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The Netherlands (Dutch: Nederland) is the European part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Dutch: Koninkrijk der Nederlanden). The Netherlands is a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarch, located in northwestern Europe. It borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east. The Netherlands is often referred to by the name Holland, although this is incorrect; Holland was the economic powerhouse during the time of the United Provinces (15811795). After the Napoleonic era, Holland became a mere province of the Kingdom and was split into North and South Holland in 1840.

The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated and geographically low-lying countries in the world (its name literally means "The Low Countries") and is famous for its dikes, windmills, wooden shoes, tulips, bicycles and perceived social tolerance. Its liberal policies are often mentioned abroad. The country is host to the International Court of Justice; Amsterdam is the official capital as stated by the constitution, but The Hague is the seat of government, the home of Queen Beatrix, and the location for most foreign embassies. The Netherlands ranked fifth on the 2004 UN Human Development Index, behind Norway, Sweden, Australia, and Canada.

The English adjective and noun for "of or relating to the Netherlands" is "Dutch," which is also the name of the Dutch language.



Main articles: History of the Netherlands, Dutch monarchy

Under Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and king of Spain, the region was part of the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands, which also includes most of present-day Belgium. In 1568 the Eighty Years' War started and in 1579, the northern half of the Seventeen Provinces declared itself independent and formed the Union of Utrecht, which is seen as the foundation of the modern Netherlands. Philip II, the son of Charles V, was not prepared to let them go that easily. It would not be until 1648 before Spain would recognize Dutch independence.

After gaining formal independence from the Spanish Empire under King Philip IV, the Dutch grew to become one of the major seafaring and economic powers of the 17th century during the period of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. In the era, referred to as the Dutch Golden Age, colonies and trading posts were established all over the globe.

After briefly being incorporated in the First French Empire under Napoleon, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was formed in 1815, consisting of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Belgium rebelled and gained independence in 1830; Luxembourg fell under the Dutch monarchy as well but had different rules of ascendancy. When King William III was succeeded by his daughter Queen Wilhelmina in 1890, Luxembourg seceded because its laws prevented women from becoming Head of State. Luxembourg turned to the German branch of the Nassau family, which are still the ruling family in Luxembourg today.

The Netherlands possessed several colonies, most notably the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and Suriname (the latter was traded with the British for New Amsterdam, now known as New York). The colonies were first administrated by the Dutch East India Company and the Dutch West India Company, and in the 19th century was directly administrated by the Dutch government. Only then did they become official colonies (the VOC was a collection of private enterprises).

During the 19th century, The Netherlands was slow to industrialize compared to neighboring countries, mainly due to its unique infrastructure of waterways and reliance on windpower. After remaining neutral in World War I, the country was occupied by Nazi Germany in May 1940, to be fully liberated only on May 5th,1945. From 1941 until 1945, Germans and their accomplicies systematically murdered over 100,000 Dutch Jews in the Holocaust, and significant numbers of Dutch Roma (gypsies), homosexuals and mentally retarded and disabled people. After the war, the Dutch economy prospered again, being a member of the Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) and European Economic Community unions. The Netherlands also became a member of NATO. The Netherlands was among the six founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community, which would later evolve into the European Union.

Naming conventions

The name Holland is widely used as being equivalent to The Netherlands; its use is similar to the use of England for the United Kingdom, or Russia for the defunct Soviet Union. In some countries, however, embassies of The Netherlands use Holland as the name of the country they represent.

People from other parts of The Netherlands sometimes object to the use of the name Holland for The Netherlands. They will point out that they are from The Netherlands, instead of the smaller part of the country that is called Holland, represented by the two provinces North Holland and South Holland.

This feeling is strongest in the southern provinces Limburg and Noord Brabant (Northern Brabant). These territories were conquered during the Eighty Years' War but only after the people had turned solidly Roman Catholic as a result of the Counter-Reformation, while the rest of the Netherlands, the ruling class in particular, was mainly Calvinist.

It should also be noted that the plural "Netherlands" is actually an archaic term, referring to the time when it was a collection of regions that weren't yet fully united. In The Netherlands itself the country is called Nederland (literally meaning "low land"), the people are called Nederlanders ("Dutch" in English) and the language is called Nederlands (again, "Dutch" in English). The English word "Dutch" is akin to the German word Deutsch, which means "German". An old term for natives of The Netherlands is Nederdietsch, meaning "German from the low lands". This is often the cause for confusion about the nationality of a Dutch person.


