See Also:Holland

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Updated:Sunday 12th October 2014

Netherlands ?

Netherlands Definition

Country in northwestern Europe bordering on the North Sea.Holland originated in 12th century as a feudal estate of the Roman Empire. Holland later united with Hainaut. In 1433 Counts ceded their titles to Philip III. It became a centre of the revolt against Spain in 1572. Holland and six other northern Netherlands provinces declared independence from Spain in 1579. Amsterdam became an important commercial and financial centre in Europe. (Wikipedia) - Netherlands This article is about the constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. For other uses, see Netherlands (disambiguation). Not to be confused with Holland. Netherlands Nederland Official languages Demonym Government Legislature Formation Area Population Currency Time zone Date format Drives on the Calling code ISO 3166 code Internet TLD
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: "Je maintiendrai" (French) "Ik zal handhaven" (Dutch) "I will uphold"
Anthem: "Wilhelmus" (Dutch) "''William"Sorry, your browser either has JavaScript disabled or does not have any supported player. You can download the clip or download a player to play the clip in your browser.
Location of the  European Netherlands  (dark green)

– in Europe  (green & dark grey) – in the European Union  (green)

Location of the  Dutch special municipalities  (green)
Capital and largest city Amsterdam 52°22′N 4°53′E / 52.367°N 4.883°E / 52.367; 4.883
Recognised regional languages
  • West Frisian (Friesland)
  • Limburgish (Limburg)
  • Dutch Low Saxon (North-east)
  • English (Sint Eustatius/Saba)
  • Papiamento (Bonaire)
Ethnic groups (2008)
  • 80.7% Dutch
  • 5% other EU
  • 2.5% Indonesians
  • 2.2% Turks
  • 2% Moroccans
  • 1.9% Surinamese
  • 0.8% Caribbean
  • 4.8% others
Sovereign state  Kingdom of the Netherlands
Unitary parliamentary democracy under constitutional monarchy
 -  Monarch Willem-Alexander
 -  Prime Minister Mark Rutte
States General
 -  Upper house Senate
 -  Lower house House of Representatives
 -  Burgundian Netherlands (fiefs ruled in personal union) 1384 
 -  Habsburg Netherlands (fiefs ruled in personal union) 1482 
 -  Spanish Netherlands (fiefs ruled in personal union) 1556 
 -  United Netherlands (independent republic) 26 July 1581 (Declared) 30 Jan. 1648 (Recognised) 
 -  Batavian Republic (Sister republic to France) 19 January 1795 
 -  Netherlands (monarchy) 16 March 1815 
 -  Charter for the Kingdom (constituent country) 15 December 1954 
 -  Founded the EEC (now EU) 1 January 1958 
 -  Total 41,543 km2 (134th) 16,039 sq mi
 -  Water (%) 18.41
 -  2014 estimate 16,856,620 (63rd)
 -  Density 406.3/km2 (24th) 1,052.3/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2014 estimate
 -  Total $717.146 billion (23rd)
 -  Per capita $42,586 (12th)
GDP (nominal) 2014 estimate
 -  Total $838.036 billion (17th)
 -  Per capita $49,765 (13th)
Gini (2011) 25.8 low · 111th
HDI (2013)  0.915 very high · 4th
 -  Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2) AST (UTC-4)
  • +31
  • +599

The Netherlands (i/ˈnɛðərləndz/; Dutch: Nederland  ( listen)) is the main constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It is a small, densely populated country, lying mainly in Western Europe, but also including three islands in the Caribbean. The European part of the Netherlands borders Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest, sharing maritime borders with Belgium, the United Kingdom and Germany. The three largest and most important cities in the Netherlands are Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam. Amsterdam is the country''s capital, while The Hague holds the Dutch seat of government. The port of Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe – as large as the next three largest combined.

The Netherlands'' name literally means "Low Country", inspired by its low and flat geography, with only about 50% of its land exceeding one metre above sea level. Most of the areas below sea level are man-made. Since the late 16th century, large areas (polders) have been reclaimed from the sea and from lakes, amounting to nearly 17% of the country''s current land mass.

With a population density of 406 people per km² – 497 if water is excluded – the Netherlands is a very densely populated country for its size. Only Bangladesh, South Korea and Taiwan have both a larger population and a higher population density. Nevertheless, the Netherlands is the world''s second largest exporter of food and agriculture products, after the United States.

The Netherlands was one of the first countries in the world to have an elected parliament, and since 1848 it has been governed as a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy, organised as a unitary state. The Netherlands has a long history of social tolerance and is generally regarded as a liberal country, having legalised abortion, prostitution and euthanasia, while maintaining a progressive drugs policy. In 2001 it became the world''s first country to legalise same-sex marriage.

The Netherlands is a founding member of the EU, Eurozone, G-10, NATO, OECD, WTO and a part of the trilateral Benelux economic union. The country is host to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and five international courts: the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Court and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The first four are situated in The Hague, as is the EU''s criminal intelligence agency Europol and judicial co-operation agency Eurojust. This has led to the city being dubbed "the world''s legal capital". The Netherlands is also a part of the Schengen Area.

The Netherlands has a market-based mixed economy, ranking 17th of 177 countries according to the Index of Economic Freedom. It had the twelfth-highest per capita income in the world in 2013. In 2013, the United Nations World Happiness Report ranked the Netherlands as the fourth happiest country in the world, reflecting its high quality of life.

  • 1 Etymology
  • 2 History
    • 2.1 Habsburg Netherlands (1519–1581)
    • 2.2 Dutch Republic (1581–1795)
    • 2.3 French influence (1795–1814)
    • 2.4 Kingdom of the Netherlands (1815–1940)
    • 2.5 World War II (1940–1945)
    • 2.6 Post-war history (1945–present)
  • 3 Geography of the Netherlands
    • 3.1 European Netherlands
      • 3.1.1 Floods
        • Delta works
      • 3.1.2 Climate
      • 3.1.3 Nature
    • 3.2 Caribbean islands
  • 4 Government
    • 4.1 Political parties
    • 4.2 Administrative divisions
      • 4.2.1 Provinces
      • 4.2.2 Special municipalities
    • 4.3 Foreign relations
    • 4.4 Military
  • 5 Economy
    • 5.1 Agriculture
    • 5.2 Transport
  • 6 Demographics
    • 6.1 Language
    • 6.2 Religion
      • 6.2.1 Roman Catholicism
      • 6.2.2 Protestantism
      • 6.2.3 Humanism
      • 6.2.4 Pluralism
      • 6.2.5 Minority religions
    • 6.3 Education
  • 7 Culture
    • 7.1 Art, philosophy and literature
    • 7.2 Customs and etiquette
    • 7.3 Music
    • 7.4 Film and television
    • 7.5 Sport
    • 7.6 Cuisine
  • 8 Colonial heritage
  • 9 See also
  • 10 Further reading
  • 11 External links
  • 12 Notes
  • 13 References


The Netherlands in its entirety is often referred to as the much older designation "Holland", though strictly this refers only to North and South Holland, two of the nation''s twelve provinces, that were created out of the former County of Holland. That county was economically and politically the most important county in the region. Historically, Holland often served as a metonym for the entire country. Referring to the Netherlands as Holland is an example of pars pro toto and is considered either technically incorrect or informal, depending on the context, but is more acceptable when referring to the national football team.

De Lage landen (The Low Countries) is a geographical designation of the general area of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, and is also known for the more geopolitical term Benelux. Depending on the context, the designation "Low Countries" sometimes extended with the former Burgundian and Habsburg possessions that are now part of northern France (French Flanders, French Hainaut, Artois, Picardy to the Somme) and the former Luxembourg region around Diedenhoven and Germany (east Frisia, Julich, Cleves, Bentheim, Lingen, the region around Geldern, around Bitburg, some municipalities east of the eastern provinces which were annexed by Prussia in 1815, etc.). Netherlands has about the same meaning as the Low Countries, but of a more historiographical nature.

In the fifteenth century the name Netherlands (Nederlanden) came into use. Unlike France and England it had no ethnic origin, but it was originally a geographical term which denoted only the difference with a higher ground. This was however, practise already since the Romans, who made in the region a distinction between Germania Inferior and Germania Superior, referring to the downstream and upstream location of these two provinces. Place names with Neder and Nieder are still used in various places in respectively the Dutch and German language area. Also terms like lower Rhine and lower Meuse were commonly used (vs. middle Rhine or upper Rhine). Niderlant was in the late Middle Ages the region between the Meuse and the Rhine, the Lower Rhine Area now included. The area known as Oberland (High country) was considered to begin approximately at the nearby higher located Cologne. By extension, the term could also be applied to the delta of the Schelde, Meuse and Rhine, and then would occur in the plural form. Due to the great importance of the Low Countries, the name was increasingly used specifically for this area. From about 1490, the Burgundian-Habsburg provinces thus also were indicated. Besides Flanders, "the Netherlands" was, from the mid-sixteenth century on, probably the most commonly used name.

History Main article: History of the Netherlands Habsburg Netherlands (1519–1581)Daily life during the Dutch Golden Age captured in a painting by Jan Steen.William I, Prince of Orange, also called Willem de Zwijger (William the Silent), leader of the Netherlands during the Dutch Revolt.The Four Days'' Battle, 1–4 June 1666, during the Second Anglo–Dutch War.

Under Charles V, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire and King of Spain, the current Netherlands region was part of the Seventeen Provinces of the Low Countries, which also included most of present-day Belgium, Luxembourg, and some land in France and Germany.

In 1568, the Eighty Years'' War between the Provinces and Spain began. In 1579, the northern half of the Seventeen Provinces forged the Union of Utrecht, a treaty in which they committed to support each other in their defence against the Spanish army. The Union of Utrecht is seen as the foundation of the modern Netherlands. In 1581, the northern provinces adopted the Act of Abjuration, the declaration of independence in which the provinces officially deposed Philip II of Spain as reigning monarch in the northern provinces.

Queen Elizabeth I of England sympathised with the Dutch struggle against the Spanish, and in 1585 she concluded a treaty with the Dutch whereby she promised to send an English army to the Netherlands to aid the Dutch in their war with the Spanish. In December 1585, 7,600 soldiers were sent to the Netherlands from England under the command of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. In spite of the significant size for that time, the English army was of no real benefit to the Dutch rebellion.

Although Robert Dudley returned to the Netherlands in November 1586 with another army, the army still had little effect in the rebellion. Philip II, the son of Charles V, was not prepared to let them go easily, and war continued until 1648, when Spain under King Philip IV finally recognised the independence of the seven north-western provinces in the Peace of Münster. Parts of the southern provinces became de facto colonies of the new republican-mercantile empire.

