The Netherlands is a nation of nearly 17 million people in western Europe, bordering the North Sea, between Belgium and Germany. It is located at mouths of three major European rivers; the Rhine, the Maas or Meuse, and, the Schelde.
Its major environmental issues include:
- water pollution in the form of heavy metals, organic compounds, and nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates;
- air pollution from vehicles and refining activities; and,
- acid rain
The Dutch United Provinces declared their independence from Spain in 1579.
During the 17th century, they became a leading seafaring and commercial power, with settlements and colonies around the world.
After a 20-year French occupation, a Kingdom of the Netherlands was formed in 1815.
In 1830 Belgium seceded and formed a separate kingdom.
The Netherlands remained neutral in World War I, but suffered invasion and occupation by Germany in World War II.
A modern, industrialized nation, the Netherlands is also a large exporter of agricultural products.
The country was a founding member of NATO and the EEC (now the EU), and participated in the introduction of the euro in 1999.
In October 2010, the former Netherlands Antilles was dissolved and the three smallest islands - Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba - became special municipalities in the Netherlands administrative structure. The larger islands of Sint Maarten and Curacao joined the Netherlands and Aruba as constituent countries forming the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Location: Western Europe, bordering the North Sea, between Belgium and Germany
Geographic Coordinates: 52 30 N, 5 45 E
Area: 41,543 sq km(land: 33,893 sq km; water: 7,650 sq km)
Land Boundaries: 1,027 km (Belgium 450 km, Germany 577 km)
Coastline: 451 km
territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm
Natural Hazards: flooding
Terrain: mostly coastal lowland and reclaimed land (polders); some hills in southeast. The highest point is Mount Scenery (862 m) (on the island of Saba in the Caribbean, now considered an integral part of the Netherlands following the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles - Note: the highest point on continental Netherlands is Vaalserberg at 322 m
Climate: temperate; marine; cool summers and mild winters
Ecology and Biodiversity
Ecologically, the Netherlands is within the Atlantic mixed forests ecoregion which covers the western coast of the Europe. The ecoregion includes coastal vegetation formations of dunes and heathlands with vegetation that thrives in salty soil. Sand dune systems occur along the southwestern coast of France, the region known as Les Landes, covered by both natural and planted forests of maritime pine (Pinus pinaster). They are rich in plant life, and home to a number of endemics. Bird diversity is particularly high--over 440 species have been recorded in the Netherlands alone. Most of the ecoregion’s mammals are widespread in other parts of Europe. Several are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List, including otter, European mink, and several species of bat. Only fragments of natural vegetation remain in this ecoregion, as most of the area was converted long ago into intensive agriculture or pasture.
The Netherlands has recorded over four hundred and forty species of avifauna, including the threatened Ortolan bunting (Emberiza hortulana), Garganey (Anas querquedula), Snipe (Gallinago gallinago), Kentish plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), Corn bunting (Miliaria calandra), and Spotted crake (Porzana porzana).
Only fragments of natural vegetation remain in this ecoregion, as most of the area was converted long ago into intensive agriculture (barley, wheat, sugar beets, and corn) or pasture. These agricultural lands include some of the most productive soils of Western Europe. There are several Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the ecoregion, including the Wadden Sea and Voordelta of the Netherlands.
The Waddenzee Biogenetic Reserve serves as an important Biogenetic Reserve.
People and Society
Population: 16,730,632 (July 2012 est.)
Ethnic Groups: Dutch 80.7%, EU 5%, Indonesian 2.4%, Turkish 2.2%, Surinamese 2%, Moroccan 2%, Caribbean 0.8%, other 4.8% (2008 est.)
0-14 years: 17% (male 1,466,218/female 1,398,463)
15-64 years: 67.4% (male 5,732,042/female 5,624,408)
65 years and over: 15.6% (male 1,141,507/female 1,484,369) (2011 est.)
Population Growth Rate: 0.452% (2012 est.)
