|Monarch||King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands|
|Prime minister||Mark Rutte|
|Area||41,526 km² (18,41% water)|
|Population 2009 estimate||16,515,057|
|GDP per capita||$35,078|
|Currency||Euro (€) (EUR)|
|International dialing code||31|
|Internet top-level domain||.nl|
The Netherlands (Dutch: Nederland) is a country in the European Union in northwestern Europe, north of Belgium and France. It is a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It is bordered by Belgium and Germany, and has a total population of 16.5 million (2009). Its system of government is constitutional monarchy. The country is often referred to as "Holland", which was originally the name of two densely populated provinces of the country (North-Holland and South-Holland). The cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague all lie in these provinces, that have always been the most influential regions in the Netherlands. The official language is Dutch and the people are referred to in English as Dutchmen or collectively as the Dutch.
The major ethnic groups in the Netherlands are Dutch 94%, Surinamese 2%, Asians 2% and others 2%.
The term "Netherlands" means "low country," and it is a very low-lying country. About a quarter of the land area, containing more than half of the population, is actually below sea level, and would flood if the sea were not held back by a system of dikes. The Dutch have a saying that "God created the earth, but the Dutch made Holland".
A major breach of the dikes occurred in 1953, killing 1800 people. To avoid a repeat of the disaster the Dutch began construction of the "Delta Project" to protect the country from future inundations. Begun in 1953 and completed in 2002 the Delta Project is considered a modern wonder of civil engineering. After Hurricane Katrina, a delegation of American engineers was invited by the Dutch government to see how the project works and how its technology can be applied in the United States for low-lying cities like New Orleans.
Amsterdam, named for the Amstel river, is the largest city, and the capital of the Netherlands. Amsterdam is ringed by an extensive system of concentric canals. The seat of government, however, is located for historical reasons in The Hague (Den Haag).
Eindhoven, a city of the southern province of Brabant, is the location of the giant electronics corporation, Philips (full name: Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V.), with annual revenue equivalent to about $40 billion. (The U.S. corporation General Electric has revenues of about $150 billion, but much of it is from non-electronics businesses). The Eindhoven area is known for its high concentration of high-tech industires, which include ASML, the world primary producer of lithography system for the production of semiconductors, and Océ, a leading producer of printers and copiers.
Groningen is home to many branches of KPN, the former state company of Post, Telegraphy and Telephony. It had its headquarters in Groningen when it was still state run, and move to The Hague since. KPN stands for Koninklijke PTT Nederland, or Royal PTT Netherlands. Groningen is also home to Gasunie (Gasunion), a public-private partnership that exploits the natural gas reseves in the province of Groningen and the adjoint North Sea.
Arnhem is a city in Gelderland, lying on the north bank of the Lower Rhine river. It was the scene of a major battle during Operation Market Garden in September 1944, when British and allied paratroop forces captured its strategic road bridge before being overwhelmed by German forces in the area.
Utrecht is a city of the central province of Utrecht. It is the seat of a bishopric and is a major communications hub and rail center. With a population of 290,000, it is the fourth largest city in the Netherlands. The city is best known as the site of lengthy peace negotiations to end the Wars of Spanish Succession in the 18th century. The resulting peace, called the Treaty of Utrecht, was signed in April of 1713.
Hoek van Holland ("Hook of Holland", literally 'corner of Holland') is a port in South Holland, and is administratively part of the city of Rotterdam. It lies at the outflow of the Nieuwe Waterweg canal and the North Sea, and is the base for ferry services to Harwich in eastern England.
Flevoland is the youngest of the twelve provinces, having the least population (ca. 360,000). It was created in 1986 on two polders: just 80 years ago, there was no dry land but the Zuidersee. Its capital is Lelystad.
Friesland is a coastal province in the north, home to the Frisian language and people.
Gelderland borders Germany to the east, and extends north to the Ijsselmeer. Gelderland includes the major cities of Nijmegen and Arnhem, as well as the extensive heathland known as the Veluwe, now a national park.
North Brabant is often referred to as Brabant, as there is no south Brabant in the Netherlands. The southern part of the former duchy of Brabant (including the important cities of Antwerp and Louvain) now belongs to Belgium. While Eindhoven is the biggest city in North Brabant, its capital is 's-Hertogenbosch.
The Netherlands is the home of the Anglo-Dutch oil company Royal Dutch Shell . Other well known Dutch or partly Dutch multinationals are Unilever, a company owning many household brands, ING Group, a banking group, Ahold, an international chain of supermarkets, Reed Elsevier, a publishing house, Nielsen Company, owner of the Yellow Pages, and Randstad Holding, a company providing human resource services. The famous Dutch East India Company, which dominated trade in with South-East Asia in the 17th century, is regarded as the first multinational in history.