Dutch Republic (1581–1795) Main article: Dutch RepublicWinter landscape with skaters c. 1625Amsterdam''s Dam Square in 1656

After declaring their independence, the provinces of Holland, Zeeland, Groningen, Friesland, Utrecht, Overijssel, and Gelderland formed a confederation. All these provinces were autonomous and had their own government, the "States of the Province". The States General, the confederal government, were seated in The Hague and consisted of representatives from each of the seven provinces. The sparsely populated region of Drenthe, mainly consisting of poor peatland, was part of the republic too, although Drenthe was not considered one of the provinces; it had its own States, but the landdrost of Drenthe was appointed by the States General.

Moreover, the Republic had come to occupy during the Eighty Years'' War a number of so-called Generality Lands (Generaliteitslanden in Dutch). These territories were governed directly by the States General. They did not have a governmental structure of their own and did not have representatives in the States General. Their population was mainly Roman Catholic, and these areas were used as a buffer zone between the Republic and the Southern Netherlands.

The Dutch Empire grew to become one of the major seafaring and economic powers of the 17th century. In the Dutch Golden Age ("Gouden Eeuw"), colonies and trading posts were established all over the world. Dutch settlement in North America began with the founding of New Amsterdam, on the southern part of Manhattan in 1614. In South Africa, the Dutch settled the Cape Colony in 1652. By 1650, the Dutch owned 16,000 merchant ships. During the 17th century, the Dutch population increased from an estimated 1.5 million to almost 2 million.

For a comprehensive list of the territories that formed the Dutch Empire, see Evolution of the Dutch Empire.

Many economic historians regard the Netherlands as the first thoroughly capitalist country in the world. In early modern Europe it had 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 phenomena such as the boom-bust cycle, the world''s first asset-inflation bubble, the tulip mania of 1636–1637, and the world''s first bear raider, Isaac le Maire, who forced prices down by dumping stock and then buying it back at a discount. The republic went into a state of general decline in the later 18th century, with economic competition from England and long standing rivalries between the two main factions in Dutch society, the Staatsgezinden (Republicans) and the Prinsgezinden (Royalists or Orangists), as main factors.

In the 17th century, plantation colonies were established by the Dutch and English along the many rivers in the fertile Guyana plains. The earliest documented colony in Guiana was along the Suriname River and called Marshall''s Creek. The area was named after an Englishman. Disputes arose between the Dutch and the English. In 1667, the Dutch decided to keep the nascent plantation colony of Suriname conquered from the English, resulting from the Treaty of Breda. The English were left with New Amsterdam, a small trading post in North America, which is now known as New York City.

French influence (1795–1814) Further information: Batavian Republic and Kingdom of Holland

On 19 January 1795, one day after the stadtholder, William V of Orange, fled to England, the Bataafse Republiek (Batavian Republic) was proclaimed, rendering the Netherlands a unitary state. From 1795 to 1806, the Batavian Republic designated the Netherlands as a republic modelled after the French Republic.

From 1806 to 1810, the Koninkrijk Holland (Kingdom of Holland) was set up by Napoleon Bonaparte as a puppet kingdom governed by his brother Louis Bonaparte to control the Netherlands more effectively. The name of the leading province, Holland, was used for the whole country. The Kingdom of Holland covered the area of the present day Netherlands, with the exception of Limburg and parts of Zeeland, which were French territory. In 1807, Prussian East Frisia and Jever were added to the kingdom. In 1809, however, after a failed British invasion, Holland had to surrender all territories south of the Rhine to France.

King Louis Bonaparte did not meet Napoleon''s expectations – he tried to serve Dutch interests instead of his brother''s, allowed trade with the British in spite of the Continental System and even tried to learn Dutch – and he was forced to abdicate on 1 July 1810. He was succeeded by his five-year-old son Napoleon Louis Bonaparte. Napoleon Louis reigned as Louis II for just ten days as Napoleon ignored his young nephew''s accession to the throne. The Emperor sent in an army to invade the country and dissolved the Kingdom of Holland. The Netherlands then became part of the French Empire.

The Netherlands remained part of the French Empire until the autumn of 1813, when Napoleon was defeated in the Battle of Leipzig and forced to withdraw his troops from the country.

Kingdom of the Netherlands (1815–1940) Main articles: United Kingdom of the Netherlands and Kingdom of the NetherlandsA map of the Dutch colonial empire. Light green: territories administered by or originating from territories administered by the Dutch East India Company; dark green: the Dutch West India Company. In yellow the territories occupied later, during the 19th century.

William Frederick, son of the last stadtholder, returned to the Netherlands in 1813 at the invitation of the provisional government formed after the withdrawal of the French. Although it comprised mostly the same men who had driven out his father 18 years earlier, all parties agreed that William was the only choice to head any new government. On 6 December, he proclaimed himself Sovereign Prince of the Netherlands. On 16 March 1815, the Sovereign Prince raised the Netherlands to the status of a kingdom and proclaimed himself William I (Willem I in Dutch).

In 1815, the Congress of Vienna formed the United Kingdom of the Netherlands by adding the southern Netherlands to the north to create a strong country on the northern border of France. In addition, William became hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg. The Congress of Vienna gave Luxembourg to William as personal property in exchange for his German possessions, Nassau-Dillenburg, Siegen, Hadamar, and Diez.

Slaves in Suriname, early 19th century

The Southern Netherlands had been culturally separate from the north since 1581, and rebelled against William''s attempt to create a single culture. The south rebelled and gained independence in 1830 as Belgium, while the personal union between Luxembourg and the Netherlands was severed in 1890, when William III died with no surviving male heirs. Ascendancy laws prevented his daughter Queen Wilhelmina from becoming the next Grand Duchess. Therefore the throne of Luxembourg passed over from the House of Orange-Nassau to the House of Nassau-Weilburg, a junior branch of the House of Nassau.

The largest Dutch settlement abroad was the Cape Colony. It was established by Jan van Riebeeck on behalf of the Dutch East India Company at Cape Town (Dutch: Kaapstad) in 1652. The Prince of Orange acquiesced to British occupation and control of the Cape Colony in 1788. The Netherlands also possessed several other colonies, but Dutch settlement in these lands was limited. Most notable were the vast Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and the Colony of Surinam (now Suriname). 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.

The submission of Diponegoro to General De Kock at the end of the Java War in 1830; painting by Nicolaas Pieneman

During its colonial period, the Netherlands was heavily involved in the slave trade. The Dutch planters relied heavily on African slaves to cultivate the coffee, cocoa, sugarcane and cotton plantations along the rivers. Treatment of the slaves by their owners was notoriously bad, and many slaves escaped the plantations. Slavery was abolished by the Netherlands in Dutch Guiana and Curaçao and Dependencies in 1863, but the slaves were not fully released until 1873, after a mandatory 10-year transition period during which time they were required to work on the plantations for minimal pay and without state-sanctioned torture. As soon as they became truly free, the slaves largely abandoned the plantations where they had suffered for several generations in favour of the city Paramaribo. Every year this is remembered during Keti Koti, 1 July, Emancipation Day (end of slavery).

During the 19th century, the Netherlands was slow to industrialise compared to neighbouring countries, mainly because of the great complexity involved in modernising the infrastructure, consisting largely of waterways, and the great reliance its industry had on windpower.

Although the Netherlands remained neutral during the First World War, it was heavily involved in the war. The German general Count Schlieffen, who was Chief of the Imperial German General Staff, had originally planned to invade the Netherlands while advancing into France in the original Schlieffen Plan. This was changed by Schlieffen''s successor, Helmuth von Moltke the Younger, to maintain Dutch neutrality. Later during the war, Dutch neutrality proved essential to German survival until the blockade by the British Royal Navy in 1916, when the import of goods through the Netherlands was no longer possible. The Dutch were nevertheless able to continue to remain neutral during the war using their diplomacy and their ability to trade.

World War II (1940–1945) Main article: Netherlands in World War IIRotterdam after German air raids in 1940.

The Netherlands intended to remain neutral during World War II, although contingency plans involving the armies of Belgium, France and the United Kingdom were drawn up in case of German aggression. Despite this neutrality, Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940 as part of their campaign against the Allied forces. French forces in the south and British ships in the west came to help but turned around quickly, evacuating many civilians and several thousand German prisoners of war from the German elite airborne divisions.

The country was overrun in five days. Only after (but not because of) the Rotterdam Blitz did the main element of the Dutch army surrender on 14 May 1940; although a Dutch and French force held the western part of Zeeland for some time after the surrender. The Kingdom as such, continued the war from the colonial empire; the government in exile resided in London.

During the occupation, over 100,000 Dutch Jews were rounded up and transported to Nazi German extermination camps in Germany, German-occupied Poland and German-occupied Czechoslovakia. By the time these camps were liberated, few Dutch Jews survived. Dutch workers were conscripted for forced labour in German factories, civilians were killed in reprisal for attacks on German soldiers, and the countryside was plundered for food for German soldiers in the Netherlands and for shipment to Germany. Although there were thousands of Dutch who risked their lives by hiding Jews from the Germans, as recounted in The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom and The Heart Has Reasons by Mark Klempner, there were also Dutch who collaborated with the occupying force in hunting down hiding Jews.

Dutch resistance members with troops of the US 101st Airborne in Eindhoven during Operation Market Garden in September 1944.

Local fascists and anti-Bolsheviks joined the Waffen-SS in the 4th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Brigade Netherlands, fighting on the Eastern Front as well as other units. Racial restrictions were relaxed to the extent that even Asians from Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) units were recruited. Political collaborators were members of the fascist NSB, the only legal political party in the occupied Netherlands.

On 8 December 1941, the Netherlands declared war on Japan. The government-in-exile then lost control of its major colonial stronghold, the Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia), to Japanese forces in March 1942. "American-British-Dutch-Australian" (ABDA) forces fought hard in some instances but were overwhelmed. During the Japanese occupation of Indonesia, the Japanese interned Dutch civilians and used Dutch and Indos (Eurasians of Dutch and Indonesian descent) alike as forced labour, both in the Netherlands East Indies and in neighbouring countries.

Crowds during the liberation of Eindhoven, September 1944.

The Dutch Red Cross reported the deaths in Japanese custody of 14,800 European civilians out of 80,000 interned and 12,500 of the 34,000 POW captured. A later UN report stated that 4 million people died in Indonesia as a result of famine and forced labour (known as romusha) during the Japanese occupation. Some military personnel escaped to Australia and other Allied countries from where they carried on the fight against Japan. Soon after VE day, the Dutch fought a colonial war against the new republic of Indonesia.