Birthrate: 10.89 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Death Rate: 8.39 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)
Net Migration Rate: 2.02 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Life Expectancy at Birth: 80.91 years
male: 78.84 years
female: 83.08 years (2012 est.)
Total Fertility Rate: 1.78 children born/woman (2012 est.)
Languages: Dutch (official), Frisian (official)
Literacy (age 15 and over can read and write): 99% (2003 est.)
Urbanization: 83% of total population (2010) growing at an annual rate of 0.8% (2010-15 est.)
The Dutch are primarily of Germanic stock with some Gallo-Celtic mixture. Their small homeland frequently has been threatened with destruction by the North Sea and has often been invaded by the great European powers.
Julius Caesar found the region which is now the Netherlands inhabited by Germanic tribes in the first century B.C. The western portion was inhabited by the Batavians and became part of a Roman province; the eastern portion was inhabited by the Frisians. Between the fourth and eighth centuries A.D., most of both portions were conquered by the Franks. The area later passed into the hands of the House of Burgundy and the Austrian Habsburgs. Falling under harsh Spanish rule in the 16th century, the Dutch revolted in 1558 under the leadership of Willem of Orange. By virtue of the Union of Utrecht in 1579, the seven northern Dutch provinces became the Republic of the United Netherlands.
During the 17th century, considered its "golden era," the Netherlands became a great sea and colonial power. Among other achievements, this period saw the emergence of some of painting's "Old Masters," including Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Hals, whose works--along with those of later artists such as Mondriaan and Van Gogh--are today on display in museums throughout the Netherlands and the world.
The country's importance declined, however, with the gradual loss of Dutch technological superiority and after wars with Spain, France, and England in the 17th and 18th century. The Dutch United Provinces supported the Americans in the Revolutionary War. In 1795, French troops ousted Willem V of Orange, the Stadhouder under the Dutch Republic and head of the House of Orange. The Netherlands experienced a brief period of being a client state of France, under the Batavian Republic , then as the Kingdom of Holland, ruled by Louis Bonaparte, and finally as part of France.
Following Napoleon's defeat in 1815, the Netherlands and Belgium became the "Kingdom of the United Netherlands" under King Willem I, son of Willem V of Orange. The Belgians withdrew from the union in 1830 to form their own kingdom. King Willem II was largely responsible for the liberalizing revision of the constitution in 1848.
The Netherlands prospered during the long reign of Willem III (1849-90). At the time of his death, his daughter Wilhelmina was 10 years old. Her mother, Queen Emma, reigned as regent until 1898, when Wilhelmina reached the age of 18 and became the monarch.
The Netherlands proclaimed neutrality at the start of both world wars. Although it escaped occupation in World War I, German troops overran the country in May 1940. Queen Wilhelmina fled to London and established a government-in-exile. During the war, the Nazis rounded up the Jewish population before deporting them to camps in the East. Over 75% of the Netherlands' 140,000 Jews died at the hands of the Nazis. Shortly after the Netherlands was liberated in May 1945, the Queen returned. Crown Princess Juliana acceded to the throne in 1948 upon her mother's abdication. In April 1980, Queen Juliana abdicated in favor of her daughter, now Queen Beatrix. Crown Prince Willem-Alexander was born in 1967.
Elements of the Netherlands' once far-flung empire were granted either full independence or nearly complete autonomy after World War II. Indonesia formally gained its independence in 1949, and Suriname became independent in 1975. In the Caribbean, what was known as the Netherlands Antilles dissolved on October 10, 2010. The islands of Aruba and Curacao, and Sint Maarten (the Dutch two-fifths of the island of Saint Martin) enjoy a large degree of autonomy as constituent members of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Meanwhile, the islands of Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius are considered to be special public bodies within the Netherlands.
