The Netherlands (Dutch: Nederland) is the European part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, a constitutional monarchy. It is located in northwestern Europe and borders the North Sea, Belgium and Germany. The country is often referred to by the name Holland, although this is technically incorrect; Holland was the economic powerhouse during the time of the United Provinces (1581–1795), during the Napoleonic era it was split into North and South Holland (refer to subsection on Names).
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, 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. The Hague is the administrative capital (the seat of government), the home of the Queen, and the location for most of the embassies.
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 and it would be until 1648 for Spain to recognise Dutch independence.
After gaining formal independence from Philip IV, the Dutch, as the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, grew to become one of the major seafaring and economic powers of the 17th century. In the period, referred to as the Golden Age in the Netherlands, colonies and trade posts were established all over the globe.
After (briefly) being incorporated in the French empire under Napoleon, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was formed in 1815, consisting of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Belgium however 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. In Luxembourg, the laws prevented women from becoming Head of State. Luxembourg turned to the German branch of the Nassau family, which is still in charge in Luxembourg today.
The Netherlands possessed several colonies, most notably the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and Suriname. The colonies were first administered the Dutch East India Company, the so-called VOC, and in the 19th century was directly administered by the government of the Netherlands.
During the 19th century, the Netherlands was slow to industrialize compared to neighbouring 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 in 1945. 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.
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. Mainly people from the Southern, Northern and Eastern parts sometimes object to this when you meet them abroad or in English speaking companies. They will then claim to be from the Netherlands, instead of the smaller part of the country that is called Holland! People from the southern provinces Limburg and Noord Brabant (Northern Brabant) who are mainly Roman Catholic retain some bad sentiments against Holland. During the time of the United Provinces these areas did not have any political liberties and in fact were exploited as colonies. A culture of this exploitation and the feeling of being exploited remained until the second world war; only after this war, with the true modernisation of the Dutch society did they become more free and did their relative power increase. The anti-Holland sentiment remained however, and is still relatively alive in these parts of the country. Also the expats (people from the South and East living in either of the Holland provinces consider themselves to be living abroad), are easily picked out when you say Holland to the Netherlands.
Main article: Politics of the Netherlands
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 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.
Provinces & dependencies
The Netherlands is divided into 12 administrative regions, called provincies (provinces):
The country is also subdivided in water districts, governed by a water body (waterschap or hoogheemraadschap), each having authority in matters concerning water management. As of 1 January 2004 there are 37. (These water bodies are actually older than 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), all 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 meter above sea level, and large parts of it are actually below sea level (see map showing these areas (http://www.minbuza.nl/default.asp?CMS_ITEM=MBZ302750)). 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.
The country is divided into two main parts by three rivers Rhine (Rijn), Waal and Meuse (Maas). 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.
The predominant wind direction in the Netherlands is southwest, which causes a moderate maritime climate, with cool summers and mild winters.
Main article: Economy of the Netherlands
The Netherlands has a prosperous and open economy in which the government has successfully reduced its role since the 1980s. Industrial activity is predominantly in food-processing, chemicals, petroleum refining, and electrical machinery. A highly mechanised agricultural sector employs no more than 4% of the labor 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.
Main article: Demographics of the Netherlands
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 have no official recognition. 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.
The main religions are Catholicism (18% in 1999) (dioceses (http://126.96.36.199/kerkprovincie/bisdommen/index.html)) 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).
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.
In the Golden Age, Dutch literature flowered as well, with Joost van den Vondel, P. C. Hooft as the two most famous names. 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.
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