Princess Juliana of the Netherlands, the only child of Queen Wilhelmina and heir to the throne, sought refuge in Ottawa, Canada, with her two daughters, Beatrix and Irene, during the war. During Princess Juliana''s stay in Canada, preparations were made for the birth of her third child. To ensure the Dutch citizenship of this royal baby, the Canadian Parliament passed a special law declaring Princess Juliana''s suite at the Ottawa Civic Hospital "extraterritorial".

On 19 January 1943, Princess Margriet was born. The day after Princess Margriet''s birth, the Dutch flag was flown on the Peace Tower. This was the only time in history a foreign flag has waved above Canada''s parliament buildings. In 1944–45, the First Canadian Army, which included Canadian, British and Polish troops, was responsible for liberating much of the Netherlands from German occupation. The joyous "Canadian summer" that ensued after the liberation, forged deep and long-lasting bonds of friendship between the Netherlands and Canada (See Canada–Netherlands relations). In 1949, Dutch troops occupied an area of 69 square kilometres (27 sq mi) of the British zone of occupied Germany, including Elten and Selfkant, and annexed it. At that time, these areas were inhabited by almost 10,000 people. As the result of a Dutch-German agreement, signed on 8 April 1960 in The Hague, the territory was returned to Germany on 1 August 1963, except one small hill (about 3 km²) called Duivelsberg which was annexed by the Netherlands.

Post-war history (1945–present)The Netherlands is a founding member of the European Union.

After the war, the Dutch economy prospered by leaving behind an era of neutrality and gaining closer ties with neighbouring states. Government-encouraged emigration efforts to reduce population density prompted some 500,000 Dutch people to leave the country after the war. The Netherlands was one of the founding members of the Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) grouping, was among the twelve founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), and was among the six founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community, which would evolve into the EEC (Common Market) and later the European Union.

In 1954, the political structure of the Kingdom of the Netherlands was reformed when Queen Juliana signed the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Dutch colonies of Suriname and Curaçao and Dependencies became integral parts of the Kingdom as the constituent countries of Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles. At the same time, the European country known until then as the Kingdom of the Netherlands became the constituent country of the Netherlands within the now expanded Kingdom, on a basis of equality with the other constituent countries. The reformed Kingdom of the Netherlands was a result of the desire to review the relations between the Netherlands and its colonies (especially the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia). International pressure to carry out decolonisation was an important motivator for the reforms. Before the reform was completed, Indonesia declared its independence in August 1945, which was recognised in 1949, and thus has never been part of the Kingdom.

The 1960s and 1970s were a time of great social and cultural change, such as rapid ontzuiling (literally: depillarisation), a term that describes the decay of the old divisions along political and religious lines. Youths, and students in particular, rejected traditional mores and pushed for change in matters such as women''s rights, sexuality, disarmament and environmental issues.

On 10 October 2010, the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved. Referendums were held on each island of the Netherlands Antilles between June 2000 and April 2005 to determine their future status. As a result the islands of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba (the BES islands) were to obtain closer ties with the Netherlands. This led to the incorporation of these three islands into the country of the Netherlands as special municipalities upon the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles. The special municipalities are collectively known as the Caribbean Netherlands.

Geography of the Netherlands Main article: Geography of the Netherlands European NetherlandsA satellite overview of the Netherlands.

The European area of the Netherlands lies between latitudes 50° and 54° N, and longitudes 3° and 8° E.

The Netherlands is geographically a very low and flat country, with about 26% of its area and 21% of its population located below sea level, and only about 50% of its land exceeding one metre above sea level. The country is for the most part flat, with the exception of foothills in the far southeast, up to a height of no more than 321 metres, and some low hill ranges in the central parts. Most of the areas below sea level are man-made, caused by peat extraction or achieved through land reclamation. Since the late 16th century, large polder areas are preserved through elaborate drainage systems that include dikes, canals and pumping stations. Nearly 17% of the country''s land area is reclaimed from the sea and from lakes.

Much of the country was originally formed by the estuaries of three large European rivers: the Rhine (Rijn), the Meuse (Maas) and the Scheldt (Schelde), as well as their distributaries. The south-western part of the Netherlands is to this day a river delta of these three rivers, the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta.

The Netherlands is divided into north and south parts by the Rhine, the Waal, its main distributary branch, and the Meuse. In the past these rivers functioned as a natural barrier between fiefdoms and hence historically created a cultural divide, as is evident in some phonetic traits that are recognisable on either side of what the Dutch call their "Great Rivers" (de Grote Rivieren). Another significant branch of the Rhine, the IJssel river, discharges into Lake IJssel, the former Zuiderzee (''southern sea''). Just like the previous, this river forms a linguistic divide: people to the northeast of this river speak Dutch Low Saxon dialects (except for the province of Friesland, which has its own language).

Floods Main articles: Flood control in the Netherlands, Floods in the Netherlands, North Sea flood of 1953 and Storm tides of the North SeaThe Christmas flood of 1717 was the result of a northwesterly storm. In total, approximately 14,000 people drowned.

Over the centuries, the Dutch coastline has changed considerably as a result of natural disasters and human intervention. Most notable in terms of land loss was the storm of 1134, which created the archipelago of Zeeland in the south-west.

On 14 December 1287, St. Lucia''s flood affected the Netherlands and Germany killing more than 50,000 people in one of the most destructive floods in recorded history. The St. Elizabeth flood of 1421 and the mismanagement in its aftermath destroyed a newly reclaimed polder, replacing it with the 72-square-kilometre (28 sq mi) Biesbosch tidal floodplains in the south-centre. The huge North Sea flood of early February 1953 caused the collapse of several dikes in the south-west of the Netherlands; more than 1,800 people drowned in the flood. The Dutch government subsequently instituted a large-scale programme, the "Delta Works", to protect the country against future flooding, which was completed over a period of more than thirty years.

The impact of disasters was to an extent increased through human activity. Relatively high-lying swampland was drained to be used as farmland. The drainage caused the fertile peat to contract and ground levels to drop, upon which groundwater levels were lowered to compensate for the drop in ground level, causing the underlying peat to contract further. Additionally, until the 19th century peat was mined, dried, and used for fuel, further exacerbating the problem. Centuries of extensive and poorly controlled peat extraction lowered an already low land surface by several metres. Even in flooded areas, peat extraction continued through turf dredging.

Because of the flooding, farming was difficult, which encouraged foreign trade, the result of which was that the Dutch were involved in world affairs since the early 14th/15th century.

Map illustrating areas of the Netherlands below sea level

To guard against floods, a series of defences against the water were contrived. In the first millennium AD, 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" ("water boards") or "hoogheemraadschappen" ("high home councils") started to appear, whose job it was to maintain the water level and to protect a region from floods; these agencies continue to exist. As the ground level dropped, the dikes by necessity grew and merged into an integrated system. By the 13th century windmills had come into use to pump water out of areas below sea level. The windmills were later used to drain lakes, creating the famous polders.

In 1932 the Afsluitdijk ("Closure Dike") was completed, blocking the former Zuiderzee (Southern Sea) from the North Sea and thus creating the IJsselmeer (IJssel Lake). It became part of the larger Zuiderzee Works in which four polders totalling 2,500 square kilometres (965 sq mi) were reclaimed from the sea.

The Netherlands is one of the countries that may suffer most from climate change. Not only is the rising sea a problem, but erratic weather patterns may cause the rivers to overflow.

A polder at 5.53 metres below sea level.Delta works Main article: Delta WorksThe Delta Works are located in the provinces of South Holland and Zeeland.

After the 1953 disaster, the Delta Works were constructed, a comprehensive set of civil works throughout the Dutch coast. The project started in 1958 and was largely completed in 1997 with the completion of the Maeslantkering. New projects have been periodically started since to renovate and renew the Delta Works. A main goal of the Delta project was to reduce the risk of flooding in South Holland and Zeeland to once per 10,000 years (compared to 1 per 4000 years for the rest of the country). This was achieved by raising 3,000 kilometres (1,864 mi) of outer sea-dykes and 10,000 kilometres (6,214 mi) of inner, canal, and river dikes, and by closing off the sea estuaries of the Zeeland province. New risk assessments occasionally show problems requiring additional Delta project dyke reinforcements. The Delta project is considered by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

It is anticipated that global warming in the 21st century will result in a rise in sea level which, despite popular belief, will possibly not overwhelm the measures the Netherlands has taken to control floods. Even more specifically, the Netherlands is the only country in the world actively preparing for a sea level rise. A politically neutral Delta Commission has formulated an action plan to cope with a sea level rise of 1.10 metres (3.6 ft) and a simultaneous land height decline of 10 centimetres (3.9 in). The plan foresees in the reinforcement of the existing coastal defenses like dikes and dunes with 1.30 metres (4.3 ft) of additional flood protection. Climate change will not only threaten the Netherlands from the sea side, but could also alter rain fall patterns and river run-off. To protect the country from river flooding, another program is already being executed. The Room for the River plan grants more flow space to rivers, protects the major populated areas and allows for periodic flooding of indefensible lands. The few residents that lived in these so-called "overflow areas" have been moved to higher ground, with some of that ground having been raised above anticipated flood levels.

Protecting the country against floods is one element of climate change. The other is that the pressure of the sea water on ground water will increase. As a result, the fresh water table will be pushed more inland, resulting in more brackish or saline groundwater in the coastal provinces. Due to this change, some drinking water areas will be forced to apply desalination despite the apparent abundance of water. It will also affect agriculture. The greenhouses can continue their production by becoming more water efficient (they are already disconnected from the groundwater, thereby not becoming more saline), though they will need to become more energy and water efficient. The push of more brackish water into the mainland will also cause changes in flora and fauna.


The predominant wind direction in the Netherlands is south-west, which causes a moderate maritime climate, with cool summers and mild winters, and typically high humidity. This is especially true close to the Dutch coastline, where temperatures can be more than 10 °C (18 °F) higher (in winter) or lower (in summer) than in the (south) east of the country.