The Netherlands abandoned a longstanding policy of neutrality after World War II. The Dutch are engaged participants in international affairs. Dutch foreign policy is geared to promoting a wide variety of goals: the rule of law, human rights, and democracy. Priority is given to enhancing European integration, ensuring European security and stability (mainly through the mechanism of NATO and the EU, and by emphasizing the important role the United States plays in the security of Europe), and participating in conflict management and peacekeeping missions. In August 2010, the Netherlands withdrew its ground forces after more than 8 years in Afghanistan. It returned to Afghanistan in July 2011 with a police training mission in an EU and NATO context.
The Netherlands generally pursues its foreign policy interests within the framework of multilateral organizations. The Netherlands is an active and responsible participant in the United Nations as well as other multilateral organizations such as NATO, the EU, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe (CoE), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). A centuries-old tradition of legal scholarship has made the Netherlands the home of the International Court of Justice; the Permanent Court of Arbitration; the Yugoslavia War Crimes Tribunal; the Special Tribunal for Lebanon; the European judicial and police organizations Eurojust and Europol; and the International Criminal Court. Dutch security policy is based primarily on membership in NATO, which the Netherlands joined as a charter member in 1949.
The Netherlands' post-war customs union with Belgium and Luxembourg (the Benelux group) paved the way for the formation of the European Community (precursor to the EU). Likewise, the Benelux abolition of internal border controls was a model for the wider Schengen accord, which today has 25 European signatories, including the Netherlands, pledged to common visa policies and free movement of people and goods across common borders. The Dutch have traditionally been strong advocates of European integration, and most aspects of their foreign, economic, and trade policies are coordinated through the European Union. However, Dutch voters rejected the EU constitutional treaty in June 2005. Parliament later approved the Lisbon Treaty in September 2008.
The Dutch were key proponents of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty and were the architects of the 1998 Treaty of Amsterdam. They have embraced the introduction of new member states and the common currency (euro). In recent years, however, the Dutch have become increasingly skeptical of the way the EU is run, its perceived inclination of taking on more tasks, and further enlargements.
Government Type: Constitutional monarchy
The present constitution--which dates from 1848 and has been amended several times, most recently in 1983--protects individual and political freedoms, including freedom of religion. Although church and state are separate, a few historical ties remain; the royal family belongs to the Dutch Reformed Church (Protestant). Freedom of speech also is protected.
The country's government is based on the principles of ministerial responsibility and parliamentary government. The national government comprises three main institutions: the Monarch, the Council of Ministers, and the States General (parliament). There also are local governments.
The Monarch. The monarch is the titular head of state. The Queen's function is largely ceremonial, but she does have some influence deriving from the traditional veneration of the House of Orange, from which Dutch monarchs for more than 3 centuries have descended. Her influence also derives from her personal qualities and her power to appoint the "formateur," who forms the Council of Ministers following elections.
Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers plans and implements government policy. The Monarch and the Council of Ministers together are called the Crown. Most ministers also head government ministries, although ministers-without-portfolio exist. The ministers, collectively and individually, are responsible to the States General. Unlike the British system, Dutch ministers cannot simultaneously be members of parliament.
The Council of State is a constitutionally established advisory body to the government that consists of members of the royal family and Crown-appointed members generally having political, academic, diplomatic, or military experience. The Council of State must be consulted by the cabinet on proposed legislation before a law is submitted to the parliament. The Council of State also serves as the country’s highest administrative court .
States General. The Dutch parliament consists of two houses, the First Chamber (“Senate”) and the Second Chamber (“House of Representatives”). Historically, Dutch governments have been based on the support of a majority in both houses of parliament. The Second Chamber is by far the more important of the two houses. It alone has the right to initiate legislation and amend bills submitted by the Council of Ministers. It shares with the First Chamber the right to question ministers and state secretaries.
