The Netherlands' name reflects its low-lying topographywith more than
a quarter of its total area under sea level.
Now a constitutional monarchythe country began its independent life as a republic in the 16th centurywhen the foundations were laid for it to become one of the world's foremost maritime trading nations.
Although traditionally among the keener advocates of the European UnionDutch voters echoed those in France by spurning the proposed EU
constitution in a 2005 referendum.
The Netherlands has produced many of the world's most famous artists from Rembrandt and Vermeer in the 17th century to Van Gogh in the 19th and Mondrian in the 20th. It attracts visitors from across the globe.
Amsterdam: Much of the city lies ator belowsea level
After a longstanding policy of neutrality between Europe's great powersthe
bitter experience of invasion and occupation during World War II led the Netherlands to become a leading supporter of international cooperation.
Almost 20% of the total area of the Netherlands is waterand much of the land has been reclaimed from the North Sea in efforts which date back to medieval times and have spawned an extensive system of dykes.
It is one of the world's most densely populated nations. As in many European countriesover-65s make up an increasing percentage of that populationleading to greater demands on the welfare system.
After two decades of strong growth and low unemploymentthe economy ran into more troubled waters as global tradein which the Netherlands is a major playerslowed in the early years of the new millennium.
There was concern that Dutch society's longstanding tradition of tolerance was under threat when homosexual anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn was assassinated in 2002.
Anxiety over increased racial tension has intensified further since the murder in 2004 of Theo Van Gogh who had made a controversial film on the position of women in Islamic society. A violent extremist later confessed and was jailed for life.
After Mr Van Gogh's killingthe government hardened its line on immigration and failed asylum seekers.
- Full name: The Kingdom of the Netherlands
- Population: 16.6 million (UN2009)
- Capital: Amsterdam; seat of government: the Hague
- Area: 41,864 sq km (16,164 sq miles)
- Major language: Dutch
- Major religion: Christianity
- Life expectancy: 78 years (men)82 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 euro = 100 cents
- Main exports: Metal manufacturingchemicalsfoodstuffs
- GNI per capita: US $50,150 (World Bank2008)
- Internet domain: .nl
- International dialling code: +31
Head of state: Queen Beatrix
Prime minister: Jan Peter Balkenende
Queen Beatrix appointed Jan Peter Balkenende as head of a three-party centrist coalition in February 2007three months after general elections in November 2006.
Prime Minister Balkenende's former coalition sought to curb spending
Mr Balkenende's Christian Democrats govern with the Labour Party and the Christian Union.
He was forced to call early elections after his centre-right coalition collapsed in June 2006 in a row over immigration policy.
It was made up of the Christian Democratsthe free-market People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the small centrist party Democrats-66.
The new government is expected to slow the pace of economic reform; its predecessor had introduced austerity measures to tackle unemploymentslow growth and a budget deficit. Spending cuts and welfare reforms sparked street protests.
It is expected to take a softer line on immigration and has announced an
amnesty for many failed asylum seekers.
The administration includes the first Muslims to attain cabinet rank.
Mr Balkenende was 46 when he first became prime minister in 2002. He had never held cabinet office before and became leader of his party in parliament only in 2001. He holds a degree in economics and law and is a devout Calvinist.
The Dutch approach to public broadcasting is unique. Programmes are made by a variety of groupssome reflecting political or religious currents in societyothers representing interest groups. These organisations are allocated airtime on TV and radioin line with the number of members they have.
Public radio and TV channels face stiff competition from commercial stationswhich mushroomed after a 1988 law lifted the ban on commercial broadcasting.
The TV market is very competitive. Viewers have access to a wide range of domestic and foreign channelsthanks mainly to one of the highest cable take-up rates in Europe. Every province has at least one local public TV channel. The three national public TV stations enjoy high audience shares.
Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the constitutionas is free speech. Newspaper ownership is highly concentrated. Most titles are broadsheets; Dutch readers have not developed a taste for tabloid sensationalism.
- Algemeen Dagblad - nationaldaily
- NRC Handelsblad - nationaldaily
- De Telegraaf - nationaldaily
- De Volkskrant - nationaldaily
- Trouw - nationaldaily
- Het Parool - Amsterdam daily
- Het Financieele Dagblad - financial daily
- Elsevier - news weekly
- Vrij Nederland - news weekly
- NOS - oversees the country's three national public networks
- BVN TV - publicfor Dutch-speakers abroad
- RTL - commercialoperates RTL4RTL5RTL7 and RTL8
- SBS - commercialoperates SBS6Net5 and Veronica
- NOS - oversees public radio stationsincluding news and information station Radio 1music network Radio 2pop station 3FMcultural station Radio 4
- Radio Netherlands - international broadcasterlanguage services include English
- Sky Radio - popular commercial FM stationcontinuous music
- Radio 538 - popular commercial FM stationpop and dance music
- BNR Nieuwsradio - commercialnews
Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANP)
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