The following tables are based on mean measurements by the KNMI weather station in De Bilt between 1981 and 2010:

Climate data for De Bilt (1981–2010 averages), all KNMI locations (1901–2011 extremes), snowy days: (1971–2000 averages). Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year Record high °C (°F) Average high °C (°F) Daily mean °C (°F) Average low °C (°F) Record low °C (°F) Precipitation mm (inches) Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.1 mm) Avg. snowy days (≥ 0 cm)  % humidity Mean monthly sunshine hours
17.2 (63) 20.4 (68.7) 25.6 (78.1) 32.2 (90) 35.6 (96.1) 38.4 (101.1) 37.1 (98.8) 38.6 (101.5) 35.2 (95.4) 30.1 (86.2) 21.1 (70) 17.8 (64) 38.6 (101.5)
5.6 (42.1) 6.4 (43.5) 10.0 (50) 14.0 (57.2) 18.0 (64.4) 20.4 (68.7) 22.8 (73) 22.6 (72.7) 19.1 (66.4) 14.6 (58.3) 9.6 (49.3) 6.1 (43) 14.1 (57.4)
3.1 (37.6) 3.3 (37.9) 6.2 (43.2) 9.2 (48.6) 13.1 (55.6) 15.6 (60.1) 17.9 (64.2) 17.5 (63.5) 14.5 (58.1) 10.7 (51.3) 6.7 (44.1) 3.7 (38.7) 10.1 (50.2)
0.3 (32.5) 0.2 (32.4) 2.3 (36.1) 4.1 (39.4) 7.8 (46) 10.5 (50.9) 12.8 (55) 12.3 (54.1) 9.9 (49.8) 6.9 (44.4) 3.6 (38.5) 1.0 (33.8) 6.0 (42.8)
−27.4 (−17.3) −26.8 (−16.2) −20.7 (−5.3) −9.4 (15.1) −5.4 (22.3) −1.2 (29.8) 0.7 (33.3) 1.3 (34.3) −3.7 (25.3) −8.5 (16.7) −14.4 (6.1) −22.3 (−8.1) −27.4 (−17.3)
69.6 (2.74) 55.8 (2.197) 66.8 (2.63) 42.3 (1.665) 61.9 (2.437) 65.6 (2.583) 81.1 (3.193) 72.9 (2.87) 78.1 (3.075) 82.8 (3.26) 79.8 (3.142) 75.8 (2.984) 832.5 (32.776)
17 14 17 13 14 14 14 14 15 16 18 17 184
6 6 4 2 0 0 2 5 25
87 84 81 75 75 76 77 79 84 86 89 89 82
62.3 85.7 121.6 173.6 207.2 193.9 206.0 187.7 138.3 112.9 63.0 49.3 1,601.5

Ice days (maximum temperature below 0 °C (32 °F)) usually occur from December until February, with the occasional rare ice day prior to or after that period. Freezing days (minimum temperature below 0 °C (32 °F)) occur much more often, usually ranging from mid-November to late March, but not rarely measured as early as mid October and as late as mid May. If one chooses the height of measurement to be 10 cm (4 in) above ground instead of 150 cm (59 in), one may even find such temperatures in the middle of the summer. On average, snow can occur from November to April, but sometimes occurs in May or October too.


Warm days (maximum temperature above 20 °C (68 °F)) in De Bilt are usually found in April to October, but in some parts of the country these warm days can also occur in March, or even sometimes in November or February (usually not in De Bilt, however). Summer days (maximum temperature above 25 °C (77 °F)) are usually measured in De Bilt from May until September, tropical days (maximum temperature above 30 °C (86 °F)) are rare and usually occur only in June to August.

Precipitation throughout the year is distributed relatively equally each month. Summer and autumn months tend to gather a little more precipitation than the other months, mainly because of the intensity of the rainfall rather than the frequency of rain days (this is especially the case in summer, when lightning is also much more frequent).

De Groote Peel National Park in North Brabant.

The number of sunshine hours is affected by the fact that because of the geographical latitude, the length of the days varies between barely eight hours in December and nearly 17 hours in June.

Nature Further information: List of national parks of the Netherlands and List of extinct animals of the Netherlands

The Netherlands has 20 national parks and hundreds of other nature reserves, that include lakes, heathland, woods, dunes and other habitats. Most of these are owned by Staatsbosbeheer, the national department for forestry and nature conservation and Natuurmonumenten (literally ''Natures monuments''), a private organisation that buys, protects and manages nature reserves. The Dutch part of the Wadden Sea in the north, with its tidal flats and wetlands, is rich in biological diversity, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Nature Site in 2009.

The Oosterschelde National parkCommon Seals on Terschelling, a Wadden Sea island

The Oosterschelde, formerly the northeast estuary of the river Scheldt was designated a national park in 2002, thereby making it the largest national park in the Netherlands at an area of 370 square kilometres (140 sq mi). It consists primarily of the salt waters of the Oosterschelde, but also includes mud flats, meadows, and shoals. Because of the large variety of sea life, including unique regional species, the park is popular with Scuba divers. Other activities include sailing, fishing, cycling, and bird watching.

Phytogeographically, the Netherlands is shared between the Atlantic European and Central European provinces of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, the territory of the Netherlands belongs to the ecoregion of Atlantic mixed forests. In 1871, the last old original natural woods were cut down, and most woods today are planted monocultures of trees like Scots Pine and trees that are not native to the Netherlands. These woods were planted on anthropogenic heaths and sand-drifts (overgrazed heaths) (Veluwe).

Caribbean islands Main articles: Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius

The Caribbean Netherlands form a part of the Lesser Antilles. Within this island group,

View of the coast of Bonaire
  • Bonaire is part of the ABC islands within the Leeward Antilles island chain off the Venezuelan coast. The Leeward Antilles have a mixed volcanic and coral origin.
  • Saba and Sint Eustatius are part of the SSS islands. They are located east of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Although in the English language they are considered part of the Leeward Islands, French, Spanish, Dutch and the English spoken locally consider them part of the Windward Islands. The Windward Islands are all of volcanic origin and hilly, leaving little ground suitable for agriculture. The highest point is Mount Scenery, 887 metres (2,910 ft), on Saba (also the highest point in all the Kingdom of the Netherlands).

The islands of the Caribbean Netherlands enjoy a tropical climate with warm weather all year round. The Leeward Islands are warmer and drier than the Windward islands. In summer, the Windward Islands can be subject to hurricanes.

Government Main article: Government of the Netherlands

The Netherlands has been a constitutional monarchy since 1815 and a parliamentary democracy since 1848. The Netherlands is described as a consociational state. Dutch politics and governance are characterised by an effort to achieve broad consensus on important issues, within both the political community and society as a whole. In 2010, The Economist ranked the Netherlands as the 10th most democratic country in the world.

Dutch people in orange celebrating Queen''s Day in Amsterdam.

The monarch is the head of state, at present King Willem-Alexander. Constitutionally, the position is equipped with limited powers. By law, the king (the title queen has no constitutional significance) has the right to be periodically briefed and consulted on government affairs. Depending on the personalities and relationships of the king and the ministers, the king might have influence beyond the power granted by the constitution.

Willem-Alexander became King of the Netherlands on 30 April 2013.

The executive power is formed by the council of Ministers, the deliberative council of the Dutch cabinet. The cabinet usually consists of 13 to 16 ministers and a varying number of state secretaries. One to three ministers are ministers without portfolio. The head of government is the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, who often is the leader of the largest party of the coalition. The Prime Minister is a primus inter pares, with no explicit powers beyond those of the other ministers. Mark Rutte has been Prime Minister since October 2010; the Prime Minister had been the leader of the largest party continuously since 1973.

The Binnenhof, where the lower and upper houses of the States General meet.

The cabinet is responsible to the bicameral parliament, the States General, which also has legislative powers. The 150 members of the House of Representatives, the Lower House, are elected in direct elections on the basis of party-list proportional representation. These are held every four years, or sooner in case the cabinet falls (for example: when one of the chambers carries a motion of no confidence, the cabinet offers its resignation to the monarch). The States-Provincial are directly elected every four years as well. The members of the provincial assemblies elect the 75 members of the Senate, the upper house, which has the power to reject laws, but not propose or amend them.

Both trade unions and employers organisations are consulted beforehand in policymaking in the financial, economic and social areas. They meet regularly with government in the Social-Economic Council. This body advises government and its advice cannot be put aside easily.

The Netherlands has a long tradition of social tolerance. In the 18th century, while the Dutch Reformed Church was the state religion, Catholicism, other forms of Protestantism, such as Baptists and Lutherans, and Judaism were tolerated. In the late 19th century this Dutch tradition of religious tolerance transformed into a system of pillarisation, in which religious groups coexisted separately and only interacted at the level of government. This tradition of tolerance influences Dutch criminal justice policies on recreational drugs, prostitution, LGBT rights, euthanasia, and abortion, which are among the most liberal in the world.

Political parties Main articles: Political parties of the Netherlands and Politics of the NetherlandsMark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands since October 2010.

Because of the multi-party system, no single party has held a majority in parliament since the 19th century, and coalition cabinets had to be formed. Since suffrage became universal in 1919, the Dutch political system has been dominated by three families of political parties: the strongest of which were the Christian democrats, currently represented by the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA); second were the social democrats, represented by the Labour Party (PvdA); and third were the liberals, of which the right wing People''s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) is the main representative.

These parties co-operated in coalition cabinets in which the Christian democrats had always been a partner: so either a centre-left coalition of the Christian democrats and social democrats was ruling or a centre-right coalition of Christian democrats and liberals. In the 1970s, the party system became more volatile: the Christian democratic parties lost seats, while new parties became successful, such as the radical democrat and progressive liberal D66.

In the 1994 election, the CDA lost its dominant position. A "purple" cabinet was formed by VVD, D66, and PvdA. In the 2002 elections, this cabinet lost its majority, because of an increased support for the CDA and the rise of the right LPF, a new political party, around Pim Fortuyn, who was assassinated a week before the elections. A short-lived cabinet was formed by CDA, VVD, and LPF, which was led by the CDA leader Jan Peter Balkenende. After the 2003 elections, in which the LPF lost most of its seats, a cabinet was formed by CDA, VVD, and D66. The cabinet initiated an ambitious programme of reforming the welfare state, the healthcare system, and immigration policy.

In June 2006, the cabinet fell after D66 voted in favour of a motion of no confidence against the Minister of Immigration and Integration, Rita Verdonk, who had instigated an investigation of the asylum procedure of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a VVD MP. A caretaker cabinet was formed by CDA and VVD, and general elections were held on 22 November 2006. In these elections, the CDA remained the largest party and the Socialist Party made the largest gains. The formation of a new cabinet took three months, resulting in a coalition of CDA, PvdA, and ChristianUnion.

On 20 February 2010, the cabinet fell when the PvdA refused to prolong the involvement of the Dutch Army in Uruzgan, Afghanistan. Snap elections were held on 9 June 2010, with devastating results for the previously largest party, the CDA, which lost about half of its seats, resulting in 21 seats. The VVD became the largest party with 31 seats, closely followed by the PvdA with 30 seats. The big winner of the 2010 elections was Geert Wilders, whose extreme-right wing PVV, the ideological successor to the LPF, more than doubled its number of seats. Negotiation talks for a new government resulted in a minority government, led by VVD (a first) in coalition with CDA, which was sworn in on 14 October 2010. This unprecedented minority government was supported by PVV, but proved ultimately to be unstable, when on 21 April 2012, Wilders, leader of PVV, unexpectedly ''torpedoed seven weeks of austerity talks'' on new austerity measures, paving the way for early elections.

