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Koninkrijk der Nederlanden
Kingdom of the Netherlands
Motto: Je Maintiendrai
(English: I will maintain)
Anthem: Wilhelmus van Nassouwe
Capital Amsterdam,
The Hague is the seat of government
52°21′ N 04°52′ E
Largest city Amsterdam
Official language(s) Dutch, Frisian
Prime minister
Democratic constitutional monarchy
Jan Peter Balkenende
- Declared
- Recognised
Eighty Years' War
July 26, 1581
January 30, 1648 (by Spain)
 - Total
 - Water (%)
41,526 km² (131st)
16,033 mi² 
 - July 2005 est.
 - Density
16,407,491 (61st)
395/km² (15th)
 - Total
 - Per capita
2005 estimate
$500 billion (23th)
$ 30,500 (21st)
HDI (2003) 0.943 (12th) – high
Currency Euro 1 (€ EUR)
Time zone
 - Summer (DST)
Internet TLD .nl
Calling code +31
1 Prior to 2001: Guilder

The Netherlands (Dutch: Nederland; IPA pronunciation: /"ne:dərlɑnt/) is the European part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Dutch: Koninkrijk der Nederlanden), which is formed by the Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba. The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy, located in northwestern Europe. It borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east. The current borders were formed in 1839.

The Netherlands is often referred to by the name Holland. This is, however, ambiguous as Holland is the name of a region in the western Netherlands. (For more on this and other naming issues see below under 'naming conventions'.)

The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated and geographically low-lying countries in the world (its name literally means "low countries") and is popularly known for its windmills, clogs (wooden shoes), dikes, tulips, bicycles and social tolerance. Its liberal policies receive international attention, such as those concerning drugs, prostitution and euthanasia. The country is host to the International Court of Justice.


Amsterdam is the capital city (hoofdstad, see also Capital of the Netherlands), but The Hague (Dutch: Den Haag or 's-Gravenhage) is the Netherlands' seat of government (regeringszetel), the home of the monarch (residentie), and the location of most foreign embassies.


Under Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, leader of the Burgundy empire and king of Spain, the region was part of the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands, which also includes most of present-day Belgium, Luxembourg, and some land of France and Germany. 1568 saw the start of the Eighty Years' War between the provinces and Spain. In 1579, the northern half of the Seventeen Provinces declared itself independent, from Spain, and they 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 and war continued until 1648 when Spain finally recognised Dutch independence.

After gaining formal independence from the Burgundy-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. (See Dutch colonial empire)

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 ("Japan Goes Dutch", London Review of Books [April 5, 2001]: 3-7).

After briefly being incorporated in the First French Empire under Napoleon, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was formed in 1815, consisting of the present day Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. In addition, the king of the Netherlands became hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg. Belgium rebelled and gained independence in 1830, while the personal union between Luxembourg and the Netherlands was severed in 1890 as a result of ascendancy laws which prevented Queen Wilhelmina from becoming Grand Duke.

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). 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 the 19th century, the Netherlands was slow to industrialise compared to neighboring countries, mainly due to its unique infrastructure of waterways and reliance on wind power. After remaining neutral in World War I, it became a member of the allied forces during World War II in which over 100,000 Dutch Jews were murdered in the Holocaust of World War II, along with significant numbers of Dutch Roma (gypsies). 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 was among the twelve founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and among the six founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community, which would later evolve into the European Union.

Naming conventions

In English, '(the) Netherlands' is the official name of the European part of the 'Kingdom of the Netherlands'. 'Holland' is commonly used as a synonym for the Netherlands, but the word Holland derives from a district in the west of the country that currently make up two of the twelve provinces, namely North Holland and South Holland. The country's people and language are called 'Dutch'. 'Netherlanders' can be used for the people and 'Netherlandic' or 'Netherlands' as adjectives, but they are uncommon. In most languages, the name for the country literally means 'low lands' or is a transliteration of 'Nederland' or 'Holland'.

The name "Holland", or derivations of it, is commonly used for the Netherlands both in Dutch and in most other languages and can even be the official name of the country, e.g. Hoolanda (Arabic) and Oranda (Japanese). Strictly speaking, though, 'Holland' is the name of a region within the Netherlands, which was the economic powerhouse during the time of the United Provinces (1581-1795). Using 'Holland' for 'the Netherlands' is thus comparable to the use of 'England' for 'the United Kingdom'. Many Dutch people, especially those from provinces other than North Holland and South Holland, object to the use of the name of 'Holland' for the entire Netherlands.

The plural form ("Netherlands") is not commonly used in Dutch anymore, but instead a singular form of de Nederlanden: Nederland. The people are referred to as Nederlanders ("Dutch" in English) and the language is called Nederlands (again, "Dutch" in English). The plural form Nederlanden is mainly used when referring to the entire Kingdom (het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden), which includes the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba.

The English word "Dutch" is akin to the German word Deutsch and has the same etymological origin. Both these terms derive from what in Germanic was known as theodisca, which meant "(language) of the (common) people". During the early middle ages, it was the elite that mostly used Latin and the common people used their local languages. An older Dutch term for the language of the Netherlands is Diets or Nederdietsch.


