Information about The Netherlands
For detailed general information about the Netherlands, visit "Overview".
For the most up-to-date figures, please visit the website of CBS: http://www.cbs.nl/
Historical accounts of the Netherlands date from the 1st century BC, when Roman forces conquered Germanic and Celtic tribes inhabiting the area. Under Roman rule, peace and prosperity prevailed for more than 250 years. About AD 300 German tribes invaded from the east. The Franks, the most powerful of the invaders, subjugated local tribes and converted them to Christianity. By 800 the territory was ruled by Charlemagne, the greatest of the Frankish kings. During the 9th and 10th centuries, Scandinavian Vikings frequently raided the coastal areas and sailed far up the rivers. These raids led to the emergence of fortified towns. In the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries, the area became an important trading center, and wealthy merchants in the towns challenged the power of the nobles who ruled the countryside. The Netherlands and the surrounding area, known as the Low Countries, passed from the control of the dukes of Bourgogne during the early 16th century into the hands of the Habsburg emperor Charles V, who held territories throughout Europe. In 1555 Charles granted control of Spain and the Netherlands to his son, Philip II, whose oppressive rule led to a war of independence waged by the Dutch from 1568 to 1648.
A well-organized Protestant church movement developed in the Netherlands, and the disaffection with Catholic Spain coincided with the Protestant revolt against the Roman Catholic church. In 1566 anti-Catholic riots spread across the country. Philip sent Spanish troops, whose harsh actions resulted in open revolt. William I, prince of Orange, led the revolt and eventually took control of most northern towns. In 1579 the Union of Utrecht, an alliance of all northern and some southern territories, was formed. The provinces that joined the union would become the Netherlands; those that did not would become Belgium. In 1581 the Union of Utrecht proclaimed independence from Spain. The new nation suffered a series of reverses in the war with Spain, but eventually the tide turned. In 1648 the Spanish recognized the sovereignty of the Dutch Republic.
About 1600 a merchant expedition of three vessels sailed from Amsterdam to Indonesia, the first of numerous journeys that resulted in lucrative Dutch trading stations throughout the world. By the mid-17th century the Netherlands was the foremost commercial and maritime power of Europe, and Amsterdam was the financial center of the continent. Inevitably, the Dutch and the English, the leading maritime trading nations, came into conflict. Two Anglo-Dutch Wars were waged during the 1650s and 1660s. Other wars, costly in lives and money, followed against England and France.
Eventually the Dutch Republic was overshadowed by the expanding power of Great Britain at sea and France on land. In the late 18th century a struggle broke out between conservatives and those who desired democratic reforms. The conflict became moot after Napoleon I incorporated the Low Countries into the French Empire in 1810. After the fall of Napoleon, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was restored, with the addition of the territory that is now Belgium, but the union was short-lived. In 1830 the Belgians revolted and established their independence.
The second half of the 19th century witnessed a liberalization of government. Suffrage was gradually extended, the administration of the colonies was reformed, and agitation for social reform increased. From about 1880 to 1914 the Netherlands enjoyed an era of economic expansion. During World War I (1914-1918), the nation suffered hardship through loss of trade as a result of the Allied blockade of the Continent. During World War II (1939-1945), the Netherlands was occupied by the Germans and suffered heavy destruction. The years following the war were marked by intensive efforts to rebuild the country and to restore trade and industry. In the colonies, the Netherlands lost a war against nationalists in Indonesia, which gained its independence in 1949. Netherlands New Guinea gained its independence in 1962; Suriname in 1975. Since the 1960s coalition governments have ruled the Netherlands, led in the 1960s by the Roman Catholic People's Party, from 1973 to 1977 by the Labor Party, and from 1977 to 1994 by the Christian Democratic Party. The Labor Party assumed control of the Dutch government again in 1994. In 1995 the Dutch battled serious flooding when rivers throughout northwestern Europe overflowed. Damages and evacuation expenses were estimated at more than $1 billion.
The Netherlands and the Dutch
The Netherlands is situated in the lowlands of Northwest Europe between 50°45' and 53°52' latitude and 3°21' and 7°13' longitude. It is flanked to the north and west by the North Sea, to the east by Germany and to the south by Belgium. The country covers 41,526 square kilometers. Belgium is a little smaller than the Netherlands, but Germany is nearly nine times its size.
The capital is Amsterdam, the seat of government is in The Hague. Rotterdam is the biggest port in the world and Schiphol Airport one of the most modern and biggest airports in Europe.
The name the Netherlands refers to the low-lying nature of the country(nether means low). Its highest point is the Vaalserberg hill in the south east, which reaches 321 meters above sea level. Many areas in the north and west, constituting more than 25% of the total area of the country, are below sea level. The lowest point near Rotterdam is some 6.7 meters below sea level. The name Holland is frequently used instead of the Netherlands, but it actually refers to the two Western coastal provinces, North and South Holland, which have played an important role in the country's history.
