The Netherlands is an independent European country located on the North Sea at about 52 deg north latitude and 5 deg east longitude. It is often called Holland after a historic region now a part of the modern nation. Germany lies to the east; Belgium is to the south. The West Frisian islands lie offshore in the north. The Netherlands is one of Europe's smallest and most densely populated countries. Trade, industry, intensive agricultural land use, and land reclamations provide for a high standard of living. The name is derived from the Dutch word neder meaning "low," and the term Low Countries is used collectively for Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, a reference to the low-lying nature of the land. The capital is Amsterdam; the seat of government, The Hague, or 's Gravenhage. The Netherlands Antilles in the Caribbean is an integral part of the kingdom.
Land and resources
Small differences in elevation distinguish the "Low Netherlands," located in the north and west at less than 1 m (3.2 ft) above sea level, from the more elevated "High Netherlands" in the south and east, which reaches an altitude of 321 m (1,053 ft) in the extreme southeast. Approximately a third of the entire country lies below sea level at high tide. Another 25% is so low-lying that it would be subject to inundation if it were not for the surrounding dunes and dikes and the regular pumping of excess water. An area surrounded by dikes where the water table can be controlled is called a polder. The lowest point is 6.7 m (22 ft) below mean sea level, immediately to the northeast of Rotterdam.
The soils of the High Netherlands, predominantly sandy with admixtures of gravel in places, require heavy additions of humus and fertilizers to be productive. The soils of the polders, by contrast, consist mainly of sea clay and bog peat; the clays are exceptionally fertile once desalination and drainage have taken place.
The Netherlands shares with the rest of northwestern Europe a northern maritime climate; prevailing winds from the south and west exercise a moderating marine influence. Because of its small size and low elevations, the country's regional climatic differences are negligible. Temperatures average 17 deg C (63 deg F) in July and 2 deg C (35 deg F) in January. Precipitation averages 762 mm (30 in) a year, is evenly distributed, and varies little from year to year. Frontal storms can bring rapid weather changes at any time but occur most frequently in the fall.
Three of Europe's most important waterways--the Meuse, Rhine, and Scheldt--enter the sea through a common delta in the southwest. There, the Rhine divides into three major distributaries: the Waal, Lek, and Ijssel. A number of small lakes dot the polderlands, filling hollows from which peat was once removed for fuel. A network of canals and dikes crisscrosses the flat polderlands to provide an artificial drainage system that keeps the land dry.
In ancient times floodwaters regularly invaded the lowlands, forcing people to build their homes on artificial mounds called terpen. During the Middle Ages dikes were built, enclosing lower-lying polders in which groundwater levels could be controlled. In the 16th and 17th centuries windmills were used to pump excess water from the polders, and many small western lakes were transformed into dry land. Steam pumps, and later diesel and electric pumps, made possible the reclamation of increasingly larger areas. In 1853 the Haarlemmeer was drained to create 162 sq km (63 sq mi) of new land. The Zuiderzee Plan, begun in 1920 with a dike that closed off the former Zuiderzee, provides 2,050 sq km (792 sq mi) of new land in five great polders--Wieringermeer (completed in 1930), the Northeast (1945), East Flevoland (1957), South Flevoland (1968), and Markerwaard (begun 1963); the freshwater IJsselmeer was also formed. A new province, Flevoland, consisting of East and South Flevoland together with the Northeast polder, was created in 1986.
Vegetation and Animal Life
No areas of the virgin deciduous tree cover remain in the Netherlands, and only 8% of the total land area is wooded, primarily with planted evergreens. The wildlife has also been greatly reduced, but both governmental and private organizations are striving to preserve what remains. The Waddenzee is a world-renowned bird sanctuary.
Natural gas, discovered at Slochteren in the north in 1959, is the leading natural resource. In 1978, 88.7 billion cu m (3.1 trillion cu ft) of gas were removed, with remaining reserves--among the world's largest--estimated at 1.6 trillion cu m (56.5 trillion cu ft). Small quantities of petroleum also occur in the north and west, but production satisfies less than 5% of the nation's petroleum needs. Coal underlies Limburg Province, but production is unprofitable because of competition with cheaper imported coal and from petroleum and natural gas. Other mineral resources are salt, marl, peat, gravel, sand, and clay. To satisfy the increasing needs of cities and industries, surface water must now be purified and mixed with groundwater. The newly created freshwater Ijssel, Haringvliet, and Grevelingen lakes add significantly to the supply.
The Dutch are a homogeneous people of ancient Germanic origin, with some Celtic admixture. The most distinctive indigenous subgroup are the Frisians in the north. Principal immigrant subgroups include South Moluccans, Surinamese, and foreign workers from Mediterranean countries. Dutch, a Germanic language, is the official language; Frisian, a separate Germanic language, is taught along with Dutch in the schools of Friesland.