The Netherlands has been a parliamentary democracy since 1848 and a constitutional monarchy since 1815; before that it had been a republic from 1581 to 1806 and a kingdom between 1806 and 1810 (it was part of France between 1810 and 1813). The head of state is the monarch (at present Queen Beatrix). The monarch has today in practice a mainly ceremonial function but the constitution allows for the exertion of real power, should the responsible ministers subordinate themselves; an open conflict between them and the monarch — whose signature is needed for any law or warrant to come into effect — would lead to a constitutional crisis (see main article).

Dutch governments have since the 19th century always consisted of a coalition, as there was not a single political party large enough to get the majority vote. Formally, the monarch 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 has taken up to seven months), after which the government formed in this way is officially appointed by the monarch. The head of the government is the Prime Minister, in Dutch Minister President or Premier, a primus inter pares who is usually also the leader of the largest party in the coalition. The degree of influence the monarch has on actual government formation 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 assemblies are directly elected every four years as well. The members of the provincial assemblies elect every two years a third of the members of the less important Senate (the Eerste Kamer, or First Chamber that is hereby fully indirectly elected within six years), that can merely reject laws, not propose or amend them. Together, the First and Second Chamber are known as the Staten-Generaal, the States General.

On February 7 the Second Chamber has introduced the citizens' initiative right at the national level.

Political scientists consider the Netherlands to be a classic example of a consociational state, traditionally explained by the necessity since the early middle ages for different social groups to cooperate in order to fight the water. Better founded hypotheses include a partial failing of feodalisation and the successful resistance against absolutism. This system of reaching an agreement despite differences is called the polder model in Dutch. Also, the Netherlands has long been a nation of traders, dominated by a freethinking bourgeoisie and for international trade one has to be tolerant of an other person's culture; at home, despite calvinism being till the 19th century the state religion, there was in practice much religious tolerance shown towards catholics and jews. The Netherlands tried between 1839 and 1940 to be a neutral country in most international affairs and thus managed to keep out of World War I (although this failed in World War II). As a result, the Dutch have a 'friendly' reputation in other countries, to the point that bearers of a Dutch passport often have relatively little difficulty getting into other countries, for visits or even for emigration purposes.

However, the early years of the 21st century have seen a political change with the right wing in politics gaining on the left. This is illustrated by the quick rise (and fall) of the LPF. Pim Fortuyn, its founder, held former cabinets responsible for the presumed failing integration of immigrants.

The present government is led by the cabinet Balkenende II. His cabinet's economic reforms and controversial immigration policies have resulted in a shift in public opinion to the left, showing from political polls and the 2006 municipal elections, in which the government coalition parties faced great losses in favor of the opposition parties, mainly the Labour Party (PvdA) and the Socialist Party (SP).

On June 1 2005 the Dutch electorate voted in a referendum against the proposed EU Constitution by a majority of 61.6%, three days after the French had also voted against.

Dutch policies on recreational drugs, prostitution, same-sex marriage and euthanasia are among the most liberal in the world.


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

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).

  • Friesland - north west; capital and largest city Leeuwarden
  • Groningen - north east; capital and largest city Groningen
  • Drenthe - south of Groningen; capital Assen, largest city Emmen
  • Overijssel - east central, south of Drenthe; capital Zwolle, largest city Enschede
  • Flevoland - central, north of Utrecht; capital Lelystad, largest city Almere
  • Gelderland - east central, south of Overijssel; capital Arnhem, largest city Nijmegen
  • Utrecht - central; capital and largest city Utrecht
  • North Holland - (Noord-Holland) north west; capital Haarlem, largest city (of the provence and the country) Amsterdam
  • South Holland - (Zuid-Holland) west central, south of North Holland; capital The Hague ('s-Gravenhage or Den Haag), largest city Rotterdam
  • Zeeland - south west; capital and largest city Middelburg
  • North Brabant - (Noord-Brabant) south central; capital 's-Hertogenbosch (or Den Bosch), largest city Eindhoven
  • Limburg - south east; capital and largest city Maastricht.

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.


A remarkable aspect of the Netherlands is the flatness of the country. About half of its surface area is less than 1 metre (3.3 ft) 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 protects these areas from flooding. Numerous massive pumping stations keep the ground water level in check. The highest point, the Vaalserberg, in the south-eastern most point of the country, is 321 metres (1,053 ft) above sea level. A substantial part of the Netherlands, for example, all of Flevoland (the largest man-made island in the world) and large parts of Holland, has been reclaimed from the sea. These areas are known as polders. This has led to the saying "God created the world, but the Dutch created the Netherlands."

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 south west, and the 1287 storm, which killed 50,000 people and created the Zuyderzee (now dammed in and renamed the IJsselmeer - see below) in the northwest, giving Amsterdam direct access to the sea. The St. Elizabeth flood of 1421 and the mismanagement in its aftermath destroyed a newly reclaimed polder, replacing it with the 72 square kilometres (28 sq mi) Biesbosch tidal floodplains in the south-centre. The most recent parts of Zeeland were flooded during the North Sea Flood of 1953 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 land users 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 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. (The water bodies 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 "Closure 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 totalling 1,650 square kilometres (637 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 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 kilometres (1,864 mi) of outer sea-dikes and 10,000 kilometres (6,200 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 incur additional Delta project work in the form of dike reinforcements. 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.