Main article: Politics of the Netherlands

The Netherlands has been a constitutional monarchy since 1815; before that it had been a republic from 1581 to 1806 (it was occupied by France between 1806 and 1815). The head of state, since 1980, is Queen Beatrix of the House of Orange-Nassau. Dutch governments always consist of a coalition, as there is not (and has never been) a single political party large enough to get the majority vote. Formally, the queen appoints the members of the government. In practice, once the results of parliamentary elections are known, a coalition government is formed (in a process of negotiations that can take several months), after which the government formed in this way is officially appointed by the queen. The head of the government is the Prime Minister or Minister President (but usually called 'Premier', after the french term 'Premier Ministre') who is usually also the leader of the largest party in the coalition. The degree of influence the queen has on actual government decision making is a topic of ongoing speculation.

The parliament consists of two houses. The 150 members of the Lower House (Tweede Kamer, or Second Chamber) are elected every four years in direct elections. The provincial parliaments are directly elected every 4 years as well. The members of the provincial parliaments vote (indirectly) for the less important Senate (Eerste Kamer, or First Chamber). Together, the First and Second Chamber are known as the Staten Generaal, the States General.

Political scientists consider The Netherlands a classic example of a consociational state.

See also: Prime Minister of the Netherlands, List of Prime Ministers of the Netherlands

Provinces and dependencies

Main articles: Provinces of the Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, Aruba

Map of The Netherlands, with red dots marking the capitals of the provinces and black dots marking notable cities.
Map of The Netherlands, with red dots marking the capitals of the provinces and black dots marking notable cities.

The Netherlands is divided into 12 administrative regions, called provinces:

All provinces are divided into municipalities (gemeenten), together 467; see Municipalities in the Netherlands, and also Cities of the Netherlands.

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 2004 there are thirty seven. (The creation of water boards actually predates that of the nation itself, the first appearing in 1196).

The Netherlands Antilles ("Nederlandse Antillen", consisting of Saba, Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius, Bonaire and Curaçao (capital: Willemstad on Curaçao) and Aruba (capital: Oranjestad), both in the Caribbean Sea, are self-governing parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

See also: Ranked list of Dutch provinces.


Main article: Geography of the Netherlands

A remarkable aspect of the Netherlands is the flatness of the country. About half of its surface area is less than 1 m above sea level, and large parts of it are actually below sea level (see map showing these areas). An extensive range of dikes and dunes protect these areas from flooding. Numerous massive pumping stations keep the ground water level in check. The highest point, the Vaalserberg, in the southeasternmost point of the country, is 321 m above sea level. A substantial part of the Netherlands, e.g., all of Flevoland and large parts of Holland, has been reclaimed from the sea. These areas are known as polders.

In years past, the Dutch coastline has changed considerably due to human intervention and natural disasters. Most notable in terms of land loss are the 1134 storm, which created the archipelago of Zeeland in the southwest, and the 1287 storm, which killed 50,000 people and created the Zuyderzee (now dammed in and known as the IJsselmeer) in the northwest, giving Amsterdam direct access to the sea. The St. Elisabeth flood of 1421 and the mismanagement in its aftermath destroyed a newly reclaimed polder, replacing it with the 72 km² Biesbosch tidal floodplains in the southcentre. The most recent storm disaster occurred in 1953, during which large parts of Zeeland were flooded and 1,836 people were killed, after which the Delta Plan was executed.

The disasters were partially man-made; the people drained relatively high lying swampland for use as farmland. This drainage caused the fertile peat to compress and the ground level to drop, locking the landusers in a vicious circle whereby they would lower the water level to compensate for the drop in ground level, causing the underlying peat to compress even more. The vicious circle is unsolvable and remains to this day. Up until the 19th century peat was dug up, 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, villages and farmhouses were build on man-made hills called "terps". Later these terps were connected by dikes. In the 12th century, local government agencies called "waterschappen" (English "waterbodies") or "hoogheemraadschappen" ("high home councils") started to appear, whose job it was to maintain the water level and to protect a region from floods. (The waterbodies are still around today performing the exact same function.) As the ground level dropped, the dikes by necessity grew and merged into an integrated system. In the 13th century, windmills came into use to pump water out of the areas by now below sea level. The windmills were later used to drain lakes, creating the famous polders. In 1932, the Afsluitdijk (English "Barrier Dike") was completed, blocking the former Zuyderzee (Southern Sea) off from the North Sea and thus creating the IJsselmeer (IJssel Lake). It became part of the larger Zuiderzee Works in which four polders totaling 1,650 km² 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 2002. The official goal of the Delta project was to reduce the risk of flooding in Holland 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 km of outer sea-dikes and 10,000 km of inner, canal, and river dikes to "delta" height, and by closing off the sea estuaries of the Zeeland province. New risk assessments occasionally incur additional Delta project work in the form of dike re-enforcements. The Delta project is the single largest construction effort in human history and is considered by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

The country is divided into two main parts by three rivers Rhine (Rijn), Waal, and Meuse (Maas). The south western part of the Netherlands is actually one big river delta of these rivers. These rivers not only function as a natural barrier, but also as a cultural divide, as is evident in the different dialects spoken north and south of these great rivers and the (previous) religious dominance of catholics in the south and calvinists in the north.