The Netherlands has been plagued by flooding throughout its history and the Dutch have had to fight a constant battle against the sea, culminating in the Zuyder Zee and Delta Projects. Thanks to the sea, however, the fishing industry and trade have flourished, and the fact that the Netherlands is situated on the estuaries of three major Western European rivers, the Rhine, the Maas and the Scheldt, has greatly enhanced its position as a trading country.
In its economic activities the Netherlands has always been strongly outward looking. It has had major ports since the Middle Ages, with a hinterland stretching across large parts of Western and Central Europe. But not only trade and transport benefit by good relations with other countries. Many companies in the agricultural and industrial sectors use imported raw materials, fuels and additives and their products often find their way back over the borders.
The Netherlands lies in the temperate zone of the Northern Hemisphere. The proximity of the sea and the warm North Atlantic Gulf Stream ensure a temperate maritime climate. The temperature therefore does not fluctuate greatly in the course of a day or a year. The average temperature as measured by the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute in De Bilt, fluctuates between 2 °C in January and 17 °C in July. This does not imply that extreme temperatures never occur. The lowest temperature ever recorded in the Netherlands was -24.8 °C and the highest +36.8 °C. Precipitation is fairly evenly distributed over the year, although spring is usually dryer than autumn. About 800 millimeters of rain fall each year.
Variations in climate between regions are small. The distance of more than 300 kilometers from north to south does have some influence on temperature, and the influence of the sea decreases towards the east. The average number of summer days (maximum temperature reaching at least 25 °C) varies from less than five on the Wadden Islands in the north to more than 35 °C in the southern province of Limburg.
The Netherlands experiences both advantages and disadvantages from its climate, to which the agricultural sector and traffic are the most exposed. The mild, damp climate favors the pastures needed for stock breeding, as it does horticulture in the coastal regions, where there is less frost than inland. There is however too little sunshine in summer for the production of certain types of crop. Shipping suffers very little hindrance from ice during the mild winters.
The soil of the upper Netherlands (east and south) was formed during the Pleistocene age (the period of ice ages which ended around 10,000 years ago). This soil consists mostly of sand and gravel. The soil of the lower Netherlands (west and north) is more recent. This was deposited during the Holocene period (less than 10,000 years ago) and consists largely of clay and peat. These differences are readily apparent from the landscape.
The upper Netherlands is more hilly and alternates between woods and heaths. The lower Netherlands consists largely of flat polders, areas surrounded by dikes where the water table is regulated artificially. In the past this was done with the help of windmills, but now pumping stations are used.
This part of the country is crisscrossed by countless rivers and canals, important for both shipping and water management. Although the Netherlands is a very small country, its landscapes vary widely. Human intervention has played a great part in this, firstly in various measures to make and keep the land habit able, including the building of dikes, land reclamation and the draining of bogs. Farming then led to land division, tillage and the building of farms and villages.
Water control and land reclamation:
More than 25% of the area of the Netherlands is below sea level, so an effective system of water control is needed to keep the land dry and habitable for the many people 60% of the population that live in these low lying areas. Sea water can, however, flood the land via estuaries and inlets and as a result of infiltration, and an excess of melt and rainwater in Central Europe can cause the great rivers to burst their banks. Modern pumping stations work day and night to drain off excess water.
The Zuyder Zee Project:
The most renowned example of land reclamation was the closure of the Zuyder Zee in the thirties, which entailed the construction of the 30 kilometer long closure dike (Afsluitdijk) connecting the provinces of Friesland and North Holland. The dam transformed the Zuyder Zee into an inland sea, which gradually became a freshwater lake (the IJsselmeer). Four enormous polders were drained in the IJsselmeer, with a gain of 165,000 hectares of new land. The two oldest the Wieringermeer Polder and the North East Polder are used for agriculture. The newest, Southern Flevoland, is mainly used for housing, employment and recreation to alleviate some of the congestion in the Randstad conurbation. Eastern Flevoland combines all three functions, being used for agriculture, housing and employment. This polder contains Lelystad, the provincial capital of Flevoland.
The last occasion that the sea launched a fierce attack on the land was on February 1st 1953, when a combination of spring floods and heavy storms put large areas in the south-western part of the country under water. This disaster, which cost hundreds of lives, underlined the urgency of completing the Delta Project, the plan to construct a network of barriers closing off the estuaries in the south west. All the estuaries have now been closed, with the exception of the New Waterway and the Western Scheldt, which remain open to allow shipping access to the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp (in Belgium).