Because of the high cost of maintaining the polders some have argued that maybe some of the deepest polders should be given up. 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. These flooded polders might then be used as water catchments to take part of the blow.

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 south-west, which causes a moderate maritime climate, with cool summers and mild winters.


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), chemicals (for example DSM), petroleum refining (for example Royal Dutch Shell), and electrical machinery (for example Philips). Slochteren has one of the largest natural gas fields in the world, which has so far (2006) resulted in a total revenue of 159 billion € since the mid 1970's. 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 [1]. 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. Other important parts of the economy are international trade (Dutch colonialism started with cooperative private enterprises such as the VOC), banking and transport (for example the Rotterdam harbour). 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 Gulden, 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, which the government tried to resolve by cutting into its expenses.

In 2003 the economy shrunk 0.9%. 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%, the lowest level since 1989.


Demographics of Netherlands, Data of FAO, year 2005 ; Number of inhabitants in thousands.

The Netherlands is the 15th 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, since 18.4% is water. Partly because of this it is also one of the most densely cabled countries in the world. Internet penetration [2] is at 66.2% the 7th highest in the world.

According to CBS Statline, the official statistics bureau of the Netherlands, the ethnic origins of the citizens are very diverse. The vast majority of the population however still remains Dutch. They were: 80.8% Dutch, 5.6% other European (including 2.4% German), 2.4% Indonesian (Indo-European, Indo-Dutch, Moluccan), 2.2% Turks, 2.0% Surinamese, 1.9% Moroccan, 0.8% Antillean and Aruban, and 4.2% other. However, this does not include the whole Kingdom of the Netherlands (i.e. the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, which have a majority Afro-Caribbean community), and only include the population in the Netherlands itself. The Netherlands also has a resident population of some 200,000 people of mixed Dutch and Indonesian descent (Indonesia being a former colony of the Netherlands).

There are no cities with a population over 1 million in the Netherlands, but the 'four big cities' as they are called (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht) can in many ways be regarded as one 'big city' agglomeration, the Randstad ('fringe city') with about 7 milion inhabitants and an agricultural 'green heart' (het Groene Hart). This is illustrated by the idea to create a circular train network with a frequency and carriages similar to a metropolitan railway. The 5 biggest cities are, in order of population: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague (Den Haag), Utrecht and Eindhoven. Eindhoven is the only of these cities that is not located in the Randstad


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 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. Willem de Kooning was born and trained in Rotterdam, although he is considered to have reached acclaim as an American 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. The Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) discovered Saturn's moon Titan and invented the pendulum 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. Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl was published after she died in the Holocaust and translated from Dutch to all major languages.

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 Huis ten Bosch, Nagasaki, Japan. A similar Holland Village is being built in Shenyang, China.

Windmills, tulips, wooden shoes, and Delftware pottery are among the items associated with the Netherlands.

Efteling is a famous amusement park in the Netherlands.


The official language is Dutch, which is spoken by practically all inhabitants. Another official language is Frisian, which is spoken in the northern province of Friesland and has a strong resemblance to English, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish and Scots. Frisian is co-official only in the province of Friesland, although with a few restrictions. Several dialects of Low German are spoken in much of the north and are recognised by the Netherlands as regional languages according to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. To the south, the Dutch language shifts into other varieties of Low Franconian and German, which may or may not be best classified as Dutch, most notably West Flemish. One of these, Limburgish, which is spoken in the south-eastern province of Limburg has been recognised as a minority language since 1977.


According to the governmental statistics agency (CBS) 30% of the population consider themselves to be Roman Catholic, 20% Protestant (predominantly Dutch Reformed) and 8% 'other denominations'. 42% consider themselves not to belong to any religious denomination. Church attendance however is much lower than these figures may suggest: some 70% of the population 'rarely or never' visit a house of worship (be it a church, mosque, synagogue or temple), and even then it is mostly for occasions like weddings and baptisms. Most Protestants live in the northern provinces while the southern provinces, Noord-Brabant and Limburg, are mainly Roman Catholic.

The largest part of the 'other denominations', at 920,000, are Muslim immigrant workers mainly living in the bigger cities, mostly from Morocco and Turkey, and their descendants. The other denominations also include some 200,000 (1.3%) Hindu, mostly descendants of indentured servants who migrated from India to the former Dutch colony of Surinam around 1900.

Prior to the Holocaust about 140,000 Jews lived in the Netherlands (earning Amsterdam the acolade 'The Jerusalem of the West'); however, the vast majority of Dutch Jewry were murdered in the Holocaust. The Jewish population of the Netherlands today is estimated between 30,000 and 40,000. The major centre for Jewish life in the Netherlands is Amsterdam, with significant numbers living in Rotterdam and Den Haag. There are synagogues in most large towns; most Dutch Jews are Liberal rather than Orthodox in practice.

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