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.
Three equal horizontal bands of red (at the top), white and blue; similar to the flag of Luxembourg, which uses a lighter blue and is longer; the colours were those of William I, Prince of Orange, who led the Dutch Revolt against Spanish sovereignty in the latter half of the 16th century; originally the upper band was orange but, because it tended to fade to red over time, the red shade was eventually made the permanent colour; the banner is perhaps the oldest tricolour in continuous use.
Location: Western Europe, bordering the North Sea, between Belgium and Germany.
Geographic coordinates: 52 30 N, 5 45 E
Total area: 41,543 sq km
Total land area: 33,893 sq km
Total water area: 7,650 sq km
Land boundaries: 1,027 km
Border countries: Belgium 450 km, Germany 577 km
Rivers: Located at the mouths of three major European rivers (Rhine, Maas (or Meuse) and Schelde).
Coastline: 451 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea 12 nm; contiguous zone 24 nm; exclusive fishing zone 200 nm
Climate: Temperate; marine; cool summers and mild winters.
Terrain: Mostly coastal lowland and reclaimed land (polders); some hills in the southeast.
Lowest point: Zuidplaspolder -7 m
Highest point: Vaalserberg 322 m
Natural resources: Natural gas, petroleum, peat, limestone, salt, sand and gravel, arable land.
Land use: arable land 21.96 percent; permanent crops 0.77 percent; other 77.27 percent (2005)
Irrigated land: 5,650 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 89.7 cu km (2005)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): Total 8.86 cu km/yr (6 percent/60 percent/34 percent); per capita 544 cu m/yr (2001)
Natural hazards: Flooding
Environment issues: Water pollution in the form of heavy metals, organic compounds and nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates; air pollution from vehicles and refining activities; acid rain.
Environment agreements: Part 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.
Population: 16,847,007 (July 2011 est.)
Age structure: 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: 0.371% (2011 est.)
Birth rate: 10.23 births/1,000 population (2011 est.)
Death rate: 8.85 deaths/1,000 population (July 2011 est.)
Net migration rate: 2.33 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2011 est.)
Urban population: 83% of total population (2010)
Rate of urbanisation: 0.8% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)
Major city population:
Amsterdam (capital) 1.044 million; Rotterdam 1.008 million; The Hague (seat of government) 629,000 (2009) Sex ratio: at birth: 1.052 male(s)/female, under 15 years: 1.05 male(s)/female, 15-64 years: 1.02 male(s)/female,, 65 years and over: 0.76 male(s)/female, total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2011 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 4.59 deaths/1,000 live births, country comparison to the world: 191, male: 5.08 deaths/1,000 live births, female: 4.07 deaths/1,000 live births (2011 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 79.68 years, country comparison to the world: 35, male: 77.06 years, female: 82.44 years (2011 est.)
Total fertility rate: 1.66 children born/woman (2011 est.)
HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate: 0.2 percent (2009 est.)
People living with HIV/AIDS: 22,000 (2009 est.)
HIV/AIDS deaths: fewer than 100 (2009 est.)
Nationality: Noun Dutchman(men), Dutchwoman(women); adjective: Dutch
Ethnic groups: Dutch 80.7 percent; EU 5 percent; Indonesian 2.4 percent; Turkish 2.2 percent; Surinamese 2 percent; Moroccan 2 percent; Netherlands Antilles & Aruba 0.8 percent; other 4.8 percent (2008 est.)
Religions: Roman Catholic 30 percent; Dutch Reformed 11 percent; Calvinist 6 percent; other Protestant 3 percent; Muslim 5.8 percent; other 2.2 percent; none 42 percent (2006)
Languages: Dutch (official), Frisian (official)
Literacy (age 15+ can read and write): 99 percent (male 99 percent / female 99 percent) (2003 est.)
School-life expectancy (primary to tertiary education): 16 years (male 17 years / female 16 years) (2006)
Education expenditures: 5.3 percent of GDP (2005)
Country name: Conventional long form: Kingdom of the Netherlands; conventional short form: Netherlands; local long form: Koninkrijk der Nederlanden; local short form: Nederland.
Government type: Constitutional monarchy
Capital: Amsterdam (geographic coordinates 52 23 N, 4 54 E); time zone Central European Time (UTC+1); daylight saving time (+1hr) begins last Sunday in March, ends last Sunday in October. (Time descriptions apply to the continental Netherlands only, not to the Caribbean components.)
Seat of government: The Hague
Administrative divisions: 12 provinces (provincies, singular provincie); Drenthe, Flevoland, Friesland (Fryslan), Gelderland, Groningen, Limburg, Noord-Brabant (North Brabant), Noord-Holland (North Holland), Overijssel, Utrecht, Zeeland (Zealand), Zuid-Holland (South Holland).
Dependent areas: Aruba, Netherlands Antilles.
Independence: On 23 January 1579, the northern provinces of the Low Countries concluded 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).
National holiday: Queen's Day (Birthday of Queen-Mother Juliana and accession to the throne of her oldest daughter Beatrix), 30 April (1909 and 1980).
Constitution: Adopted 1815; amended many times, most recently in 2002.
Legal system: Based on civil law system incorporating French penal theory; constitution does not permit judicial review of acts of the States General; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction with reservations.
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal.
Legislative branch: Bicameral States General or Staten Generaal consists of the Eerste Kamer or First Chamber (75 seats; members indirectly elected by the country's 12 provincial councils to serve four-year terms) and the Second Chamber or Tweede Kamer (150 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms).
Judicial branch: Hoge Raad or Supreme Court (justices are nominated for life by the monarch).
Political parties and leaders: Christian Democratic Appeal or CDA [Maxime VERHAGEN]; Christian Union or CU [Andre ROUVOET]; Democrats 66 or D66 [Alexander PECHTOLD]; Green Left or GL [Jolande SAP]; Labor Party or PvdA [Job COHEN]; Party for Freedom or PVV [Geert WILDERS]; Party for the Animals or PvdD [Marianne THIEME]; People's Party for Freedom and Democracy or VVD [Mark RUTTE] (Liberal); Reformed Political Party of SGP [Kees VAN DER STAAIJ]; Socialist Party of SP [Emile ROEMER]; plus a few minor parties
Political pressure groups and leaders: Christian Trade Union Federation or CNV [Jaap SMIT]; Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers or VNO-NCW [Bernard WIENTJES]; Federation for Small and Medium-sized businesses or MKB [Loek HERMANS]; Netherlands Trade Union Federation or FNV [Agnes JONGERIUS]; Social Economic Council or SER [Alexander RINNOOY KAN]; Trade Union Federation of Middle and High Personnel or MHP [Richard STEENBORG]
International organization participation: ADB (nonregional member), AfDB (nonregional member), Arctic Council (observer), Australia Group, Benelux, BIS, CBSS (observer), CE, CERN, EAPC, EBRD, EIB, EMU, ESA, EU, FAO, FATF, G-10, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICCt, ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, ITUC, MIGA, NATO, NEA, NSG, OAS (observer), OECD, OPCW, OSCE, Paris Club, PCA, Schengen Convention, SECI (observer), UN, UNAMID, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNMIS, UNRWA, UNTSO, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO, ZC
Diplomatic representation in the US:chief of mission: Ambassador Regina "Renee" JONES-BOS chancery: 4200 Linnean Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 telephone:  (202) 244-5300,  877-388-2443 FAX:  (202) 362-3430
Diplomatic representation from the US: Chief of mission: Ambassador (vacant); Charge d'Affaires Michael Gallagher; embassy: Lange Voorhout 102, 2514 EJ, The Hague; mailing address: PSC 71, Box 1000, APO AE 09715
telephone:  (70) 310-2209; fax:  (70) 361-4688; consulate(s) general: Amsterdam.