The predominant wind direction in the Netherlands is southwest, which causes a moderate maritime climate, with cool summers and mild winters.

See also: National parks (Netherlands).


Main article: Economy of the Netherlands

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 (e.g. Unilever), chemicals (e.g. DSM), petroleum refining (e.g. Shell), and electrical machinery (e.g. Philips). A highly mechanised agricultural sector employs no more than 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 US and France. The Netherlands successfully addressed the issue of public finances and stagnating job growth long before its European partners.

As a founding member of the Euro, the Netherlands replaced its former currency, the guilder, on January 1 1999 along with the other adopters of the single European currency, with the actual euro coins and banknotes following on January 1, 2002. However, in the first years of the third millennium, economic and employment growth came to a standstill, forcing the government to cut into its expenses. In 2003 the Dutch economy experienced a recession, the first since 1993 and the worst since 1982. In 2003 the economy shrunk 0,9%[1][2]. In 2004 the recession was over and the economy began its slow recovery with a meager 1,3% growth. The CPB ("Centraal Plan Bureau", Central Planning Bureau), a think tank of leading Dutch economists linked with the government, expects a recovery of the economy in 2005, with a growth of 2,25%. In 2004 inflation was 1,2 %[3], the lowest level since 1989.


Main article: Demographics of the Netherlands

Dutch population pyramid
(in % of total population)
% Male Age Female %
0.36     85+     1.05
0.60     80-84     1.18
1.14     75-79     1.74
1.55     70-74     1.95
1.93     65-69     2.13
2.30     60-64     2.33
2.77     55-59     2.69
3.73     50-54     3.60
3.65     45-49     3.54
3.93     40-44     3.81
4.27     35-39     4.08
4.25     30-34     4.05
3.63     25-29     3.54
3.04     20-24     2.93
2.96     15-19     2.83
3.11     10-14     2.97
3.20     05-09     3.06
3.11     00-04     2.98
Data: International Data Base (2000)

The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with more than 460 inhabitants per square km or more than 1,000 inhabitants per square mile.

There are two official languages, Dutch (spoken by the majority) and Frisian (spoken by a few percent), both of which are Germanic languages. Frisian is only spoken in the northern province of Fryslân, and it is the language which most resembles English. In addition to Dutch and Frisian, several dialects of Low Saxon are spoken in much of the north; they are recognized as 'regional languages' as protected by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. At the national borders in the south, the Dutch language shifts into other varieties of Low Franconian and German speech, which may or may not be best classified as Dutch, most notably West Flemish and German. One of these, Limburgian, which is spoken in the southeastern province of Limburg, is so deviant that it has been recognised a minority language as well since 1997. In contrast to Frisian and Low Saxon, it is still very present in towns as well and is not associated with rural areas or even lower social classes.

The main religions are Catholicism (18% in 1999) (dioceses) and Protestantism (15%). About 63% of the Dutch don't consider themselves to be members of a church. The part of the country south of the three rivers is (or was) generally Catholic, with the northern part Protestant (mostly of the Dutch Reformed Church). About 5-6% of the population or 900.000 people are Muslim, and 1.3% (200,000) are Hindu.

The Dutch are known as a tolerant people. Their image abroad is mainly based on trade, tulips, windmills, wooden shoes, cheese and Delftware pottery. More recently the liberal Dutch policies on recreational drugs, prostitution, same-sex marriage and euthanasia have received international attention; Amsterdam is widely perceived abroad as a city where 'anything goes'. See also Drug policy of the Netherlands, Same-sex marriage in the Netherlands.


Main article: Culture of the Netherlands

The Netherlands has a history of many great 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 and many others. Famous Dutch painters of the 19th and 20th century are Vincent van Gogh and Piet Mondriaan. M. C. Escher is a well-known graphics artist. A (in)famous Dutch master art forger is Han van Meegeren.

The Netherlands is the country of philosophers Erasmus of Rotterdam and Spinoza, and all of Descartes' major work was done there. Christiaan Huygens(1629-1695) is a famous astronomer and mathematician. He discovered Saturn's moon Titan and invented an accurate clock.

In the Dutch Golden Age, literature flowered 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 bad 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. The Diary of Anne Frank was also written in the Netherlands.

See also: List of museums in The Netherlands, Sport in the Netherlands, Music of the Netherlands, List of Dutch people, Public holidays in the Netherlands

Replicas of Dutch buildings can be found in Holland Village, Nagasaki, Japan. A similar Holland Village is being built in Shenyang, China.

Miscellaneous topics

External links

Last updated: 10-26-2005 06:19:52
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