The Eastern Scheldt basin has been closed off by means of a storm surge barrier which is over 3,200 meters long, and is made up of piers between which steel gates are suspended. Under normal conditions the gates remain open and permit the sea to flow in and out of the Eastern Scheldt; in stormy weather they are lowered to protect the estuary from high water levels. This method of closure was chosen to conserve the shellfish in the Eastern Scheldt which depend on tidal movement to survive. On 4 October 1986, Queen Beatrix officially opened the storm surge barrier in the Eastern Scheldt, marking the official completion of the Delta Project. The inland lakes which have been created will safeguard arable land from further becoming brackish. They will also be used for recreation purposes. .
The Netherlands currently has a population of over 16 million. This number was around 5 million in 1900. The country covers a total area of 41,526 square kilometers. As this figure not only includes land but also rivers, canals and lakes, each square kilometer accommodates an average of 449 people, making the Netherlands one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The most densely populated area is the Randstad conurbation in the west of the country, which centres around the cities of Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht.
Most people (62%) are between 20 and 65 years old, 25% are younger than 20 and 13% are older than 65. The birth rate dropped from 18.3 per thousand in 1970 to 13.2 per thousand in 1991. The death rate fluctuates between 8 and 8.6 per thousand. Net gain through migration (the number of immigrants less the number of emigrants) has increased since the early sixties.
Up to the sixties, the Netherlands was a country from which people mostly emigrated. More people sought homes elsewhere than entered the country. The situation has now changed, under the influence of four different migration flows: the migration and remigration of Dutch nationals from the former overseas territories (including migration among people of Surinamese, Antillean and Aruban origin); migration among foreign workers from the Mediterranean area (followed by family reunification and migration for marriage); migration among foreign EU subjects; increasing numbers of refugees and asylum seekers. In 1991, around 700,000 of the total population of 15 million were foreign nationals.
The number of foreign nationals settling in the Netherlands is increasing each year. Since the mid eighties at least 20,000 more people have entered the country each year than have left it while this figure increased sharply in 1990 and 1991 to 48,700 and 50,000 respectively. The majority around 40,000 each year come to be reunited with their families.
Originally, those involved were usually non-Dutch men who were joined by the wives and children. Now, however, more and more Dutch men and women are bringing their foreign partners into the country. In addition, more than 21,000 foreign nationals applied for asylum in 1990 and 1991. In 1991, 2,695 asylum seekers were granted a residence permit.
Some 500 to 600 refugees are invited to enter the country each year. This is part of the country's contribution towards housing refugees unable to return to their country of origin or settle in a neighboring country. Since the Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, it has to pursue a restrained admissions policy. Foreign nationals are admitted if they require protection, as in the case of refugees, have the right of entry on the basis of international treaties, or when their admission is deemed genuinely to serve the national interest. Active integration policies mean that any foreign national admitted has the chance to play a full part in Dutch society.
The Dutch language:
Dutch is the first language of more than 21 million Dutch and Flemish people. Dutch is thus a middle ranking language, roughly the 30th largest in the world. Dutch is one of the nine official languages of the European Union. There are 60,000 Dutch speakers in Northwest France. Dutch is spoken in the Netherlands Antilles, Aruba and Surinam, chiefly as the language of government and education. Antillean, Aruban and Surinamese literature has been written in Dutch. Historical links mean that Dutch is mostly used in Indonesia by lawyers, the military and historians. 17th century Dutch dialects provided the basis for Afrikaans, which is spoken in South Africa. Dutch has also exerted an influence on other languages, particularly in the areas of shipping, water technology and agriculture.
In French speaking Belgium, northern France and Germany, many school students opt for Dutch as a second language. In addition, Dutch is taught at almost 250 universities around the world. The Flemish and the Dutch organize summer courses in Dutch as a foreign language. In the past few years, Dutch has become the second language of foreign nationals living in the Netherlands, such as Moroccans, Turks and Spaniards. Their children learn Dutch and are also taught their mother tongue at school. In 1982, the Netherlands and Flanders set up an organization which draws up guidelines for government policy on Dutch. The Dutch Language Union, which has a unique position as an intergovernmental organization, works on the position of Dutch in the world and draws up rules for spelling and grammar.
Friesian is spoken as a second language in the province of Friesland. This minority language is the first language of around 400,000 Friesians and has much in common with languages such as English.
The Reformation gave rise to a divide in the Netherlands. The area north of a line running roughly from the province of Zeeland in the south west to the province of Groningen in the north east was predominantly Protestant, while the area to the south of that line was predominantly catholic. The Protestant community is further divided into a great number of groupings, such as the Re formed Church, freethinkers and Lutherans. The influence of the church in the Netherlands has been on the decline since around 1950. The tradition of adherence to the religion of one's parents has disappeared. This has resulted in secularization among both Protestants and Catholics in the past few decades. Though the majority of Dutch people are no longer members of a church, religious communities still exert a strong influence on social affairs. The number of Moslems and Hindus in the Netherlands has in creased as a result of immigration from countries like Morocco, Turkey, Indonesia and Surinam, and the constitution guarantees freedom of religion.
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs