Netherlands

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Template:Infobox Country Template:Background The Netherlands (Dutch: Nederland; IPA pronunciation: /"ne:dərlant/) is the European part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands that is formed by the Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba.(Dutch: Koninkrijk der Nederlanden). The Netherlands is a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarch, located in northwestern Europe. It borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east.

In many countries, the Netherlands is often referred to by the name Holland, and even within the Netherlands itself this name is occasionally used as an acceptable translation of the country's name. However widespread, this usage is technically incorrect, as "Holland" is actually a region in the central-western part of the Netherlands, divided into two provinces. Also, the English plural form 'the Netherlands' is a remnant from times when the country was not yet independent and united. See below under 'naming conventions'.

The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated and geographically low-lying countries in the world (its name literally means "low country") and is famous for its dikes, windmills, wooden shoes, tulips, bicycles and social tolerance. Its liberal policies (towards drugs and prostitution among other things) receive international attention. The country is host to the International Court of Justice; Amsterdam is the official capital as stated by the constitution, but The Hague is the seat of government, the home of the monarch, and the location for most foreign embassies. The Netherlands ranked 12th on the 2005 UN Human Development Index.

The English adjective and noun for "of or relating to the Netherlands" is "Dutch," which is also the name of the Dutch language. In the Netherlands, "Netherlands" is sometimes used as an adjective. The origin of this incorrect local usage may be that the Dutch word for "Dutch" is Nederlands.

History

(For details, see History of the Netherlands and Dutch monarchy.) Under Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and king of Spain, the region was part of the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands, which also includes most of present-day Belgium, Luxembourg, and some land of France and Germany. In 1568 the Eighty Years' War started after the entire population had been condemned to death by the Holy See and confirmed by the king, and in 1579, the northern half of the Seventeen Provinces declared itself independent and formed the Union of Utrecht, which is seen as the foundation of the modern Netherlands. Philip II, the son of Charles V, was not prepared to let them go that easily. It would not be until 1648 before Spain would recognize Dutch independence.

After gaining formal independence from the Spanish Empire under King Philip IV, the Dutch grew to become one of the major seafaring and economic powers of the 17th century during the period of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. In the era, referred to as the Dutch Golden Age, colonies and trading posts were established all over the globe. (See Dutch colonial empire)

Many economic historians regard the Netherlands as the first thoroughly capitalist country in the world. In early modern Europe it featured 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 such less benign phenomena as the boom-bust cycle, the world's first asset-inflation bubble, the tulip mania of 1636-1637, and according to Murray Sayle, the world's first bear raider - Isaac le Maire, who forced prices down by dumping stock and then buying it back at a discount ("Japan Goes Dutch", London Review of Books [April 5, 2001]: 3-7).

After briefly being incorporated in the First French Empire under Napoleon, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was formed in 1815, consisting of the present day Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. In addition, the king of the Netherlands became hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg. Belgium rebelled and gained independence in 1830, while the personal union between Luxembourg and the Netherlands was severed in 1890 as a result of ascendancy laws which prevented Queen Wilhelmina from becoming Grand Duke.

The Netherlands possessed several colonies, most notably the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and Suriname (the latter was traded with the British for New Amsterdam, now known as New York). 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.

During the 19th century, The Netherlands was slow to industrialize compared to neighboring countries, mainly due to its unique infrastructure of waterways and reliance on wind power. After remaining neutral in World War I, over 100,000 Dutch Jews were murdered in the Holocaust of World War II, along with significant numbers of Dutch Roma (gypsies). After the war, the Dutch economy prospered again, being a member of the Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) and European Economic Community unions. The Netherlands was among the twelve founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and among the six founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community, which would later evolve into the European Union.

Naming conventions

The name Holland is often used, incorrectly, for The Netherlands, especially in other languages. The origin of the misnomer lies in the fact that the region of Holland was the economic powerhouse during the time of the United Provinces (1581-1795). After the Napoleonic era, Holland became a mere province of the Kingdom and was split into North and South Holland in 1840. Some people, especially from the southern provinces Limburg and North Brabant, object to the use of the name Holland for The Netherlands. But to avoid confusion when addressing other nationals, the Dutch themselves often use the name 'Holland'.

The plural "Netherlands" is actually an archaic term, referring to the time when it was a collection of regions that were not yet fully united. In The Netherlands itself the country is called Nederland (literally meaning "low country"), the people are called Nederlanders ("Dutch" in English) and the language is called Nederlands (again, "Dutch" in English); the -s in Nederlands is not a plural ending, but rather is cognate to the English suffix -ish. The English word "Dutch" is akin to the German word Deutsch, which originally meant "(Language) of the (common) people" in contrast with the medieval elite who spoke Latin. An old term for the language of The Netherlands is Diets or Nederdietsch. All these terms derive from what in Latin was known as Theodisca, from Germanic *Þeudiskaz.

Politics

Template:Politics of the Netherlands

For more details on this topic, see Politics of the Netherlands.

The Netherlands has been a parliamentary democracy since 1848 and a constitutional monarchy since 1815; before that it had been a republic from 1581 to 1806 (it was occupied by France between 1806 and 1815). The pro forma head of state, since 1980, is Queen Beatrix of the House of Orange-Nassau. The Dutch monarch has little political power, but serves mostly as a ceremonial figurehead to represent the nation.

Dutch governments always consist of a coalition, as there is not (and has never been) a single political party large enough to get the majority vote. Formally, the queen appoints the members of the government. In practice, once the results of parliamentary elections are known, a coalition government is formed (in a process of negotiations that can take several months), after which the government formed in this way is officially appointed by the queen. The head of the government is the Prime Minister, in Dutch Minister President or Premier, a primus inter pares who is usually also the leader of the largest party in the coalition. The degree of influence the queen has on actual government decision making is a topic of ongoing speculation.

The parliament consists of two houses. The 150 members of the Lower House (Tweede Kamer, or Second Chamber) are elected every four years in direct elections. The provincial parliaments are directly elected every 4 years as well. The members of the provincial parliaments vote (indirectly) for the less important Senate (Eerste Kamer, or First Chamber). Together, the First and Second Chamber are known as the Staten Generaal, the States General.

Political scientists consider The Netherlands a classic example of a consociational state, at least in part caused by the necessity in the Netherlands since the middle ages for different cities to cooperate in order to fight the water (different cities were at the time like different countries by today's standards, and often at war). This necessity to reach an agreement despite differences is called the polder model in Dutch. Also, the Netherlands has long been a nation of traders and for international trade one has to be tolerant of the other person's culture. The Netherlands is a neutral country in most international affairs and thus managed to keep out of World War I (although this did not work in World War II). As a result, the Dutch have a 'friendly' reputation in other countries, to the point that bearers of a Dutch passport often have relatively little difficulty getting into other countries, for visits or even for emigration purposes.

The present government is led by the cabinet Balkenende II, a right-wing cabinet.

On June 1 2005 the Dutch electorate voted in a referendum against the proposed EU Constitution by a majority of 61.6%, three days after the French had also voted against. It was a consultative referendum, but the government had already decided to honour the outcome. One interpretation as reported by the media of the no-vote was that it may not have been so much a vote against the Constitution itself, but that it was more of a protest against lack of rapport between citizens and government, both nationally and in the EU. Another explanation was that the citizens believed that there were too many unnecessary rules coming from the EU such as the compulsory privatising of the energy market (fair competition) and the prohibition of making new highways due to air quality laws from the EU. Referenda are a fairly new phenomenon in the Netherlands.

See also: Prime Minister of the Netherlands, List of Prime Ministers of the Netherlands

Provinces

For more details on this topic, see Provinces of the Netherlands.
File:Netherlands map large.png
Map of The Netherlands, with red dots marking the capitals of the provinces and black dots marking other notable cities

The Netherlands is divided into twelve administrative regions, called provinces, each under a Governor, who is called Commissaris van de Koningin (Commissionair of the Queen).

All provinces are divided into municipalities (gemeenten), together 467; see Municipalities in the Netherlands, and also List of cities in the Netherlands by province.

The country is also subdivided in water districts, governed by a water board (waterschap or hoogheemraadschap), each having authority in matters concerning water management. As of 1 January 2005 there are twenty seven. The creation of water boards actually pre-dates that of the nation itself, the first appearing in 1196. In fact, the Dutch water boards are one of the oldest democratic entities in the world still in existence.

See also: Ranked list of Dutch provinces.

Geography

File:Netherlands pol87.jpg
Map of the Netherlands (ca. 1975; see also a more recent railway map)
For more details on this topic, see Geography of the Netherlands.

A remarkable aspect of the Netherlands is the flatness of the country. About half of its surface area is less than 1 m above sea level, and large parts of it are actually below sea level (see map showing these areas). An extensive range of dikes and dunes protect these areas from flooding. Numerous massive pumping stations keep the ground water level in check. The highest point, the Vaalserberg, in the south-eastern most point of the country, is 321 m above sea level. A substantial part of the Netherlands, for example, all of Flevoland and large parts of Holland, has been reclaimed from the sea. These areas are known as polders. This has led to the saying "God created the world, but the Dutch created the Netherlands."