The Netherlands has long been famous for its production of flowers, and also for a related economic event, the "tulip mania" of 1636-1637. Tulips were traded on stock exchanges, and bid up to fantastic prices by people who understood that the prices were crazy but hoped to sell at a profit to even crazier investors. Many people mortgaged their homes for a single tulip bulb and in one case an entire brewery was exchanged for a few bulbs. As with all economic bubbles, when bidding began to lag people tried to sell and the bubble burst with disastrous consequences. Since then the Dutch have been renowned for their carefulness with money and have established a significant presence in the banking and financial sectors.
The Netherlands is noted for its low-crime rate (although comparable to other western European nations) and libertarian legislation. Examples are licensed prostitution in designated areas of major cities, such as Amsterdam's Red Light District, the legal soft drugs sold in the country's many coffee shops, abortion rights, same-sex marriages and euthanasia.
Consuming and carrying (for personal use only) the "soft drugs" (marijuana, hashish and hallucinogenic mushrooms) were made legal in the Netherlands in 1976 in a final attempt to stop drug-related crime in the 1970s. Soft drugs can be legally purchased by individuals over 18 in the famed (licensed) coffee shops, that do sell coffee as well, but are prohibited from serving alcohol. The Dutch policy regarding soft drugs (and previously prostitution) is called "gedoogbeleid" (condonement policy). This means that although certain behavior is officially prohibited by law, a condonement clause prevents law enforcement agencies from prosecuting this behavior. This clause is, legally speaking, not a law and can be reverted much easier than a regular law.
The main reason for this policy is to try to split the market for "soft drugs" from the one for "hard drugs", this to avoid that users "upgrade" from soft to "hard drugs" (the latter are still illegal). So in short, the law tries to prevent citizen's exposure to hard drugs by providing a legal context in which to purchase cannabis. The policy also allows the police to focus on the war on hard drugs and criminal trade, and avoid the exhaustive bureaucratic costs associated with low-profile possession busts. In fact, most major cities in the world have similar non-prosecution policies, but the Dutch one is the only nationwide one.
Growing marijuana and hashish for commercial purposes is still officially illegal (it is legal to own up to four plants per household), causing coffee shop owners to rely on illegal homegrown products. Only two state run companies are exempted from this rule in order to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes. Leftist movements have stated that the government should make its mind up: "either make growing marijuana and hashish legal, or ban soft drugs altogether".
Some argue that the legal status of soft drugs has had no significant adverse effects on Dutch society.[Who says?] This is probably due to the fact that it has become a more or less socially accepted drug like alcohol and tobacco, removing the need for dealers and effectively terminating cannabis' status as an anti-establishment symbol, and in effect diminishing its' popularity somewhat amongst youth. Some disagree:
- The head of Holland’s best-known drug abuse rehabilitation center has described what the new drug culture has created: The strong form of marijuana that most of the young people smoke, he says, produces "a chronically passive individual—someone who is lazy, who doesn’t want to take initiatives, doesn’t want to be active—the kid who’d prefer to lie in bed with a joint in the morning rather than getting up and doing something." 
April 30th is known as Queen's Day - the national holiday to mark the official birthday of the monarch. This is actually the birthday of former Queen Juliana (Queen Beatrix's mother) but has been kept as the official holiday because of the better weather (King Willem-Alexander's actual birthday is 27 April). From 2014 shall Willem-Alexander's birthday be introduced as the new national holiday. Queen's Day is the one day of the year when ordinary Netherlanders are permitted to sell goods on the streets without a license. Consequently the whole country is turned into a gigantic flea market (garage sale). The primary effect of this is that people buy goods they do not want or need, solely in order to sell them the following year. In an act of patriotism, most of the populace wear orange colored clothing (the national color) to identify with the Royal House Of Orange-Nassau.
Those not involved with selling their surplus belongings celebrate the national holiday at outdoors parties in the cities or with fine weather, spend the free day on a terrace of a pub, or cycle in the national Fietsen op Dijken tour around the nation's dikes.
Anne Frank was a famous Jewish girl who hid from Nazis in the house of friends in Amsterdam. She wrote a diary which was later published and became a best seller. Her family left Germany in 1933 because of the Nazis, but the Nazis caught up with her and sent her to Belsen death camp where she died before end of war in 1945. Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam is now a popular tourist attraction.
Same sex marriage has been recognized by the Dutch government since 2001. Furthermore, legal prostitution, euthanasia, abortion and its drug policy (see above) make The Netherlands the most liberal country in the world by most standards. Religion was once the dominant factor in Dutch society and politics, but since the 1970s plays a secondary role in society, with only 9% of the population being Protestant (2009) and just under 30% are Roman Catholics. There is, however, a rising Muslim population (4%) which has caused social strains. An overall decline in religion can be seen as of 2004. These days The Netherlands are considered one of the least churchgoing countries in Europe.
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