VVD and PvdA were the big winners of the elections. Since 5 November 2012 they have formed the second Rutte cabinet.

Administrative divisions Main articles: Provinces of the Netherlands, Municipalities of the Netherlands, Water board (Netherlands), Public body (Netherlands) and Caribbean NetherlandsProvinces and special municipalities of the Netherlands.

The Netherlands is divided into twelve provinces, each under a Commissioner of the King (Commissaris van de Koning), except for Limburg province where the position is named Governor (Gouverneur). All provinces are divided into municipalities (gemeenten), of which there are 403.

The country is also subdivided into 24 water districts, governed by a water board (waterschap or hoogheemraadschap), each having authority in matters concerning water management. The creation of water boards actually pre-dates that of the nation itself, the first appearing in 1196. The Dutch water boards are among the oldest democratic entities in the world still in existence.

The administrative structure on the 3 BES islands, also known as the Caribbean Netherlands, is different. These islands have the status of openbare lichamen (public bodies) and are generally referred to as special municipalities. They are not part of a province.

Flag Province Capital Largest city Area (km²) Population 31-09-2013 Density (per km²) Total 33,718 16,818,045 499
Drenthe Assen Assen 2,639 489,155 185
Flevoland Lelystad Almere 1,415 399,825 282
Friesland Leeuwarden Leeuwarden 3,340 646,401 194
Gelderland Arnhem Nijmegen 4,970 2,019,196 406
Groningen Groningen Groningen 2,325 582,908 251
Limburg Maastricht Maastricht 2,150 1,120,332 521
North Brabant ''s-Hertogenbosch Eindhoven 4,914 2,478,687 504
North Holland Haarlem Amsterdam 2,665 2,737,540 1,027
Overijssel Zwolle Enschede 3,324 1,139,462 343
Utrecht Utrecht Utrecht 1,383 1,251,266 905
Zeeland Middelburg Middelburg 1,784 380,864 213
South Holland The Hague Rotterdam 2,808 3,572,409 1,272
Special municipalitiesGovernment House, Saba
Flag Name Capital Largest city Area (km²) Population 31-12-2012 Density (per km²) Total 322 23,296 72
Bonaire Kralendijk Kralendijk 288 17,408 60
Sint Eustatius Oranjestad Oranjestad 21 3,897 186
Saba The Bottom The Bottom 13 1,991 153
Foreign relationsThe Peace Palace (Vredespaleis), The HagueMain article: Foreign relations of the Netherlands

The history of Dutch foreign policy has been characterised by its neutrality. Since the Second World War the Netherlands has become a member of a large number of international organisations, most prominently the UN, NATO and the EU. The Dutch economy is very open and relies on international trade.

The foreign policy of the Netherlands is based on four basic commitments: to Atlantic co-operation, to European integration, to international development and to international law. One of the more controversial international issues surrounding the Netherlands is its liberal policy towards soft drugs.

During and after the Dutch Golden Age, the Dutch people built up a commercial and colonial empire, which fell apart quickly after the Second World War. The historical ties inherited from its colonial past still influence the foreign relations of the Netherlands.

Military Main article: Armed forces of the Netherlands

The Netherlands has one of the oldest standing armies in Europe; it was first established as such by Maurice of Nassau. The Dutch army was used throughout the Dutch Empire. After the defeat of Napoleon, the Dutch army was transformed into a conscription army. The army was unsuccessfully deployed during the Belgian revolution in 1830. After 1830, it was deployed mainly in the Dutch colonies, as the Netherlands remained neutral in European wars (including the First World War), until the Netherlands was invaded in the Second World War and quickly defeated by the Wehrmacht in May 1940.

Zr. Ms. Holland, a Royal Dutch Navy Offshore patrol vessel

The Netherlands abandoned its neutrality in 1948 when it signed the Treaty of Brussels, and later became a founding member of NATO in 1949. The Dutch military was therefore part of the NATO strength in Cold War Europe, deploying its army to several bases in Germany. More than 3.000 Dutch soldiers were assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division of the United States Army during the Korean War. In 1996 conscription was suspended, and the Dutch army was once again transformed into a professional army. Since the 1990s the Dutch army has been involved in the Bosnian War and the Kosovo War, it held a province in Iraq after the defeat of Saddam Hussein, and it was engaged in Afghanistan.

The military is composed of four branches, all of which carry the prefix Koninklijke (Royal):

  • Koninklijke Landmacht (KL), the Royal Netherlands Army
  • Koninklijke Marine (KM), the Royal Netherlands Navy, including the Naval Air Service and Marine Corps
  • Koninklijke Luchtmacht (KLu), the Royal Netherlands Air Force
  • Koninklijke Marechaussee (KMar), the Royal Marechaussee (Military Police), tasks include military police and border control

General Tom Middendorp is the current Commander of the Netherlands armed forces. All military specialities except the submarine service and the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps (Korps Mariniers) are open to women. The Korps Commandotroepen, the Special Operations Force of the Netherlands Army, is open to women, but because of the extremely high physical demands for initial training, it is almost impossible for women to become a commando. The Dutch Ministry of Defence employs more than 70,000 personnel, including over 20,000 civilians and over 50,000 military personnel. In April 2011 the government announced a major reduction in its military because of a cut in government expenditure, including a decrease in the number of tanks, fighter aircraft, naval ships and senior officials.

Economy Main article: Economy of the NetherlandsA graphical depiction of Dutch product exports in 28 colour-coded categories.

The Netherlands has a developed economy and has been playing a special role in the European economy for many centuries. Since the 16th century, shipping, fishing, trade, and banking have been leading sectors of the Dutch economy. The Netherlands is one of the world''s 10 leading exporting countries. Foodstuffs form the largest industrial sector. Other major industries include chemicals, metallurgy, machinery, electrical goods, and tourism (in 2012 the Netherlands welcomed 11.7 million international tourists). Examples include Unilever, Heineken, financial services (ING), chemicals (DSM, AKZO), petroleum refining (Shell), electronical machinery (Philips, ASML), and car navigation (TomTom).

The Netherlands has the 17th-largest economy in the world, and ranks 10th in GDP (nominal) per capita. Between 1997 and 2000 annual economic growth (GDP) averaged nearly 4%, well above the European average. Growth slowed considerably from 2001 to 2005 with the global economic slowdown, but accelerated to 4.1% in the third quarter of 2007. In May 2013, inflation was at 2.8% per year. In April 2013, unemployment was at 8.2% (or 6.7% following the ILO definition) of the labour force.

In Q3 and Q4 2011, the Dutch economy contracted by 0.4% and 0.7%, respectively, because of European Debt Crisis, while in Q4 the Eurozone economy shrunk by 0.3%. The Netherlands also has a relatively low GINI coefficient of 0.326. Despite ranking 7th in GDP per capita, UNICEF ranked the Netherlands 1st in child well-being. On the Index of Economic Freedom Netherlands is the 13th most free market capitalist economy out of 157 surveyed countries.

Amsterdam is the financial and business capital of the Netherlands. The Amsterdam Stock Exchange (AEX), part of Euronext, is the world''s oldest stock exchange and is one of Europe''s largest bourses. It is situated near Dam Square in the city''s centre. As a founding member of the euro, the Netherlands replaced (for accounting purposes) its former currency, the "gulden" (guilder), on 1 January 1999, along with 15 other adopters of the euro. Actual euro coins and banknotes followed on 1 January 2002. One euro was equivalent to 2.20371 Dutch guilders. In the Caribbean Netherlands, the United States dollar is used instead of the euro.

The Port of Rotterdam is Europe''s largest port.

The Dutch location gives it prime access to markets in the UK and Germany, with the port of Rotterdam being the largest port in Europe. Other important parts of the economy are international trade (Dutch colonialism started with co-operative private enterprises such as the VOC), banking and transport. The Netherlands successfully addressed the issue of public finances and stagnating job growth long before its European partners. Amsterdam is the 5th-busiest tourist destination in Europe with more than 4.2 million international visitors. Since the enlargement of the EU large numbers of migrant workers have arrived in the Netherlands from central and eastern Europe. Of economic importance is BrabantStad, a partnership between the municipalities of Breda, Eindhoven, Helmond, ''s-Hertogenbosch and Tilburg and the province of North Brabant. BrabantStad is the fastest growing economic region in the Netherlands, with Brainport as one of the three national top regions and as a top region in the world. The region lies within the Eindhoven-Leuven-Aachen Triangle (ELAT). The partnership aims to form an urban network and to make North Brabant explicitly known as a leading knowledge region within Europe. With a total of 1.5 million people and 20% of the industrial production in the Netherlands is BrabantStad one of the major economical important, metropolitan regions of the Netherlands. Of all the money that goes to research and development in the Netherlands, one third is spent in Eindhoven. A quarter of the jobs in the region are in technology and ICT. Of all European patent applications in the field of physics and electronics about eight per cent is from North Brabant. In the extended region, BrabantStad is part of the Eindhoven-Leuven-Aachen Triangle (ELAT). This economic cooperation agreement between three cities in three countries has created one of the most innovative regions in the European Union (measured in terms of money invested in technology and knowledge economy). The economic success of this region is important for the international competitiveness of the Netherlands; Together Amsterdam (airport), Rotterdam (seaport), and Eindhoven (Brainport) form the foundation of the Dutch economy.

The country continues to be one of the leading European nations for attracting foreign direct investment and is one of the five largest investors in the United States. The economy experienced a slowdown in 2005, but in 2006 recovered to the fastest pace in six years on the back of increased exports and strong investment. The pace of job growth reached 10-year highs in 2007. The Netherlands is the fifth-most competitive economy in the world, according to the World Economic Forum''s Global Competitiveness Report.

The Groningen gas field, one of the largest natural gas fields in the world, is situated near Slochteren. Exploitation of this field has resulted in €159 billion in revenue since the mid-1970s.

AgricultureFarmland in the Netherlands

The Dutch agricultural sector is highly mechanised, and has a strong focus on international exports. It employs about 4% of the Dutch labour force but produces large surpluses for the food-processing industry and accounts for 21 percent of the Netherlands'' total export value. The Dutch rank second worldwide in value of agricultural exports, behind only the United States, with exports earning €79 billion in 2013, up from €75.4 billion in 2012. The Netherlands exports a quarter of all the world''s tomatoes, and trade of one-third of the world''s exports of chilis, tomatoes and cucumbers goes through the country. The Netherlands also exports one-fifteenth of the world''s apples.

