Netherlands as regional languages according to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, as well as the Meuse-Rhenish Franconian varieties in the southeastern province of Limburg, here called Limburgish language.
There is a tradition of learning foreign languages in the Netherlands: about 70% of the total population have good knowledge of English, 55– 59% of German and 19% of French. Most Dutch secondary schools also teach classical languages and/or modern languages. Modern languages with official state exams are English, French, German, Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, Russian and Frisian.
Currently Roman Catholicism is the single largest religion of the Netherlands, forming the religious home of some 26.3% of the Dutch people, down from 40% in the 1970s. The Protestant Church of the Netherlands is followed by 11.4% of the population. It was formed in 2004 as a merger of the two major strands of Calvinism: the Dutch Reformed Church (which represented roughly 8.5% of the population) and the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (3.7% of the population) and a smaller Lutheran Church. Other Protestant churches, mostly orthodox Calvinist splits, represent 6% of the population. In 2006 there were 850,000 Muslims, 5% of the total Dutch population. The Netherlands has an estimated 250,000 Buddhists or people who feel strongly attracted by this religion, largely white Dutch. In 1998, there were only 16,000 including just 4,000 Dutch natives and 12,000 Buddhist immigrants from Asia. There are approximately 95,000 Hindus, of whom 85% originally came from Suriname. Netherland Sikhs are a religious minority in Netherland. They number around 12,000 and most of them live in or around Amsterdam. There are 5 gurudwaras in Netherland.
Although The Holocaust deeply affected the Jewish community, killing some 75% of the some 140,000 Jews at the time present in Netherlands, since then the community has managed to rebuild a vibrant and lively Jewish life for its approximately 45,000 present members. Before World War II, 10% of the Amsterdam population was Jewish.
According to the most recent Eurobarometer Poll 2005, 34% of Dutch citizens responded that "they believe there is a god", whereas 37% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force" and 27% that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, god, or life force".
In 1950, before the secularisation of Europe and the large settlement of non-Europeans in the Netherlands, most Dutch citizens identified themselves as Christians. In 1950, out of a total population of almost 13 million, a total of 7,261,000 belonged to Protestant denominations, 3,703,000 belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, and 1,641,000 had no acknowledged religion.Since then, the general collapse in religiosity has struck Protestants somewhat harder than Catholics, which partly explains why the Catholic Church has a larger percentage now.However, Christian schools are still funded by the government, but the same applies for schools founded on other religions, Islam in particular. While all schools must meet strict quality criteria, from 1917 the freedom of schools is a basic principle in the Netherlands.
Three political parties in the Dutch parliament (CDA, ChristianUnion and SGP) base their policy on the Christian belief system. Although The Netherlands is a secular state, in some municipalities where the Christian parties have the majority the council practices religion by praying before a meeting. Also in a few remaining (rural) spots, roads are closed for car traffic on Sundays and religious holidays.Municipalities in general also give civil servants a day off on Christian religious holidays, such as Easter and the Ascension of Jesus. On 4 September 2008, a discussion was started by Tineke Huizinga whether Islam should receive a holiday, like Christianity. In 2005, 20% of the Dutch thought it should be a national holiday (which means the entire country receives a day off work or school) and 45% thought that Eid ul-Fitr should at least be recognized as a holiday.
The Netherlands has had many well-known painters. The 17th century, when the Dutch republic was prosperous, was the age of the "Dutch Masters", such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen, Jacob van Ruysdael and many others. Famous Dutch painters of the 19th and 20th century were Vincent van Gogh and Piet Mondriaan. M. C. Escher is a well-known graphics artist. Willem de Kooning was born and trained in Rotterdam, although he is considered to have reached acclaim as an American artist. The Netherlands is the country of philosophers Erasmus of Rotterdam and Spinoza. All of Descartes' major work was done in the Netherlands. The Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens (1629–1695) discovered Saturn's moon Titan and invented the pendulum clock. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was the first to observe and describe single-celled organisms with a microscope.
