Netherlands -- Geography --
Official Name: Kingdom of the Netherlands
Capital City: Amsterdam
Languages: Dutch (official)
although Fries is spoken in Friesland and a local dialect is used in the Limburg province.
Official Currency: Euro
Religions: Catholic, Protestant, others
Population: 16 570 613 (2008)
Land Area: 33 920 sq km
Landforms: The land is flat, averaging only 37' above sea level. Much of the land below sea level is reclaimed and protected by 1,500 miles of dikes. There are some
hills in southeast
Land Divisions: 12 provinces
Netherlands -- History --
Historical accounts of the Netherlands date from the 1st century BC, when Roman forces led by Julius Caesar conquered most of the present area of the country. At the time the region was inhabited by Frisians, a Germanic tribe that lived in the north, and by other Germanic and minor Celtic tribes.
The Netherlands became part of Lotharingia (Lorraine) and still later, in 925, part of the Holy Roman Empire. At that time a Dutch nation did not exist, and the immediate loyalties of the inhabitants were to local lords. Gradually over the next centuries the whole region came to be called the Low Countries, or Netherlands, including present-day Belgium. During the 9th and 10th centuries Scandinavian raiders, called Vikings, frequently invaded the coastal areas, sailing far up the rivers in search of loot. The period from the 9th to the 14th centuries was a period of rapid development of the Dutch economy and landscape. A fast growing population reclaimed large amounts of land from lakes and marshes and founded hundreds of new settlements, which gradually developed into powerful towns. Over time, The Netherlands became an important trading center. The association of The Netherlands with the Holy Roman Empire remained largely nominal throughout the Middle Ages. Some trade was conducted with German coastal cities to the east, such as Bremen and Hamburg, but the major cultural influence came from France. By 1519 this area was under the benevolent control of Holy Roman emperor Charles V, of the Spanish branch of the house of Habsburg, who was also king of Spain. In 1555, however, Charles resigned both Spain and the Netherlands to his son, Philip II, who was Spanish by birth and education and had little liking for his northern European territories. His oppressive rule led to the epochal war of independence waged from 1568 to 1648 by the Dutch against Spain, then the most powerful nation in Europe.
In the early 17th century, when eventual Dutch independence was assured, an era of great commercial prosperity opened, as did the so-called Golden Age of Dutch art, with painters such as Rembrandt and Jan Vermeer. By the mid-17th century the Netherlands was the foremost commercial and maritime power of Europe, and Amsterdam was the financial center of the Continent. Within the Netherlands, the growing population and prosperity led to the rapid growth of cities.
About 1600 a Dutch merchant expedition of three vessels sailed from Amsterdam to Java. This was the first of numerous journeys that left Dutch geographic names scattered over the globe, from Spitsbergen to Cape Horn and from Staten Island to Tasmania. These voyages resulted in the establishment or acquisition of many trading stations in Africa, Southeast Asia, and America. Inevitably, the Dutch and the English, the leading maritime trading nations of the world, came into sharp commercial rivalry and military conflict. The issues between the two countries were contested, but not settled, by the two Anglo-Dutch Wars, the first waged from 1652 to 1654 and the second from 1664 to 1667. As a result of the latter conflict the Dutch lost New Amsterdam in North America but acquired Dutch Guiana (now Suriname). Other wars, costly in lives and money, followed against England and France.
After the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), in which the Dutch were allies of the British against the French, the economic and political power of the Netherlands began to decline. Eventually, the Dutch Republic was overshadowed by the expanding power of the United Kingdom on the sea and France on the land.
The Batavian Republic survived only until 1806, when Napoleon I of France transformed the country into the kingdom of Holland. In 1810 he incorporated it into the French Empire. While the Dutch were under French rule, the British seized Dutch colonial possessions. After the fall of Napoleon, the independence of the Netherlands was restored in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna. In addition, the territory now comprising Belgium was made part of the kingdom of The Netherlands. The reunion of the two regions was not a happy one, for they had become widely disparate in political background, tradition, religion, language, and economy. In 1830 the Belgians revolted and established their independence as a sovereign state. A conference in London of the major European powers formulated the conditions of separation in 1831. The stipulations were accepted by the Dutch king under pressure from France and Britain. But when they were later revised by the conference in favor of the Belgians, a Dutch army invaded Belgium and routed the opposing forces. The conditions of separation were again revised and were finally accepted by both countries in 1839.