Aside from that, a significant portion of Dutch agricultural exports consists of fresh-cut plants, flowers, and flower bulbs, with the Netherlands exporting two-thirds of the world''s total.

TransportHighway A15 / A16 flyoverMain article: Transport in the Netherlands

Mobility on Dutch roads has grown continuously since the 1950s and now exceeds 200 billion km travelled per year, three quarters of which are done by car. Around half of all trips in the Netherlands are made by car, 25% by bicycle, 20% walking, and 5% by public transport. With a total road network of 139,295 km, which includes 2,758 km of expressways, the Netherlands has one of the densest road networks in the world — much denser than Germany and France, but still not as dense as Belgium.

About 13% of all distance is travelled by public transport, the majority of which by train. Just like in many other European countries, the Dutch rail network of 3,013 km is also rather dense. The network is mostly focused on passenger rail services and connects virtually all major towns and cities. Trains are frequent, with one or two trains per hour on lesser lines, two to four trains per hour on average, and up to eight trains an hour on the busiest lines.

A fietsstraat (bike street) where cyclists have priority and cars are "guests" and must yield.

Cycling is a ubiquitous mode of transport in the Netherlands. Almost as many kilometres are covered by bicycle as by train. The Dutch are estimated to have at least 18 million bicycles, which makes more than one per capita, and twice as many as the ca. 9 million motor vehicles on the road. In 2013, the European Cyclists'' Federation ranked both the Netherlands and Denmark as the most bike-friendly countries in Europe, but more of the Dutch (31%) than of the Danes (19%) list the bike as their main mode of transport for daily activities. Cycling infrastructure is comprehensive. Busy roads have received some 35,000 km of dedicated cycle tracks, physically segregated from motorised traffic. Busy junctions are often equipped with bicycle-specific traffic lights. There are large bicycle parking facilities, particularly in city centres and at train stations.

Rotterdam has the largest port in Europe, with the rivers Meuse and Rhine providing excellent access to the hinterland upstream reaching to Basel, Switzerland, and into France. As of 2013, Rotterdam was the world''s eighth largest container port handling 440.5 million metric tonnes of cargo annually. The port''s main activities are petrochemical industries and general cargo handling and transshipment. The harbour functions as an important transit point for bulk materials and between the European continent and overseas. From Rotterdam goods are transported by ship, river barge, train or road. In 2007, the Betuweroute, a new fast freight railway from Rotterdam to Germany, was completed.

As part of its commitment to environmental sustainability, the Dutch government initiated a plan to establish over 200 recharging stations for electric vehicles across the country by 2015. The rollout will be undertaken by Switzerland-based power and automation company ABB and Dutch startup Fastned, and will aim to provide at least one station within a 50-kilometre radius (30 miles) from every home in the Netherlands.

Demographics Main article: Demographics of the NetherlandsPopulation of the Netherlands from 1900 to 2000

The Netherlands had an estimated population of 16,785,403 on 30 April 2013. It is the 10th most populous country in Europe and the 63rd most populous country in the world. Between 1900 and 1950, the country''s population almost doubled from 5.1 to 10.0 million people. From 1950 to 2000, the population further increased from 10.0 to 15.9 million people, but the rate of population growth was less than that of the previous fifty years. The estimated growth rate in 2013 is 0.44%.

The fertility rate in the Netherlands is 1.78 children per woman (2013 est), which is high compared with many other European countries, but below the rate of 2.1 children per woman required for natural population replacement. Life expectancy is high in the Netherlands: 83.21 years for newborn girls and 78.93 for boys (2013 est). The country has a migration rate of 1.99 migrants per 1,000 inhabitants per year.

The majority of the population of the Netherlands is ethnically Dutch. A 2005 estimate counted: 80.9% Dutch, 2.4% Indonesian, 2.4% German, 2.2% Turkish, 2.0% Surinamese, 1.9% Moroccan, 0.8% Antillean and Aruban, and 7.4% others. Some 150.000 to 200.000 people living in the Netherlands are Expatriates, mostly concentrated in and around Amsterdam and The Hague, now constituting almost 10% of the population of these cities. The Dutch are the tallest people in the world, with an average height of 1.81 metres (5 ft 11.3 in) for adult males and 1.67 metres (5 ft 5.7 in) for adult females in 2009. People in the south are on average about 2 cm (0.8 inches) shorter than those in the north.

Dutch people, or descendants of Dutch people, are also found in migrant communities worldwide, notably in Canada, Australia, Brazil, South Africa and the United States. According to the 2006 US Census, more than 5 million Americans claim total or partial Dutch ancestry. There are close to 3 million Dutch-descended Afrikaners living in South Africa. In 1940, there were 290,000 Europeans and Eurasians in Indonesia, but most have since left the country. According to Eurostat, in 2010 there were 1.8 million foreign-born residents in the Netherlands, corresponding to 11.1% of the total population. Of these, 1.4 million (8.5%) were born outside the EU and 0.428 million (2.6%) were born in another EU Member State.

The Netherlands is the 24th most densely populated country in the world, with 404.6 inhabitants per square kilometre (1,048 /sq mi)—or 497 inhabitants per square kilometre (1,287 /sq mi) if only the land area is counted. The Randstad is the country''s largest conurbation located in the west of the country and contains the four largest cities: Amsterdam in the province North Holland, Rotterdam and The Hague in the province South Holland, and Utrecht in the province Utrecht. The Randstad has a population of 7 million inhabitants and is the 6th largest metropolitan area in Europe.

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Largest cities or towns of Netherlands Statistics NetherlandsRankProvince Pop. RankProvince Pop.
AmsterdamRotterdam 1 Amsterdam North Holland 815,389 11 Enschede Overijssel 158,128 The HagueUtrecht
2 Rotterdam South Holland 620,252 12 Apeldoorn Gelderland 157,822
3 The Hague South Holland 511,570 13 Haarlem North Holland 156,341
4 Utrecht Utrecht 331,728 14 Amersfoort Utrecht 152,025
5 Eindhoven North Brabant 222,083 15 Arnhem Gelderland 151,695
6 Tilburg North Brabant 210,666 16 Zaanstad North Holland 151,328
7 Groningen Groningen 198,502 17 Haarlemmermeer North Holland 144,296
8 Almere Flevoland 196,447 18 ''s-Hertogenbosch North Brabant 144,244
9 Breda North Brabant 181,085 19 Zoetermeer South Holland 123,907
10 Nijmegen Gelderland 169,190 20 Zwolle Overijssel 123,543
Language Main article: Languages of the Netherlands

The official language is Dutch, which is spoken by the vast majority of the inhabitants. Besides Dutch, West Frisian is recognized as a second official language in the northern province of Friesland (Fryslân in West Frisian). West Frisian has a formal status for government correspondence in that province. In the European part of the Netherlands two other regional languages are recognized under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The first is Low Saxon (Nedersaksisch in Dutch) is recognised. Low Saxon consists of several dialects spoken in the north and east, like Twents in the region of Twente, and Drents in the province of Drenthe. Secondly, Limburgish is also recognised as regional language. It consists of Dutch varieties of Meuse-Rhenish Franconian languages and is spoken in the south-eastern province of Limburg. The dialects most spoken in the Netherlands are the Brabantian-Hollandic dialects.

Knowledge of foreign languages in the Netherlands, in percent of the population over 15, 2006. Data taken from an EU survey. ebs_243_en.pdf (

English has a formal status in the special municipalities of Saba and Sint Eustatius. It is widely spoken on these islands. Papiamento has a formal status in the special municipality of Bonaire. Yiddish and the Romani language were recognised in 1996 as non-territorial languages.

The Netherlands has a tradition of learning foreign languages, formalized in Dutch education laws. Some 87% of the total population indicate they are able to converse in English, 70% in German, and 29% in French. English is a mandatory course in all secondary schools. In most lower level secondary school educations (vmbo), one additional modern foreign language is mandatory during the first two years.

In higher level secondary schools (havo and vwo), two additional modern foreign languages are mandatory during the first three years. Only during the last three years in vwo one foreign language is mandatory. Besides English, the standard modern languages are French and German, although schools can replace one of these modern languages with Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, or Russian. Additionally, schools in the Frisia region teach and have exams in Frisian, and schools across the country teach and have exams in classical Greek and Latin for secondary school (called gymnasium or vwo+).

Religion Main article: Religion in the NetherlandsDom Tower of Utrecht

The Netherlands was a predominantly Christian society until late into the 20th century, with a strong demarcation (pillarisation) between roughly the Catholic south on one side and the Calvinist north on the other side. In the 1960s, this started to diminish. Although religious diversity remains, there has been a decline of religious adherence. The Netherlands is one of the most secular countries in Western Europe, with only 39% being religiously affiliated (31% for those aged under 35), and fewer than 5.6% visiting church regularly (meaning once or more per month) in 2010. Religion is in the Netherlands generally considered a personal matter which is not supposed to be propagated in public. According to the most recent Eurobarometer poll 2010, 28% of the Dutch citizens responded that "they believe there is a God", whereas 39% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force", and 30% that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, god, or life force". Since 1989, the unaffiliated have become mainstream, the number of adults without a religion in 2005 being at 51.3% and steadily growing. Almost all Christian groups show a decrease in the number of members or less stable membership. However, in particular the loss of members of the two major churches, which are the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands, with a membership loss of more than 300,000 members between late 2005 and late 2010, and the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, with a membership loss of more than 150,000 members, cause the number of Christians in the Netherlands to have decreased from approximately 7.132 million (44%) by the end of 2005 to 6.861 million (39%) by the end of 2010. Also Ietsism, Agnosticism and Christian atheism are on the rise; the first two being general accepted and the last being more or less considered to be non-controversial. A countervailing trend is produced by a religious revival in the Protestant Bible Belt, and the growth of Muslim and Hindu communities resulting from immigration and high birth rates. The SCP (Sociaal Cultureel Planbureau) expects the number of non-affiliated Dutch to be at 72% in 2020.

It should be noted that different sources give very different percentages. A 2007 research God in Nederland, based on in-depth interviews of 1132 people concluded that 61% of the Dutch are non-affiliated. Fewer than 7% attend church regularly (at least once a month). Similar studies were done in 1966, 1979 and 1996, showing a steady decline of religious affiliation. That this trend is likely to continue is illustrated by the fact that in the age group under 35, 69% are non-affiliated. However, those who do identify with a religious denomination tend to be more profoundly religious than in the past. Religious belief is also regarded as a very personal affair, as is illustrated by the fact that 60% of self-described believers are not affiliated with any organised religion. There is a stronger stress on positive sides of belief, with Hell and the concept of damnation being pushed into the background. One quarter of non-believers sometimes pray, but more in a sense of meditative self-reflection.