In the Dutch Golden Age, literature flourished as well, with Joost van den Vondel and P.C. Hooft as the two most famous writers. In the 19th century, Multatuli wrote about the poor treatment of the natives in Dutch colonies. Important 20th century authors include Harry Mulisch, Jan Wolkers, Simon Vestdijk, Cees Nooteboom, Gerard (van het) Reve and Willem Frederik Hermans. Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl was published after she died in the Holocaust and translated from Dutch to all major languages.
Dutch wooden clogs
The Netherlands has compulsory education from age 5 to 18 (or 16 as a study is completed which has given the student adequate professional skills to start as a professional in the labour market).
Pupils attend primary or elementary school from age 4 to age 12. After that they continue their education at secondary school minimally until age 18; which indicates one of three tracks in the Dutch educational system.
The vocational track starts with VMBO, which is seen as the lowest level of secondary education and lasts four years. Successfully completing VMBO results in a low level vocational degree and/or gives access to higher (secondary) levels vocational education. Completion of second level vocational education results in professional skills and gives access to further study a university of applied science.
The medium level HAVO lasts five years. After completion a student can attend a university of applied science, which award professional bachelor degrees. A degree at a university of applied science gives access to the university system.
The highest level of high school education is VWO, which lasts six years, completion of which allows students to attend a university. University consists of a three year bachelor's degrees, followed by one or two year master's degrees. A master's degree is required to start a four year doctoral degree. Doctoral candidates in the Netherlands are temporary employees of a university.
The Netherlands has the oldest standing army in Europe; it was first established as such by Maurice of Nassau. The Dutch army was used throughout the Dutch empire. After the defeat of Napoleon, the Dutch army was transformed into a conscription army. The army was unsuccessfully deployed during the Belgian revolution in 1830. It was deployed mainly in the Dutch colonies, as the Netherlands remained neutral in European wars (including WWI), until the Netherlands was invaded in WWII and quickly conquered by the Wehrmacht in May 1940.
After WWII, the Netherlands dropped their neutrality, and the Dutch army became part of the NATO army strength in Cold War Europe; holding several bases in Germany. In 1996 conscription was ended, and the Dutch army was once again transformed into a professional army. Since the 1990s the Dutch army has been involved in the Bosnian War, the Kosovo War, has been holding a province in Iraq after the defeat of Saddam Hussein, and is currently engaged in Afghanistan.
The military is composed of four branches, all of which carry the prefix Koninklijke (Royal):
- Koninklijke Landmacht (KL), the Royal Netherlands Army
- Koninklijke Marine (KM), the Royal Netherlands Navy, including the Naval Air Service and Marine Corps
- Koninklijke Luchtmacht (KLu), the Royal Netherlands Air Force
- Koninklijke Marechaussee (KMar), the Royal Military Police, tasks include military police and border control
General Peter van Uhm is the current Commander of the Netherlands armed forces.All military specialities, except the submarine service, the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps (Korps Mariniers) and the Elite Special Forces Korps Commandotroepen, are open to women. The Dutch Ministry of Defence employs almost 70,000 personnel, including over 20,000 civilian and over 50,000 military personnel.
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- Overheid.nl - official Dutch government portal
- Government.nl - official Dutch government web site
- Chief of State and Cabinet Members
- About the Netherlands – Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- CBS - Key figures from the Dutch bureau of statistics
- Provinces of Netherlands at statoids.com
- General information
- Netherlands entry at The World Factbook
- The Netherlands entry at Encyclopædia Britannica
- Netherlands from UCB Libraries GovPubs
- Netherlands at the Open Directory Project
- Wikimedia Atlas of Netherlands
- News media
- Netherlands travel guide from Wikitravel
- Holland.com - English website of the Netherlands tourist office
- IamExpat in the Netherlands, Free and quick access to career opportunities, accommodation tips, education hints, nightlife suggestions and more