About 36% of the population are Roman Catholic; 26% are Protestant, of which many (including the Dutch royal family) are of the Dutch Reformed church; and 35% have no professed religion. Roman Catholics constitute more than 90% of the populations of North Brabant and Limburg. Jews now constitute less than 1% of the population.
More than 40% of the Dutch live in cities with 50,000 inhabitants or more, and nearly half the population are concentrated in an area of coalescing municipalities known as Randstad Holland that stretches from Utrecht through Amsterdam, The Hague, and Rotterdam. The largest cities are Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Eindhoven, Haarlem, Groningen, Tilburg, Nijmegen, Enschede, and Apeldoorn. The population density is one of the highest in the world. South Holland is the most densely populated province, and Drenthe, is the most sparsely populated. The population of the country as a whole has tripled since 1900, but today the growth rate is very low.
Education and Health
Children between ages 6 and 16 must attend school full time, and those leaving at 16 must continue their education for an additional 2 years on a part-time basis. About 70% attend private--mostly denominational-- schools, and 30% public schools; both are financed in full by the state. Nearly all between the ages of 4 and 6 attend the optional kindergarten, proceeding at the age of 6 to the 6-year primary-school course. Secondary education offers a choice of preparation for a university in a gymnasium, atheneum, or lyceum; a general course (chosen by the majority); or vocational training. The largest of 13 universities are those of Leiden (the oldest), Groningen, Amsterdam, and Utrecht. Virtually the entire population is literate, and many are multilingual.
Public and private health-insurance funds guarantee adequate health care for all; government expenditures for health care facilities are traditionally high.
The Netherlands' most famous literary figure is the 17th-century poet Joost van den Vondel. Leading contemporary writers include the poets A. Roland Holst and J. C. Bloem and the novelist Simon Vestdijk. Major painters include Karel Appel, Frans Hals, Piet Mondrian, Rembrandt, Vincent Van Gogh, and Jan Vermeer. The nation's rich historical and architectural heritage is apparent in more than 40,000 monuments, ranging from medieval castles, Gothic churches, old townhouses, farmhouses, and windmills to municipal fortifications from the 16th and 17th centuries.
The Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, under the direction of Bernard Haitink, is considered one of the world's finest orchestras. The Dutch National Ballet and Netherlands Dance Theater are world famous. Major museums are Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk, The Hague's Mauritshuis, and the Vincent van Gogh National Museum in Amsterdam. Strong support is extended by the government to the arts.
From an early economy based on fishing and commerce, the western areas of the Netherlands later developed shipbuilding, diamond cutting, and industries manufacturing cocoa, chocolate, gin, and liqueurs from raw materials provided by overseas areas. The Industrial Revolution, less dramatic in the Netherlands than in Great Britain and Germany, did not begin on a large scale until the Limburg coalfields were developed in the late 19th century. The Depression of the 1930s and the devastation of World War II left the nation impoverished by 1945, but recovery and expansion of trade and industry proceeded rapidly after 1950 through closer economic ties within the Benelux Economic Union composed of Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, and the European Economic Community (EEC).
Manufacturing and Mining
Except for natural gas found in the north, the Netherlands must import all needed industrial raw materials. As a result, the major industrial regions have developed in and around the major port complexes of Rotterdam/Europoort and the Amsterdam- North-Sea-Canal-Ijmuiden port. The leading industries, in order of value added, are metalworking, food processing, and the manufacture of chemicals and textiles. Velsen, on the North Sea Canal, is the iron and steel center; Rotterdam, a leading petroleum refining center; and Eindhoven, a center for electronics. Food-processing plants are widely distributed, but the chemical manufacturers are highly localized--in Rotterdam, the center of the petrochemical industry and allied products, and in Limburg. Textile weaving, much less important now than it used to be, is concentrated mainly in North Brabant (Tilburg and Helmond) and Twente (Enschede and Almelo). The government seeks to direct new growth to the relatively undeveloped northeastern provinces and to the economically depressed areas, including the former coal-mining region of south Limburg and the older, declining textile towns.
Coal, once a major energy source, is now relatively insignificant. The importance of petroleum has also declined with the increasing use of natural gas. The Netherlands has two nuclear power plants. The planned construction of two more was canceled after the accident at the USSR's Chernobyl plant in 1986.
Dutch agriculture became increasingly more intensive and specialized after the shift to imported grains during the 1870s, especially in the marketing of high-value export items. The Netherlands' leading export products are butter and cheese--including varieties named for Dutch communities such as Edam and Gouda; tulips and other flower bulbs from the Haarlem area; hothouse crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce, grown under glass in the Westland district south of The Hague; and flowers.