The Second Chamber consists of 150 members, elected directly for a 4-year term--unless the government falls prematurely--on the basis of a nationwide system of proportional representation. This system means that members represent the whole country--rather than individual districts as in the United States--and are normally elected on a party slate, not on a personal basis. There is no threshold for small-party representation. Campaigns are relatively short, lasting usually about a month, and the election budgets of each party tend to be less than $2 million. The electoral system makes a coalition government almost inevitable. The last election of the Second Chamber was in June 2010.
The First Chamber is composed of 75 members elected for 4-year terms by the 12 provincial legislatures. It cannot initiate or amend legislation, but its approval of bills passed by the Second Chamber is required before bills become law. The First Chamber generally meets only once a week, and its members usually have other full-time jobs. The current First Chamber was elected following provincial elections in May 2011.
Courts. The judiciary comprises 62 cantonal courts, 19 district courts, five courts of appeal, and a Supreme Court that has 24 justices. All judicial appointments are made by the Crown. Judges nominally are appointed for life but actually are retired at age 70.
Capital: Amsterdam - 1.044 million (2009)
Other Major Cities: Rotterdam 1.008 million; The Hague (seat of government) 629,000 (2009)
Administrative divisions: The first-level administrative divisions are the 12 provinces, each governed by a locally elected provincial council and a provincial executive appointed by members of the provincial council. The province is formally headed by a queen's commissioner appointed by the Crown. 12 provinces (provincies, singular - provincie).
Independence: 23 January 1579 (the northern provinces of the Low Countries conclude the Union of Utrecht breaking with Spain; on 26 July 1581 they formally declared their independence with an Act of Abjuration; however, it was not until 30 January 1648 and the Peace of Westphalia that Spain recognized this independence)
Legal System: The Netherlands accepts compulsory International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction; and accepts International criminal court (ICCt) jurisdiction
The Netherlands is a small and densely populated country. Its economy depends on industry (particularly chemicals and metal processing), intensive agriculture and horticulture, and infrastructure, which takes advantage of the country's geographical position at the heart of Europe's transportation network. These factors have led to major pressure on the environment. The government works closely with industry and nongovernmental organizations to reach environmental targets. The Dutch welcomed the EU's 2008 directive to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 20% from 1990 levels and increase power derived from renewable sources to 20% by 2020. The Netherlands has a binding national target to reduce emissions in sectors not covered by the EU emissions trading system by 16% in 2020. It also has a binding national target of 14% in 2020 for renewable energy. Many independent energy experts, however, consider the government’s aggressive climate change targets to be overly optimistic.
International Environmental Agreements
The Netherlands is party to international agreements on: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Sulfur 85, Air Pollution-Sulfur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Kyoto Protocol, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, and Whaling.
Total Renewable Water Resources: 89.7 cu km (2005)
Freshwater Withdrawal: 8.86 cu km/yr (6% domestic, 60% industrial, 34% agricultural)
Per Capita Freshwater Withdrawal: 544 cu m/yr (2001)
Agricultural products: grains, potatoes, sugar beets, fruits, vegetables; livestock
Irrigated Land: 4,600 sq km (2008)
Natural Resources: natural gas, petroleum, peat, limestone, salt, sand and gravel, arable land
arable land: 21.96%
permanent crops: 0.77%
other: 77.27% (2005)
The Netherlands economy is noted for stable industrial relations, moderate unemployment and inflation, a sizable current account surplus, and an important role as a European transportation hub.
Industrial activity is predominantly in food processing, chemicals, petroleum refining, and electrical machinery.
A highly mechanized agricultural sector employs only 2% of the labor force but provides large surpluses for the food-processing industry and for exports.
The Netherlands, along with 11 of its EU partners, began circulating the euro currency on 1 January 2002.
The country has been one of the leading European nations for attracting foreign direct investment and is one of the four largest investors in the US.