In years past, the Dutch coastline has changed considerably due to human intervention and natural disasters. Most notable in terms of land loss are the 1134 storm, which created the archipelago of Zeeland in the south west, and the 1287 storm, which killed 50,000 people and created the Zuyderzee (now dammed in and renamed the IJsselmeer - see below) in the northwest, giving Amsterdam direct access to the sea. The St. Elisabeth flood of 1421 and the mismanagement in its aftermath destroyed a newly reclaimed polder, replacing it with the 72 km² Biesbosch tidal floodplains in the southcentre. The most recent parts of Zeeland were flooded during the North Sea Flood of 1953 and 1,836 people were killed, after which the Delta Plan was executed.

The disasters were partially man-made; the people drained relatively high lying swampland for use as farmland. This drainage caused the fertile peat to compress and the ground level to drop, locking the landusers in a vicious circle whereby they would lower the water level to compensate for the drop in ground level, causing the underlying peat to compress even more. The vicious circle is unsolvable and remains to this day. Up until the 19th century peat was dug up, dried, and used for fuel, further adding to the problem.

To guard against floods, a series of defences against the water were contrived. In the first millennium, 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" (English "waterbodies") or "hoogheemraadschappen" ("high home councils") started to appear, whose job it was to maintain the water level and to protect a region from floods. (The waterbodies are still around today performing the exact same function.) As the ground level dropped, the dikes by necessity grew and merged into an integrated system. In the 13th century, windmills came into use to pump water out of the areas by now below sea level. The windmills were later used to drain lakes, creating the famous polders. In 1932, the Afsluitdijk (English "Closure Dike") was completed, blocking the former Zuyderzee (Southern Sea) off from the North Sea and thus creating the IJsselmeer (IJssel Lake). It became part of the larger Zuiderzee Works in which four polders totalling 1,650 km² were reclaimed from the sea.

After the 1953 disaster, the Delta project, a vast construction effort designed to end the threat from the sea once and for all, was launched in 1958 and largely completed in 2002. The official goal of the Delta project was to reduce the risk of flooding in Holland to once per 10,000 years. (For the rest of the country, the protection-level is once per 4,000 years). This was achieved by raising 3,000 km of outer sea-dikes and 10,000 km of inner, canal, and river dikes to "delta" height, and by closing off the sea estuaries of the Zeeland province. New risk assessments occasionally incur additional Delta project work in the form of dike re-enforcements. The Delta project is the single largest construction effort in human history and is considered by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

Because of the high cost of maintaining the polders some have argued that maybe some of the deepest polders should be given up. Additionally, the Netherlands is one of the countries that may suffer most from climatic change. Not only is the rising sea a problem, but also erratic weather patterns may cause the rivers to overflow. These flooded polders might then be used as water catchments to take part of the blow.

The country is divided into two main parts by three rivers Rhine (Rijn), Waal, and Meuse (Maas). The south western part of the Netherlands is actually one big river delta of these rivers. These rivers not only function as a natural barrier, but also as a cultural divide, as is evident in the different dialects spoken north and south of these great rivers and the (previous) religious dominance of Catholics in the south and Calvinists in the north.

The predominant wind direction in the Netherlands is south west, which causes a moderate maritime climate, with cool summers and mild winters.

See also: National parks (Netherlands).

Economy

For more details on this topic, see Economy of the Netherlands.

The Netherlands has a prosperous and open economy in which the government has reduced its role since the 1980s. Industrial activity is predominantly in food-processing (for example Unilever and Heineken), chemicals (for example DSM), petroleum refining (for example Royal Dutch Shell), and electrical machinery (for example Philips). A highly mechanised agricultural sector employs no more than 4% of the labour force but provides large surpluses for the food-processing industry and for exports. The Dutch rank third worldwide in value of agricultural exports, behind the US and France. Other important parts of the economy are international trade (Dutch colonialism started with cooperative private enterprises such as the VOC), banking and transport (for example the Rotterdam harbour). The Netherlands successfully addressed the issue of public finances and stagnating job growth long before its European partners.

As a founding member of the Euro, the Netherlands replaced its former currency, the Gulden, on January 1 1999 along with the other adopters of the single European currency, with the actual Euro coins and banknotes following on January 1, 2002. However, in the first years of the third millennium, economic and employment growth came to a standstill, which the government tried to resolve by cutting into its expenses.

In 2003 the economy shrunk 0.9%. In 2004, the recession was over and the economy began its slow recovery with a meager 1.3% growth. The CPB ("Centraal Plan Bureau", Central Planning Bureau), a think tank of leading Dutch economists linked with the government, expects a recovery of the economy in 2005, with a growth of 2.25%. In 2004, inflation was 1.2%, the lowest level since 1989.