Fishing and Forestry
The main fishing ports are Ijmuiden, Scheveningen, and Urk. Sole and plaice, the most valuable fish landed, and shellfish (shrimps, mussels, and oysters) are auctioned at Yerseke. Forestry is economically unimportant.
Most freight is transported by road along the Netherlands' extensive modern roadway network. A smaller portion moves by water, along about 4,850 km (3,014 mi) of the Rhine, Meuse, and other canalized waterways. Only a small percentage of all freight is carried on the state-owned rail system, which is subsidized for passenger travel in an effort to lure commuters from their increasing use of private automobiles. Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM) is the national airline, and Amsterdam's Schiphol airport is one of Europe's busiest.
The leading port is Rotterdam/Europoort, connected to the North Sea by the enlarged New Waterway. It is the largest and busiest port in the world. Amsterdam, once the foremost port, is linked to the North Sea at Ijmuiden by the North Sea Canal and has access to the Rhine River and Central Europe by way of the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal opened in 1938. A 9,000-km-long (5,625-mi) pipeline network transports petroleum and natural gas from Rotterdam and the producing areas to other areas of the Netherlands and Belgium, France, and Germany.
In most years the Netherlands has a favorable balance of trade, with exports slightly exceeding imports in value. Export items include mineral fuels (petroleum products, natural gas), chemical products, machinery and transport equipment, and foodstuffs. Import items are crude petroleum, machinery, chemical products, and foodstuffs. The majority of the Netherlands' trade is with fellow members of the EEC (especially Germany) and with the United States. The Netherlands joined Belgium and Luxembourg in 1948 to form the Benelux Customs Union, with other European nations in 1957 to form the EEC, and with the other Benelux members in the Benelux Economic Union in 1958. Much of the trade handled at Rotterdam and Amsterdam is for members of the EEC.
The nation's eight national dailies are supplemented by about 80 provincial and local newspapers. The government-owned Netherlands Broadcasting Corporation coordinates the activities of eight associated companies.
The Kingdom of the Netherlands is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional and hereditary monarchy. The head of state since 1980 is Queen Beatrix of the House of Orange. Executive power is vested in the crown (the monarch reigns but does not rule) and in a council of ministers (cabinet) responsible for formulating and carrying out government policy. Legislative authority rests with the crown and the States-General, a bicameral parliament consisting of a 150-member Second Chamber, chosen every 4 years by direct ballot, and a 75-member First Chamber, elected for 6-year terms by the 11 provincial councils. All Dutch citizens over the age of 18 may vote. Seats in the parliament are allocated among the parties on the basis of proportional representation, a system that usually results in a proliferation of parties and formation of multiparty coalition governments. Each of the 11 provinces is governed by a popularly elected provincial legislature headed by an appointed queen's commissioner. The 833 municipalities are each headed by a mayor, appointed by the national government.
Germanic tribes, including the Batavi and Frisians, occupied the area in pre-Roman times; in 12 BC the Romans extended their empire north as far as the Rhine River, remaining until about AD 300. The Franks and Saxons settled during the great Germanic migration beginning in the 5th century. The Franks absorbed the Batavi and subjugated the Frisians and Saxons during the 8th century to integrate the Netherlands into a wider European empire under the Frankish emperor Charlemagne. When the Frankish Empire disintegrated after the death of Charlemagne, most of the Netherlands portion passed eventually to the East Frankish Kingdom. Frankish rule progressively weakened, while Vikings invaded and pillaged the region.
Further fragmentation resulted from the emergence in the 10th century of a number of feudal, semiautonomous vassal states owing allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire but enjoying many privileges. Among the more important of such states were the bishopric of Utrecht, the duchies of Brabant and Gelre, and the lands held by the counts of Zeeland and the increasingly powerful counts of Holland. Consolidation began again after the dukes of Burgundy gained control in 1348, and under Philip The Bold many of the separate regions were reunited through marriages and purchases. In 1477, following the marriage of Philip's granddaughter and heir, Mary Of Burgundy, to Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, the Burgundian possessions passed into Austrian Habsburg and--eventually--Spanish control.
Republic of the United Netherlands
In 1555-56, Philip II of Spain, an ardent Roman Catholic, inherited the Netherlands and the rest of the Spanish Empire from Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. From the beginning, Philip encountered strong anti-Spanish and anti-Catholic opposition, especially from the Dutch nobility and from Calvinists in the Protestant northern provinces.