The global financial crisis hit the Netherlands hard in the fall 2008; the Dutch economy entered recession in the fourth quarter of 2008, but annual GDP growth that year was still 1.9%. In 2009, however, the economy shrank by 3.9%. The economy recovered slowly in 2010 with an annual growth rate of 1.8% and 1.6% in 2011.This is mainly due to the increase in international trade, the largest engine of the Dutch economy; however, growth is expected to slow to 1.75% in 2012. In 2010, exports increased by 12.8% and imports by 11.7%, while in 2011 the figures were 18.5% and 19.67% respectively. The 2011 national budget deficit (4.2 % of GDP, with a forecast for 2012 of 4.5%) and government debt (64.4%) still are cause for concern as they exceed the limits set by the European Growth and Stability Pact.
In order to fight against the consequences of the crisis, the government launched three economic stimulus packages since November 2008. The first package was worth about $8.3 billion, the second consisted mainly of government guarantees to stimulate lending and exports, and the third was worth $9 billion, bringing the total value of the stimulus measures to $17.3 billion, or approximately 2% of GDP. The state finances deteriorated further due to government interventions in the financial sector, including the nationalization of the Dutch activities of ABN Amro/Fortis Bank (costing a total of $37.6 billion), and capital injections to ING ($12.5 billion total) and other financial institutions whose balance sheets were compromised by U.S. mortgage-backed securities and other toxic assets. The financial institutions are repaying their government loans.
Private consumption dropped by 2.5% in 2009 and recovered by 0.3% in 2010. The slow recovery is expected to continue by 0.5% in 2011 and 2012. Unemployment was 5.2% in 2011. After a drop in the early 2000s, business investment (excluding the housing sector) staged a recovery from 2005 onwards. In 2008, business investment was up 7.4%, but it decreased sharply by 18.2% in 2009. The decline in business investment did not continue as sharply as predicted, as it dropped by 1.5% in 2010, grew by 5.75% in 2011, and is predicted to grow by 4.25% in 2012.
Before the onset of the financial crisis, many firms in the Netherlands cited a loss of competitiveness as a major impediment to growth as unit labor costs outpaced those of their major competitors, including within the euro area. Smaller wage increases codified in collective bargaining agreements before growth accelerated in 2006 helped Dutch firms stay competitive during this period. However, an increasing labor shortage resulted in higher wage demands in the second half of 2007 and into 2008, with the average wage increasing by 3.3%. The pace of job growth steadily increased up to 2008, but then declined sharply in 2009 as fallout from the financial crisis constricted demand. The labor productivity is increasing from the 3.1% in 2009, to 3.5% in 2010, 2.25% in 2011, and to an expected 1.75% in 2012. Inflation ranged from 1.1% to 2.5% between 2004 and 2008. In 2009, it fell to 1.2% and remained low at 1.3% in 2010. Due to international developments including the rapid demand growth in emerging markets, the inflation rate grew by 2.3% in 2011 and is expected to maintain the same pace in 2012.
The Netherlands was one of the first EU member states to qualify for the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). Traditionally, Dutch fiscal policy sought to strike a balance between further reductions in public spending and lower tax and social security contributions. During the first half of the current decade, the government struggled to keep the budget deficit within the limit of 3% of GDP set by the EU’s Growth and Stability Pact. The government achieved a budget surplus of 0.5% in 2006, 0.2% in 2007, and 0.7% in 2008. This shifted to a deficit of 5.4% in 2009 as a result of the crisis, more specifically increased government spending on stimulus packages, unemployment benefits, and financial sector bailouts. The deficit remained the same in 2010, but improved to 4.2% in 2011. A deficit of 4.5% is projected for 2012, but the government is currently contemplating austerity measures that will allow the Netherlands to comply with the EU’s standards.. The government debt also increased rapidly from 45.5% in 2007 to 62.8% in 2010, and to 64.4% in 2011. The debt is expected to grow slowly to 64.5% in 2012.