Freedom of education has been guaranteed by the Dutch constitution since 1917, and schools run by religious groups (especially Catholic and Protestant) are funded by the government. All schools must meet strict quality criteria.

Three political parties in the Dutch parliament (CDA, ChristianUnion, and SGP) base their policy on Christian belief in varying degrees. Although the Netherlands is a secular state, in some municipalities where the Christian parties have the majority, the council meetings are opened by prayer.

Municipalities in general also give civil servants a day off on Christian religious holidays, such as Easter and the Ascension of Jesus.

Religion in the Netherlands (2005)

  Irreligious (51.3%)   Roman Catholicism (24.6%)   Protestantism (14.8%)   Islam (5.8%)   Hinduism (1.4%)   Buddhism (1.2%)   Other Unspecified (0.9%)Roman Catholicism

Currently, Roman Catholicism is the single largest religion of the Netherlands with around four million registered adherents which is 24% of the Dutch population in 2011. In the second half of the twentieth century a rapid secularization took place in the Catholic parts of the Netherlands. In 2006 slightly more than half of the Brabantian people identified with Catholicism, but only 1-2% of the total population of that area attend mass, and these churchgoers consist mostly of people over 65 years old. Since the provinces of North Brabant and Limburg are in the Netherlands historically most Roman Catholic, their people still use the term and some traditions as a base for their cultural identity rather than as a religious identity. The vast majority of the Catholic population in the Netherlands is now largely irreligious in practice. Research among Catholics in the Netherlands in 2007 shows that only 27% of the Dutch Catholics can be regarded as a theist, 55% as an ietsist / agnostic theist and 17% as agnostic.


The Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN) follows with 10.8% of the population. It was formed in 2004 as a merger of the two major strands of Calvinism: the Dutch Reformed Church, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and a smaller Lutheran Church. Other Protestant churches, both orthodox Calvinist and liberal churches did not merge into the PKN. The number of members falls on average by about 2.5% per year. This is caused primarily by the death of older members and little growth among the younger population. Research in 2007 concludes that 42% of the members of the PKN is a non-theist. Furthermore, in the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN) and several other smaller denominations of the Netherlands, 1 in 6 clergy are either agnostic or atheist.


A research in 2003 shows that about 1.27 million people in the Netherlands express explicitly an affinity with secular humanism, which is about 9.4% of the total population. Erasmus and Dirck Coornhert are important early representatives of humanism in the Netherlands in the 16th century. In the 17th century, especially Spinoza and Hugo Grotius were important. During the Age of Enlightenment (18th century), the importance of science and research increased sharply. Confidence in human understanding and logical reasoning was given shape in liberalism. The German philosophers Ludwig Feuerbach and Kant and the evolution theory of Darwin, among other scientific theories in the 19th century, had an exceptionally strong influence and were a major step in the development of humanism in the Netherlands. The modern organized humanist movement began in the Netherlands in the mid-nineteenth century with the establishment of freethinkers association De Dageraad (Dawn). The members, including writer Multatuli and later Anton Constandse. Marx'' socialism had a significant influence on the Dutch humanism of the 20th century. With the establishment of the humanistic associations Humanitas in 1945 and the Humanistisch Verbond in 1946, Dutch humanists organized themselves after the Second World War. When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations in 1948, the Dutch Humanist movements became involved with the establishment of the International Humanist and Ethical Union in 1952 (and since 1990 also the European Humanist Federation).


Slightly more than half (52.8%) of the respondents to a research about humanism in 2003 affiliated with no religious or philosophical movement at all. In contrast 8% said to follow more than 1 movement. This form of pluralism occurs in all religious and philosophical Dutch movements, but is strongest among supporters of non-Western religions. 75% of Dutch Buddhists also affiliate with other religious or philosophical movements. Among followers of Hinduism in the Netherlands, this ratio is even higher, at 91%. On the other hand, followers of Western religions and humanism, as well as movements in the ''other'' category were least likely to affiliate with more than one religious or philosophical movement. Within Western movements the people affiliating with humanism were most likely to also adhere to one or more other movements (47%). Most of these humanists adhere to Catholicism (27%), Protestantism (14%) or Buddhism (12%). Also 9% of Catholics, 6% of Protestants and 50% of the Buddhists counting themselves as humanists, as well as 25% of the Muslims, 55% of the Hindu, 19% of the Jews and 15% of the supporters of a movement other than these listed.

Minority religionsMosque in Rotterdam

In 2006, there were 850,000 Muslims. As a result of different determination methods in 2012 this number had dropped to 825.000 (4% of the total Dutch population). Muslim numbers began to rise after the 1970s as the result of immigration. Some migrants from former Dutch colonies, such as Surinam and Indonesia, were sometimes Muslim, but migrant workers from Turkey and Morocco are the biggest part, as well as their children. During the 1990s, the Netherlands opened its borders for Muslim refugees from countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan. Muslims form a diverse group. Social tensions between native Dutch and migrant Muslims began to rise in the early 21st century, with the rise and murder of populist politician Pim Fortuyn by militant animal rights activist Volkert van der Graaf and the murder of Theo van Gogh by an extremist Muslim, Mohammed Bouyeri. There are about 1,500 Ahmadi Muslims in Netherlands.

The Netherlands has an estimated 250,000 Buddhists or people who feel strongly attracted by this religion, mainly ethnic Dutch people. There are approximately 200,000 Hindus, most of them of Surinamese origin. Sikhs are another religious minority in the Netherlands, numbering around 12,000, mainly located in or around Amsterdam. There are five gurudwaras in the Netherlands. The Association of Religion Data Archives (relying on World Christian Encyclopedia) estimated some 6,400 Bahá''ís in 2005.

Although the Holocaust deeply affected the Jewish community (killing about 75% of its 140,000 members at the time), it has managed to rebuild a vibrant and lively Jewish life for its approximately 45,000 current members. Around 10% of the population of Amsterdam was Jewish at the start of World War II.

Education Main article: Education in the Netherlands

Education in the Netherlands is compulsory between the ages of 4 and 16, and partially compulsory between the ages of 16 and 18.

All children in the Netherlands usually attend elementary school from (on average) ages 4 to 12. It comprises eight grades, the first of which is facultative. Based on an aptitude test, the 8th grade teacher''s recommendation and the opinion of the pupil''s parents or caretakers, a choice is made for one of the three main streams of secondary education (after completing a particular stream, a pupil may still continue in the penultimate year of the next stream):

  • The vmbo has 4 grades and is subdivided over several levels. Successfully completing the vmbo results in a low-level vocational degree that grants access to the mbo.
    • MBO ("middle-level applied education"). This form of education primarily focuses on teaching a practical trade, or a vocational degree. With the mbo certification, a student can apply for the hbo.
  • The havo has 5 grades and allows for admission to the hbo.
    • HBO ("higher professional education"), are universities of professional education (or applied sciences) that award professional bachelor degrees; similar to polytechnic degrees. A HBO degrees gives access to the university system.
  • The vwo (including atheneum and gymnasium) has 6 grades and prepares for studying at a (research) university.
    • Universities offer of a three-year bachelor''s degree, followed by a one-, or two year master''s degree, which in turn can be followed by a four-year doctoral degree program. Doctoral candidates in the Netherlands are temporary employees of a university.
Culture Main article: Culture of the NetherlandsSymbols and icons of Dutch cultureArt, philosophy and literature Main articles: Dutch art and Dutch literature

The Netherlands has had many well-known painters. The 17th century, in which the Dutch Republic was prosperous, was the age of the "Dutch Masters", such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen, Jacob van Ruysdael and many others. Famous Dutch painters of the 19th and 20th century were 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.

The Netherlands is the country of philosophers Erasmus of Rotterdam and Spinoza. All of Descartes'' major work was done in the Netherlands. The Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens (1629–1695) discovered Saturn''s moon Titan, argued that light travelled as waves, invented the pendulum clock and was the first physicist to use mathematical formulae. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was the first to observe and describe single-celled organisms with a microscope.


In the Dutch Golden Age, literature flourished 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 poor treatment of the natives in Dutch colonies. Important 20th century authors include Harry Mulisch, Jan Wolkers, Simon Vestdijk, Hella S. Haasse, 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.

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, cheese, Delftware pottery, and cannabis are among the items associated with the Netherlands by tourists.

The Netherlands has a long history of social tolerance and today is regarded as a liberal country, considering its drug policy and its legalisation of euthanasia. On 1 April 2001, the Netherlands became the first nation to legalise same-sex marriage.

Customs and etiquetteAmsterdam Gay Pride 2004.

The Dutch have a code of etiquette which governs social behaviour and is considered important. Because of the international position of the Netherlands, many books have been written on the subject. Some customs may not be true in all regions and they are never absolute. In addition to those specific to the Dutch, many general points of European etiquette apply to the Dutch as well. Dutch society is egalitarian, individualistic and modern. The people tend to view themselves as modest, independent and self-reliant. They value ability over dependency. The Dutch have an aversion to the non-essential. Ostentatious behaviour is to be avoided. Accumulating money is fine, but public spending of large amounts of money is considered something of a vice and associated with being a show-off. A high lifestyle is considered wasteful and suspect with most people. The Dutch are proud of their cultural heritage, rich history in art and involvement in international affairs. Dutch manners are blunt with a no-nonsense attitude; informality combined with adherence to basic behaviour. This might be perceived as impersonal and patronising by other cultures, but is the norm in Dutch culture. According to a humorous source on Dutch culture, The UnDutchables: Their directness gives many the impression that they are rude and crude—attributes they prefer to call ‘openness’. A well known more serious source on Dutch etiquette is "Dealing with the Dutch" from Jacob Vossestein: Dutch egalitarianism is the idea that people are equal, especially from a moral point of view, and accordingly, causes the somewhat ambiguous stance the Dutch have towards hierarchy and status. As always, manners differ between groups. Asking about basic rules will not be considered impolite. What may strike you as being blatantly blunt topics and comments are no more embarrassing or unusual to the Dutch than discussing the weather.

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Main articles: Music of the Netherlands and Music of Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles

The Netherlands has multiple music traditions. Traditional Dutch music is a genre known as "Levenslied", meaning Song of life, to an extent comparable to a French Chanson or a German Schlager. These songs typically have a simple melody and rhythm, and a straightforward structure of couplets and refrains. Themes can be light, but are often sentimental and include love, death and loneliness. Traditional musical instruments such as the accordion and the barrel organ are a staple of levenslied music, though in recent years many artists also use synthesizers and guitars. Artists in this genre include Jan Smit, Frans Bauer and the late André Hazes.