In 1568 the disagreements erupted into a rebellion, the Dutch revolt, led by William I, Prince of Orange, resulting in the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648). In the course of the dispute, the seven northern provinces (Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, Groningen, Friesland, and Overijssel) formed the United Provinces and proclaimed their independence from Spain in 1581--a claim unrecognized by Spain until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The predominantly Catholic southern provinces remained loyal to Spain and were subsequently distinguished as the Spanish Netherlands and then, after the War of the Spanish Succession, as the Austrian Netherlands.
In the 17th century trade and shipping expanded greatly to create the golden age of the Netherlands. Through the Dutch East India Company, colonial territories were acquired in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), South Africa, Java, and Sumatra; meanwhile, the Dutch West India Company, formed in 1621, assisted in the establishment of New Netherland and the acquisition of territories in Brazil, Curacao, and Saint Martin. As a result of the Anglo-Dutch WARS (1652-74) control of the seas was lost to England, along with New Netherland, in exchange for Suriname. A long period of decline set in during the 18th century. The end of the republic came in 1795, when the French set up the Batavian Republic (1795-1806), followed by the Kingdom of Holland (1806-10) under Napoleon's brother Louis Bonaparte, and in 1810 incorporated the lands into the French Empire.
Kingdom of the Netherlands
Reunification of the seven United Provinces with the southern (or Austrian) provinces as the Kingdom of the Netherlands under King William I followed Napoleon's defeat in 1814 and was confirmed by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The unity of north and south was short-lived, and in 1830 the southern provinces withdrew and proclaimed their own independence, recognized in 1839, as the Kingdom of Belgium. The benevolent despotism of William I caused liberal reactions in the Netherlands, resulting in major democratic revision to the 1814 constitution in 1848 under William II. Under William III (r. 1849-90), additional reforms and limits on the monarchy were accomplished through the leadership of the distinguished Liberal statesman Johan Rudolf Thorbecke (1798-1872). When William died, his 10-year-old daughter Wilhelmina inherited the throne, her mother Emma acting as regent until the queen came of age in 1898.
Although neutral during World War I, the economy of the Netherlands encountered severe difficulties and was further weakened by the Depression of the 1930s. Liberalism declined during the interwar years of the 1920s and '30s, and coalitions of Catholic and Protestant political parties ruled. In World War II neutrality was again proclaimed, but German forces overran the nation in May 1940, their occupation claiming about 240,000 victims, many of them Jews. Much of the country was in ruins at the end of the war. In 1948, Queen Wilhelmina abdicated in favor of her daughter, Juliana, beginning a period of transformation for the Netherlands from a colonial power to a leading member of the European community of nations. Indonesia and Suriname gained their independence in 1949 and 1975, respectively.
In 1980, Queen Juliana was succeeded by Queen Beatrix . In 1981, Prime Minister Van Agt's support for deploying U.S. cruise missiles on Dutch territory caused an intense public outcry. He was defeated in the 1982 elections, and Ruud Lubbers became the next prime minister, primarily through a coalition of Christian Democrats and Liberals. The Netherlands population increasingly protested against the presence of foreign armaments on their soil, and in the late 1980s nearly 4 million Dutch citizens signed an antimissile petition.
Lubbers formed his third government in Nov., 1989. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War the Netherlands sent two marine frigates to aid the anti-Iraq coalition forces. In the 1994 elections the Christian Democrats and their coalition partner, the Labor party, lost seats. With some difficulty a new coalition government of left- and right-wing parties was formed and Labor party leader Wim Kok became prime minister. In early 1995 unusually heavy flooding along major rivers necessitated massive evacuations in the country.
Also in 1995, Dutch peacekeepers under UN auspices were overwhelmed by Serb forces in the Bosnian Muslim town of Srebrenica; the Serbs subsequently massacred Bosnia civilians. Several investigations were launched into the role played by the peacekeepers. An independent investigation that released its report in 2002 said that UN and Dutch political and military officials shared some of the blame for placing peacekeeping forces in an untenable position, and Prime Minister Kok's government resigned to accept responsibility. In the subsequent election campaign (May, 2002), the right-wing populist Pim Fortuyn, who ran on an anti-immigrant platform, was assassinated, stunning the nation. Voters subsequently veered to the right, giving conservative and rightist parties a majority of the seats in the new parliament. A center-right government, headed by Christian Democrat Jan Peter Balkenende and including Fortuyn's party, was formed in July, but the coalition collapsed in October. Elections in Jan., 2003, gave the Christian Democrats and Labor nearly the same number of seats (44 and 42, respectively) and resulted in significant losses for the Pim Fortuyn list (PFL). Balkenende remained prime minister, but the new center-right government excluded the PFL.