National name: Koninkrijk der Nederlanden
Sovereign: Queen Beatrix (1980)
Prime Minister: Jan Peter Balkenende (2002)
Land area: 13,104 sq mi (33,939 sq km); total area: 16,033 sq mi (41,526 sq km)
Population (2007 est.): 16,570,613 (growth rate: 0.5%); birth rate: 10.7/1000; infant mortality rate: 4.9/1000; life expectancy: 79.1; density per sq mi: 1,265
Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Amsterdam (official), 737,900; The Hague (administrative capital), 465,900
Other large cities: Rotterdam, 600,700; Utrecht, 263,900; Eindhoven, 206,900
Monetary unit: Euro (formerly guilder)
Languages: Dutch, Frisian (both official)
Ethnicity/race: Dutch 83%, other 17% (9% of non-Western origin, mainly Turks, Moroccans, Antilleans, Surinamese, and Indonesians) (1999 est.)
Religions: Roman Catholic 31%, Dutch Reformed 13%, Calvinist 7%, Islam 6%, none 41% (2002)
Literacy rate: 99% (2000 est.)
Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2005 est.): $501.6 billion; per capita $30,600. Real growth rate: 0.7%. Inflation: 1.7%. Unemployment: 6.5%. Arable land: 22%. Agriculture: grains, potatoes, sugar beets, fruits, vegetables; livestock. Labor force: 7.53 million; agriculture 2%, industry 19%, services 79% (2004 est.). Industries: agroindustries, metal and engineering products, electrical machinery and equipment, chemicals, petroleum, construction, microelectronics, fishing. Natural resources: natural gas, petroleum, arable land. Exports: $365.1 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.): machinery and equipment, chemicals, fuels; foodstuffs. Imports: $326.6 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.): machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, fuels, foodstuffs, clothing. Major trading partners: Germany, Belgium, UK, France, Italy, U.S., China (2004).
Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 9,132,400 (1999); mobile cellular: 4,081,891 (April 1999). Radio broadcast stations: AM 4, FM 58, shortwave 3 (1998). Radios: 15.3 million (1996). Television broadcast stations: 21 (plus 26 repeaters) (1995). Televisions: 8.1 million (1997). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 52 (2000). Internet users: 9.73 million (2002).
Transportation: Railways: total: 2,808 km (2002). Highways: total: 116,500 km; paved: 104,850 km (including 2,235 km of expressways); unpaved: 11,650 km (1999). Waterways: 5,046 km, of which 47% is usable by craft of 1,000 metric ton capacity or larger. Ports and harbors: Amsterdam, Delfzijl, Dordrecht, Eemshaven, Groningen, Haarlem, Ijmuiden, Maastricht, Rotterdam, Terneuzen, Utrecht, Vlissingen. Airports: 28 (2002).
International disputes: none.
The Netherlands, on the coast of the North Sea, is twice the size of New Jersey. Part of the great plain of north and west Europe, the Netherlands has maximum dimensions of 190 by 160 mi (360 by 257 km) and is low and flat except in Limburg in the southeast, where some hills rise up to 322 m (1056 ft). About half the country's area is below sea level, making the famous Dutch dikes a requisite for the use of much of the land. Reclamation of land from the sea through dikes has continued through recent times. All drainage reaches the North Sea, and the principal rivers—Rhine, Maas (Meuse), and Schelde—have their sources outside the country.
Julius Caesar found the low-lying Netherlands inhabited by Germanic tribes—the Nervii, Frisii, and Batavi. The Batavi on the Roman frontier did not submit to Rome's rule until 13 B.C., and then only as allies.
The Franks controlled the region from the 4th to the 8th century, and it became part of Charlemagne's empire in the 8th and 9th centuries. The area later passed into the hands of Burgundy and the Austrian Hapsburgs and finally in the 16th century came under Spanish rule.
When Philip II of Spain suppressed political liberties and the growing Protestant movement in the Netherlands, a revolt led by William of Orange broke out in 1568. Under the Union of Utrecht (1579), the seven northern provinces became the United Provinces of the Netherlands. War between the United Provinces and Spain continued into the 17th century but in 1648 Spain finally recognized Dutch independence.
The Dutch East India Company was established in 1602, and by the end of the 17th century Holland was one of the great sea and colonial powers of Europe.
The nation's independence was not completely established until after the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), when the country's rise as a commercial and maritime power began. In 1688, the English parliament invited William of Orange, stadtholder, and his wife, Mary Stuart, to rule England as William III and Mary II. William then used the combined resources of England and the Netherlands to wage war on Louis XIV's France. In 1814, all the provinces of Holland and Belgium were merged into one kingdom, but in 1830 the southern provinces broke away to form the kingdom of Belgium. A liberal constitution was adopted by the Netherlands in 1848. The country remained neutral during World War I.
In spite of its neutrality in World War I, the Netherlands was invaded by the Nazis in May 1940, and the Dutch East Indies were later taken by the Japanese. The nation was liberated in May 1945. In 1948, after a reign of 50 years, Queen Wilhelmina abdicated and was succeeded by her daughter Juliana.
In 1949, after a four-year war, the Netherlands granted independence to the Dutch East Indies, which became the Republic of Indonesia. The Netherlands also joined NATO that year. The Netherlands joined the European Economic Community (later, the EU) in 1958. In 1999, it adopted the single European currency, the euro.
In 1963, it turned over the western half of New Guinea to Indonesia, ending 300 years of Dutch presence in Asia. Attainment of independence by Suriname on Nov. 25, 1975, left the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba as the country's only overseas territories.
The Netherlands has extremely liberal social policies: prostitution is legal, and it became the first nation in the world to legalize same-sex marriage (2000) and euthanasia (2002).
Wim Kok's government resigned in April 2002 after a report concluded that Dutch UN troops failed to prevent a massacre of Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serbs in a UN safe haven near Srebrenica in 1995. Explaining his action, the popular prime minister said, “The international community is big and anonymous. We are taking the consequences of the international community's failure in Srebrenica.”
The country's normally bland political scene was further rocked with the May 2002 assassination of Pim Fortuyn, a right-wing anti-immigrant politician. Days later, his party, Lijst Pim Fortuyn, placed second in national elections, behind Jan Peter Balkenende's Christian Democrats. Leading the country into a marked shift to the right, Balkenende formed a three-way center-right coalition government with his Christian Democrats, Lijst Pim Fortuyn, and the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy. Balkenende became prime minister in July 2002.
In 2005, just days after French voters rejected the EU constitution in a referendum, the Netherlands followed suit.