In order to fight against the increasing government debt and deficit levels, the government announced it was going to cut spending by $26 billion by 2015. The largest austerity measures include the downsizing of government ($8.5 billion) and cutting back on ‘income transfers,’ i.e., subsidies including child daycare and rent subsidies ($6.1 billion). There are other significant cutbacks, for example, on defense, culture and innovation subsidies, and development cooperation.
Although the private sector is the cornerstone of the economy, the Netherlands has traditionally had an important and vibrant public sector. Despite the fact that the government still plays a significant role through permit requirements and regulations pertaining to almost every aspect of economic activity, the goal of the new government is to reduce significantly the administrative burden on business and shrink the public sector. The government had steadily reduced its role in the economy since the 1980s, but it was forced to become somewhat more active again as the economic downturn necessitated its intervention in the financial sector. The financial institutions that received government aid in the midst of the crisis have almost paid back all the loans. The exception is nationalized ABN Amro Bank that will not be re-privatized before 2013. The new government also aims to privatize the public transport companies in the largest cities. In general, the government’s ownership of private businesses continues to be limited.
Trade and Investment
The Netherlands, where the total of goods, imports and exports is greater than the GDP, had a record trade surplus of approximately $47 billion in 2007. In 2008, this surplus decreased to approximately $43.2 billion, and in 2009 to $42.2 billion. With the escalation of the international trade in 2010, the Dutch trade surplus grew to $57 billion. With no significant trade or investment barriers, the Netherlands remains a receptive market for U.S. exports and an important investment partner. The Netherlands is the ninth-largest destination for U.S. exports ($35 billion in 2010), as well as the third-largest direct investor in the United States. Dutch accumulated direct investment in the United States in 2009 was $238 billion. The same year, the Netherlands was the largest destination for U.S. direct investment abroad with approximately $471 billion, representing approximately 13% of the total foreign direct investments. There are more than 1,600 U.S. companies with subsidiaries or offices in the Netherlands. The Dutch are strong proponents of free trade and staunch allies of the U.S. in international forums such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Sectors of the Economy
Services account for about three-quarters of the national income and are primarily in transportation, distribution, logistics, and financial areas such as banking and insurance. Industrial activity generates about a fourth of the national product and is dominated by the metalworking, oil refining, chemical, and food processing industries. The agriculture and fisheries sector account for some 2% of GDP.
Although Dutch crude oil production is small, in 2009 the Netherlands was the second-largest producer and the second-largest net exporter of natural gas in Europe (both after Norway). At the beginning of 2010, the country had 1.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves; the government earns approximately $14 billion annually from gas exploration and extraction through taxes and other levies. The port city of Rotterdam is one of the world's major centers for crude oil imports, trading, refining, and petrochemical production. Key sources of imported petroleum products include Russia, Saudi Arabia and Norway. Domestic gas resources are forecast to run out by 2030. To remain an energy player after its own resources are depleted, the Netherlands is cultivating energy relationships with potential long-term supplier countries such as Algeria, Kazakhstan, Libya, Qatar, and--most importantly--Russia. For example, Dutch gas pipeline company Gasunie, wholly owned by the Dutch Government, holds a 9% stake in Gazprom’s Nord Stream pipeline, which will transport gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. The Netherlands’s goal is to become a gas “roundabout” for the Western Europe, meaning a hub that gathers natural gas from various sources (including the North Sea, Algerian and Qatari liquefied natural gas (LNG), and Russia), and then distributes it via pipeline to continental Europe.
The government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte began implementing fiscal consolidation measures in early 2011, mainly reductions in expenditures, which resulted in an improved budget deficit of 3.8% of GDP.
GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $705.7 billion (2011 est.)
GDP: (Official Exchange Rate): $858.3 billion (2011 est.)
GDP- per capita (PPP): $42,300 (2011 est.)
GDP- composition by sector:
services: 73% (2011 est.)
Industries: agroindustries, metal and engineering products, electrical machinery and equipment, chemicals, petroleum, construction, microelectronics, fishing
Currency: Euros (EUR)