Demographics

For more details on this topic, see Demographics of the Netherlands.
Dutch population pyramid
(in % of total population)
% Male Age Female %
0.36     85+     1.05
0.60     80-84     1.18
1.14     75-79     1.74
1.55     70-74     1.95
1.93     65-69     2.13
2.30     60-64     2.33
2.77     55-59     2.69
3.73     50-54     3.60
3.65     45-49     3.54
3.93     40-44     3.81
4.27     35-39     4.08
4.25     30-34     4.05
3.63     25-29     3.54
3.04     20-24     2.93
2.96     15-19     2.83
3.11     10-14     2.97
3.20     05-09     3.06
3.11     00-04     2.98
 
Data: International Data Base (2000)

The Netherlands is the 15th most densely populated country in the world, with 393 inhabitants per square km (or 482/km² if only the land area is counted, 20% is water). Partly because of this it is also one of the most densely cabled countries in the world. Internet penetration [1] is at 66.2% the 7th highest in the world.

According CBS Statline, the official statistics bureau of the Netherlands, the ethnic origins of the citizens are very diverse. The vast majority of the population however still remains Dutch. They were: 80.8% Dutch, 8.7% other European, 2.2% Turkish, 1.9% Moroccan, 6.4% other

Languages

The official language is Dutch, which is spoken by practically all inhabitants. Another official language is Frisian, which is spoken in the northern province of Friesland and has a strong resemblance to English. Frisian is co-official only in the province of Friesland, although with a few restrictions. Several dialects of Low Saxon are spoken in much of the north and are recognised as regional languages, as protected by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. To the south, the Dutch language shifts into other varieties of Low Franconian and German, which may or may not be best classified as Dutch, most notably West Flemish. One of these, Limburgish, which is spoken in the south-eastern province of Limburg has been recognised as a minority language since 1977.

Religion

According to the governmental statistics agency (CBS) 30% of the population consider themselves to be Roman Catholic, 20% Protestant (predominantly Dutch Reformed) and 8% 'other denominations'. 42% consider themselves not to belong to any religious denomination. Church attendance however is much lower than these figures may suggest: some 70% of the population 'rarely or never' visit a house of worship (be it a church, mosque, synagogue or temple). The most protestants live in the northern provinces while the southern provinces (Noord-Brabant and limburg) are mainly Roman Catholic.

The largest part of the 'other denominations', at 920,000, are Muslim immigrant workers mainly living in the bigger cities, mostly from Morocco and Turkey, and their offspring. The other denominations also include some 200,000 (1.3%) Hindu, mostly descendants of indentured servants who migrated from India to the former Dutch colony of Surinam around 1900. Prior to the Holocaust about 140,000 Jews lived in the Netherlands, however the vast majority of Dutch Jewry was murdered in the Holocaust. About 30,000 Dutch Jews now live in The Netherlands.

Culture

For more details on this topic, see Culture of the Netherlands.

The Netherlands has had many well-known painters. The 17th century, when the Dutch republic was prosperous, was the age of the "Dutch Masters" such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen and many others. Famous Dutch painters of the 19th and 20th century are Vincent van Gogh and Piet Mondriaan. M. C. Escher is a well-known graphics artist. Willem de Kooning was born and trained in Rotterdam, although he is considered to have reached acclaim as an American artist. A (in)famous Dutch master art forger is Han van Meegeren.

The Netherlands is the country of philosophers Erasmus of Rotterdam and Spinoza, and all of Descartes' major work was done there. Christiaan Huygens(1629-1695) is a famous astronomer and mathematician. He discovered Saturn's moon Titan and invented an accurate clock.

In the Dutch Golden Age, literature flowered as well, with Joost van den Vondel and P. C. Hooft as the two most famous writers. In the 19th century, Multatuli wrote about the bad treatment of the natives in Dutch colonies. Important 20th century authors include Harry Mulisch, Jan Wolkers, Simon Vestdijk, Cees Nooteboom, Gerard van het Reve and Willem Frederik Hermans. The Diary of Anne Frank was also written in the Netherlands.

See also: List of museums in The Netherlands, Sport in the Netherlands, Music of the Netherlands, List of Dutch people, Public holidays in the Netherlands

Replicas of Dutch buildings can be found in Huis ten Bosch, Nagasaki, Japan. A similar Holland Village is being built in Shenyang, China.

Windmills, tulips, wooden shoes, cheese and Delftware pottery are among the numerous items associated with the Netherlands.

Dutch policies on recreational drugs, prostitution, same-sex marriage and euthanasia are among the most liberal in the world.

To get to know Netherlands' current popular culture and society, it's best to read the lyrics of a very popular song by Lange Frans & Baas B that apparently reflects the feelings of many people in the Netherlands: Het land van... ("The country of..."). It mentions several aspects of typical Dutch popular culture.

Miscellaneous topics

External links

Look up The Netherlands in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.


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