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. After 26 years of uninterrupted economic growth, the Netherlands' economy - which is highly open and dependent on foreign trade and financial services - was hard-hit by global economic crisis. Dutch GDP contracted 3.9% in 2009, while exports declined nearly 25% due to a sharp contraction in world demand. The Dutch financial sector has also suffered, due in part to the high exposure of some Dutch banks to U.S. mortgage-backed securities. In response to turmoil in financial markets, the government nationalized two banks and injected billions of dollars into a third, to prevent further systemic risk. The government also sought to boost the domestic economy by accelerating infrastructure programs, offering corporate tax breaks for employers to retain workers, and expanding export credit facilities. The stimulus programs and bank bailouts, however, resulted in a government budget deficit of nearly 4.6% of GDP in 2009 and 5.6% in 2010 that contrasts sharply with a surplus of 0.7% of GDP in 2008. With unemployment weighing on private-sector consumption, the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte is likely to come under increased pressure to keep the budget deficit in check while promoting economic recovery.
GDP (purchasing power parity): USD 680.4 billion (2010 est.) country comparison to the world: 22
USD 669 billion (2009 est.) USD 696.1 billion (2008 est.) note: data are in 2010 US dollars
GDP (official exchange rate): USD 770.3 billion (2010 est.)
GDP real growth rate: 1.7% (2010 est.)
GDP per capita (PPP): USD 40,500 (2010 est.)
GDP composition by sector: agriculture: 2.6%, industry: 24.9%, services: 72.4% (2010 est.)
Labor force by occupation: agriculture: 2%, industry: 18%, services: 80% (2005 est.)
Unemployment rate:5.5% (2010 est.)
Population below poverty line: 10.5% (2005)
Household income or consumption by percentage share: Lowest 10 percent: 2.5 percent; highest 10 percent: 22.9 percent (1999)
Distribution of family income (Gini index): 30.9 (2007)
Investment (gross fixed): 18% of GDP (2010 est.)
Budget: revenues: $356 billion, expenditures: $399.3 billion (2010 est.)
Public debt: 64.6% of GDP (2010 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 1.1% (2010 est.)
Central bank discount rate: 1.75% (31 December 2010)
Commercial bank prime lending rate: 10.01% (31 December 2009 est.)
Stock of domestic credit: USD 1.616 trillion 31 December 2008; USD 1.684 trillion 31 December 2007
Market value of publicly traded shares: USD 542.5 billion (31 December 2009)
Agriculture products: Grains, potatoes, sugar beets, fruits, vegetables; livestock
Industries: Agroindustries, metal and engineering products, electrical machinery and equipment, chemicals, petroleum, construction, microelectronics, fishing
Industrial production growth rate: 3.2% (2010 est.)
Electricity production: 108.2 billion kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity consumption: 124.1 billion kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity exports: 10.56 billion kWh (2009 est.)
Electricity imports: 15.45 billion kWh (2009 est.)
Oil production: 57,190 bbl/day (2009 est.)
Oil consumption: 922,800 bbl/day (2009 est.)
Oil exports: 1.66 million bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil imports: 2.426 million bbl/day (2008 est.)
Proved oil reserves: 100 million bbl (1 January 2010 est.)
Natural gas production: 79.58 billion cu m (2009 est.)
Natural gas consumption: 48.6 billion cu m (2009 est.)
Natural gas exports: 55.59 billion cu m (2009 est.)
Natural gas imports: 24.6 billion cu m (2009 est.)
Proved natural gas reserves: 1.416 trillion cu m (1 January 2010 est.)
Current account balance: $46.69 billion (2010 est.)
Exports: $451.3 billion (2010 est.)
Export commodities: Machinery and equipment, chemicals, fuels; foodstuffs.
Export partners:Germany 25.54%, Belgium 12.49%, France 9.27%, UK 8.17%, Italy 5.07%, US 3.97% (2009). Imports: USD 408.4 billion (2010 est.)
Import commodities: Machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, fuels, foodstuffs, clothing.
Import partners: Germany 17.16%, China 11.58%, Belgium 8.68%, US 7.77%, UK 5.72%, Russia 4.47%, France 4.4% (2009).
Reserves of foreign exchange and gold: USD NA (31 December 2010 est.).
External debtl: USD NA (30 June 2010), USD 3.733 trillion (31 December 2009)
Stock of direct foreign investment at home: USD 726.9 billion (2008 est.)
Stock of direct foreign investment abroad: USD 872.5 billion (2008 est.)