Rock singer Anouk at Festival Mundial in 2008

Contemporary Dutch rock and pop music (Nederpop) originated in the 1960s, heavily influenced by popular music from the United States and Britain. In the 1960s and 1970s the lyrics were mostly in English, and some tracks were instrumental. Bands such as Shocking Blue, (the) Golden Earring and Focus enjoyed international success. As of the 1980s, more and more pop musicians started working in the Dutch language, partly inspired by the huge success of the band Doe Maar. Today Dutch rock and pop music thrives in both languages, with some artists recording in either. Current symphonic metal bands Epica and Within Temptation as well as jazz / pop singer Caro Emerald are having some international success. Contemporary local heroes include rock singer Anouk, country pop singer Ilse DeLange, rock band Kane and Dutch language duo Nick & Simon.

Early 1990s Dutch and Belgian house music came together in Eurodance project 2 Unlimited. Selling 18 million records, the two singers in the band are the most successful Dutch music artists to this day. Tracks like "Get Ready for This" are still popular themes of U.S. sports events, like the NHL. In the mid 1990s Dutch language rap and hip hop (Nederhop) also came to fruition and has become popular in the Netherlands and Belgium. Artists with North African, Caribbean or Middle Eastern origins have strongly influenced this genre.

Since the 1990s Dutch electronic dance music (EDM) conquered the world in many forms, from trance, techno and gabber to hardstyle. Some of the world''s best dance music DJs hail from the Netherlands, including Armin van Buuren, Tiësto, Hardwell, Sander van Doorn and Afrojack; the first three of which have been ranked as best in the world by DJ Mag Top 100 DJs. The Amsterdam dance event (ADE) is the world''s leading electronic music conference and the biggest club festival for the many electronic sub-genres on the planet. These artists also contribute significantly to the mainstream pop music played over the airwaves all around the world, as they frequently collaborate and produce for many notable artists.

In classical music, Jan Sweelinck ranks as the Netherlands'' most famous composer, with Louis Andriessen amongst the best known living Dutch classical composers. Notable violinists are Janine Jansen and André Rieu. The latter, together with his Johann Strauss Orchestra, has taken classical and waltz music on worldwide concert tours, the size and revenue of which are otherwise only seen from the world''s biggest rock and pop music acts. Acclaimed harpist Lavinia Meijer in 2012 released an album with works from Philip Glass that she transcribed for harp, with approval of Glass himself. The Concertgebouw (completed in 1888) in Amsterdam is home to the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, considered one of the world''s finest orchestras.

Aruba and the five main islands of the Netherlands Antilles are part of the Lesser Antilles island chain. Their music is a mixture of native, African and Dutch elements, and is closely connected with trends from neighboring islands like Barbados, Martinique, Trinidad and Tobago and Guadeloupe, as well as the mainland former Dutch possession of Suriname, which has exported kaseko music to great success on the islands. Curaçao and Bonaire likely have the most active and well-known music scenes. Curaçao is known for a kind of music called tumba, which is named after the conga drums that accompany it.

The Voice originated in the NetherlandsFilm and television
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Main articles: Cinema of the Netherlands and Television in the Netherlands

Some Dutch films - mainly by director Paul Verhoeven - have received international distribution and recognition, such as Turkish Delight ("Turks Fruit") (1973), Soldier of Orange ("Soldaat van Oranje") (1975), Spetters (1980) and The Fourth Man ("De Vierde Man") (1983). Verhoeven then went on to direct big Hollywood movies like RoboCop and Basic Instinct, and returned with Dutch film Black Book in 2006.

Other well-known Dutch film directors are Jan de Bont (Speed), Dick Maas (De Lift), Fons Rademakers (The Assault), documentary maker Bert Haanstra and Joris Ivens. Film director Theo van Gogh achieved international notoriety in 2004 when he was murdered in the streets of Amsterdam.

Internationally successful Dutch actors include Famke Janssen (X-Men films), Carice van Houten (Game of Thrones), Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner), Jeroen Krabbé and Derek de Lint.

The Netherlands has a well developed television market, with both multiple commercial and non-commercial broadcasters. Imported TV programmes, as well as interviews with responses in a foreign language, are virtually always shown with the original sound, and subtitled. The only exception are shows for children.

TV exports from the Netherlands mostly take the form of specific formats and franchises, most notably through internationally active TV production conglomerate Endemol, founded by Dutch media tycoons John de Mol and Joop van den Ende. Headquartered in Amsterdam, Endemol has around 90 companies in over 30 countries. Endemol and its subsidiaries create and run reality and talent game show franchises worldwide, including Big Brother, Deal or No Deal, and The Voice.

Sport Main article: Sport in the NetherlandsDutch star football players Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie in a match in 2011Example of traditional Dutch dinner: Brussels sprouts, boiled potatoes and sausage, including its gravy

Approximately 4.5 million of the 16.8 million people in the Netherlands are registered to one of the 35,000 sports clubs in the country. About two-thirds of the population between 15 and 75 participates in sports weekly. Football is the most popular participant sport in the Netherlands, before field hockey and volleyball as the second and third most popular team sports. Tennis, gymnastics and golf are the three most widely engaged individual sports.

Organisation of sports began at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Federations for sports were established (such as the speed skating federation in 1882), rules were unified and sports clubs came into existence. A Dutch National Olympic Committee was established in 1912. Thus far, the nation has won 266 medals at the Summer Olympic Games and another 110 medals at the Winter Olympic Games.

In international competition Dutch national teams and athletes are dominant in several fields of sport. The Netherlands women''s hockey team is the most successful team in World Cup history. The Netherlands baseball team have won the European championship 20 times out of 32 events. Dutch K-1 kickboxers have won the K-1 World Grand Prix 15 times out of 19 tournaments. The Dutch speed skaters'' performance at the 2014 Winter Olympics, where they won 8 out of 12 events, 23 out of 36 medals, including 4 clean sweeps, is the most dominant performance in a single sport in Olympic history.

Motorcycle racing at the TT Assen Circuit has a long history. Assen is the only venue to have held a round of the Motorcycle World Championship every year since its creation in 1949. The circuit was purpose built for the Dutch TT in 1954, with previous events having been held on public roads.

Cuisine Main article: Dutch Cuisine

Originally, the country''s cuisine has been shaped by the practices of fishing and farming, including the cultivation of the soil for growing crops and raising domesticated animals. Dutch cuisine is simple and straightforward, and contains many dairy products. Breakfast and lunch are typically bread with toppings, with cereal for breakfast as an alternative. Traditionally, dinner consists of potatoes, a portion of meat, and (seasonal) vegetables. The Dutch diet was relatively high in carbohydrates and fat, reflecting the dietary needs of the labourers whose culture moulded the country. Without many refinements, it is best described as rustic, though many holidays are still celebrated with special foods. In the course of the twentieth century this diet changed and became much more cosmopolitan, with most global cuisines being represented in the major cities.

The Southern Dutch cuisine consists of the cuisines of the Dutch provinces of North Brabant and Limburg and the Flemish Region in Belgium. It is renowned for its many rich pastries, soups, stews and vegetable dishes and is often called Burgundian which is a Dutch idiom invoking the rich Burgundian court which ruled the Low Countries in the Middle Ages, renowned for its splendor and great feasts. It is the only Dutch culinary region that developed an haute cuisine.

In early 2014, Oxfam ranked the Netherlands as the country with the most nutritious, plentiful and healthy food, in a comparison of 125 countries.

Colonial heritage Main article: Dutch Empire Further information: Dutch East Indies and Indos in the Dutch East IndiesNew Amsterdam as it appeared in 1664. Under British rule it became known as New York.

From the exploitations of the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century, to the colonisations in the 19th century, Dutch imperial possessions continued to expand, reaching their greatest extent by establishing a hegemony of the Dutch East Indies in the early 20th century. The Dutch East Indies, which later formed modern-day Indonesia, was one of the most valuable European colonies in the world and the most important one for the Netherlands. Over 350 years of mutual heritage has left a significant cultural mark on the Netherlands.

In the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, the Netherlands urbanised considerably, mostly financed by corporate revenue from the Asian trade monopolies. Social status was based on merchants'' income, which reduced feudalism and considerably changed the dynamics of Dutch society. When the Dutch Royal Family was established in 1815, much of its wealth came from Colonial trade.

Universities such as the Royal Leiden University, founded in the 16th century, have developed into leading knowledge centres for South-east Asian and Indonesian studies. Leiden University has produced leading academics such as Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, and still has academics who specialise in Indonesian languages and cultures. Leiden University and in particular KITLV are educational and scientific institutions that to this day share both an intellectual and historical interest in Indonesian studies. Other scientific institutions in the Netherlands include the Amsterdam Tropenmuseum, an anthropological museum with massive collections of Indonesian art, culture, ethnography and anthropology.

A European doctor vaccinates Indonesian patients.

The traditions of the Royal Dutch East Indies Army (KNIL) are maintained by the Regiment Van Heutsz of the modern Royal Netherlands Army. A dedicated Bronbeek Museum, a former home for retired KNIL soldiers, exists in Arnhem to this day.

A specific segment of Dutch literature called Dutch Indies literature still exists and includes established authors, such as Louis Couperus, the writer of "The Hidden Force", taking the colonial era as an important source of inspiration. One of the great masterpieces of Dutch literature is the book "Max Havelaar", written by Multatuli in 1860.

The majority of Dutchmen that repatriated to the Netherlands after and during the Indonesian revolution are Indo (Eurasian), native to the islands of the Dutch East Indies. This relatively large Eurasian population had developed over a period of 400 years and were classified by colonial law as belonging to the European legal community. In Dutch they are referred to as Indische Nederlanders or as Indo (short for Indo-European).

Including their second generation descendants, Indos are currently the largest foreign-born group in the Netherlands. In 2008, the Dutch Census Bureau for Statistics (CBS) registered 387,000 first- and second-generation Indos living in the Netherlands. Although considered fully assimilated into Dutch society, as the main ethnic minority in the Netherlands, these ''repatriants'' have played a pivotal role in introducing elements of Indonesian culture into Dutch mainstream culture.

Practically every town in the Netherlands has a ''Toko'' (Dutch Indonesian Shop) or an Indonesian restaurant and many ''Pasar Malam'' (Night market in Malay/Indonesian) fairs are organised throughout the year. Many Indonesian dishes and foodstuffs have become commonplace in the Netherlands. Rijsttafel, a colonial culinary concept, and dishes such as Nasi goreng and satay are very popular in the Netherlands.

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