The second half of the 19th century was marked by a liberalization of The Netherlands government under the impact of the revolutions that had swept Europe during the 1840s. The seeds of reform were contained in the new constitution of 1848, which became the foundation of the present democracy. Under its provisions arbitrary personal rule by the monarch was no longer possible. The members of the first chamber of parliament, who had formerly been appointed by the king, were thereafter elected by the provincial states (assemblies). Members of the states and of the second chamber of parliament were chosen by all people paying taxes in excess of a stipulated sum.
From about 1880 to 1914 The Netherlands enjoyed an era of economic expansion. This period ended during World War I (1914-1918), when, despite remaining militarily neutral, the nation suffered hardship through loss of trade as a result of the Allied blockade of the Continent. The principal postwar problems of the country were economic, and these were aggravated by the depression of the 1930s.
At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, The Netherlands again declared its neutrality, but in 1940 the country was overrun by the Germans, following an aerial bombardment that destroyed the greater part of Rotterdam. The Germans occupied the country until they were ousted during 1944 and 1945. During the occupation, the Dutch set up an underground network to resist German forces. The German occupiers deported more than 100,000 Dutch Jews; most of them died in Nazi concentration camps. The Diary of Anne Frank gives a vivid picture of the period of Nazi occupation, which finally ended on May 5, 1945. The years following World War II were marked by intensive efforts to rebuild the country and to restore its trade and industry. In 1945 The Netherlands became a charter member of the United Nations. In 1948 it received funds through the European Recovery Program. The Netherlands joined with Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, and Luxembourg to form the Brussels Treaty Organization in 1948, and was a founding member of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952. The country joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949, the European Defense Community Treaty in 1952, and the London-Paris accords in 1955, thus becoming a full-fledged member of the Western European multinational defense establishment.
The Roman Catholic People’s Party came to power in 1959 and retained pluralities in the lower house in the elections of 1963 and 1967. The inflation of the 1960s continued into the 1970s as a major political problem. In the elections of 1971 the governing coalition lost its majority, and a coalition headed by the Anti-Revolutionary Party formed a government. The government fell in 1972, however, and a caretaker government ruled until May 1973, when Joop den Uyl, leader of the Labor Party, was sworn in as prime minister of a five-party coalition. In 1977, following parliamentary elections in the spring, the governing coalition of den Uyl fell apart following disagreements over land-reform legislation. A new prime minister, Christian Democrat Appeal (CDA) leader Andreas van Agt, was sworn in later in the year. In 1980 Princess Beatrix succeeded to the throne on the abdication of her mother, Queen Juliana. Van Agt’s cabinet lost its parliamentary majority in May 1981, but he formed a new coalition that lasted from September 1981 to May 1982. Parliamentary elections were held in September 1982, after which van Agt unexpectedly resigned his party leadership. His successor as head of the CDA was Ruud Lubbers, who formed a new coalition with the liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) in November 1982 and remained in power until 1994. In the May 1994 elections, the Labor Party emerged at the head of a three-party coalition government with the VVD and the Democrats ’66 and assumed control of the Dutch government for the first time since 1977. Labor leader Wim Kok became the new prime minister. This coalition, led by Kok, continued in power following the May 1998 national elections.
National elections in May 2002 decisively turned out the Labor-led coalition, which had governed the country for eight years and overseen a period of prosperity and low unemployment. All three of the former coalition parties suffered significant losses, and the center-right Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) emerged as the largest party. The elections also saw the rise of a new anti-immigration party, the Pim Fortuyn List (LPF), named for populist politician Pim Fortuyn. The party of Fortuyn, a charismatic leader who was assassinated nine days before the elections, emerged as the second-largest party. In July, following coalition talks, a new center-right government formed, headed by the CDA with support from the LPF and VVD. CDA leader Jan Peter Balkenende was elected to lead the new government. However, constant infighting within the LPF broke the resolve of the coalition to hold the government together, and the government collapsed in October after just three months in power.
Early elections in January 2003 punished the LPF by reducing its share of seats, but the CDA emerged relatively unscathed, retaining the largest number of seats in the parliament. In May, following four months of difficult negotiations, the CDA agreed to a center-right coalition with the VVD and the Democrats’66. As prime minister, Balkenende sought to implement public sector reforms and large cuts in public spending, in addition to taking a tough stance on immigration.
Netherlands -- Economy --
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 ˆ 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 . 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.
Netherlands -- Culture --
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.
Netherlands -- Political system, law and government --
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 Second Chamber of parliamentThe 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.
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. This cabinet got some critique about economic reforms and the immigration policies.
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.