Exchange rates: euros (EUR) per US dollar - 0.755 (2010) 0.7198 (2009) 0.6827 (2008) 0.7345 (2007) 0.7964 (2006)
Telephone lines in use: 7.32 million (2009)
Mobile telephones: 21.182 million (2009)
Telephone system: Highly developed and well maintained. Domestic: extensive fixed-line fiber-optic network; large cellular telephone system with 5 major operators utilizing the third generation of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) technology; one in five households now use Voice over the Internet Protocol (VoIP) services international: country code - 31; submarine cables provide links to the US and Europe; satellite earth stations - 5 (3 Intelsat - 1 Indian Ocean and 2 Atlantic Ocean, 1 Eutelsat, and 1 Inmarsat (2007).
Broadcast media: More than 90% of households are connected to cable or satellite TV systems that provide a wide range of domestic and foreign channels; public service broadcast system includes multiple broadcasters, 3 with a national reach and the remainder operating in regional and local markets; 2 major nationwide commercial television companies, each with 3 or more stations, and a large number of commercial TV stations in regional and local markets; nearly 600 radio stations operating with a mix of public and private stations providing national or regional coverage (2008).
Internet country code: .nl (punt n l)
Internet hosts: 12.607 million (2010)
Internet users: 14.872 million (2009)
Airports: 27 (2008)
Airports with paved runways: Total: 20, over 3,047 m: 2, 2,438 to 3,047 m: 9, 1,524 to 2,437 m: 3, 914 to 1,523 m: 5, under 914 m: 1 (2010).
Airports with unpaved runways: Total: 7, 914 to 1,523 m: 3, under 914 m: 4 (2010)
Heliports: 1 (2010)
Pipelines: Gas 4,413 km; oil 365 km; refined products 716 km (2010).
Railways: total: 2,896 km country comparison to the world: 58 standard gauge: 2,896 km 1.435-m gauge (2,064 km electrified) (2009)
Roadways (paved): 136,827 km (includes 2,582 km of expressways) (2008)
Waterways: total: 706
country comparison to the world: 15
By type: bulk carrier 1, cargo 464, carrier 21, chemical tanker 57, container 73, liquefied gas 19, passenger 17, passenger/cargo 15, petroleum tanker 5, refrigerated cargo 10, roll on/roll off 21, specialized tanker 3
foreign-owned: 217 (Australia 1, Denmark 36, Finland 14, France 2, Germany 92, Ireland 7, Italy 9, Japan 1, Norway 18, Sweden 18, UAE 4, US 15)
registered in other countries: 240 (Antigua and Barbuda 18, Australia 1, Bahamas 22, Belize 1, Cambodia 1, Canada 1, Cyprus 24, Gibraltar 33, Liberia 35, Luxembourg 2, Malta 2, Marshall Islands 16, former Netherlands Antilles 52, Panama 8, Paraguay 1, Philippines 18, Portugal 1, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 2, Singapore 1, unknown 1) (2010) .
Ports and terminals: Amsterdam, IJmuiden, Rotterdam, Terneuzen, Vlissingen
Military branches: Royal Netherlands Army, Royal Netherlands Navy (includes Naval Air Service and Marine Corps), Royal Netherlands Air Force (Koninklijke Luchtmacht, KLu), Royal Military Police (2010).
Military service age and obligation: 20 years of age for an all-volunteer force (2004)
Manpower available for military service: Males aged 16-49 3,950,825; females aged 16-49 3,850,800 (2008 est.)
Manpower fit for military service: Males age 16-49: 3,911,098 females age 16-49: 3,817,031 (2010 est.). Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually: Male 105,194; female 100,341 (2009 est.)
Military expenditure: 1.6 percent of GDP (2005 est.)
International disputes: None
Illicit drugs: Major European producer of synthetic drugs, including ecstasy, and cannabis cultivator; important gateway for cocaine, heroin, and hashish entering Europe; major source of US-bound ecstasy; large financial sector vulnerable to money laundering; significant consumer of ecstasy.
Source: CIA World Factbook (May 2011)
Further reading: An introduction to the Netherlands
A guide to telephone, internet and television along with utility services water, electricity and gas in the Netherlands.
Lost in the Dutch immigration system? Look no further than this guide compiled for our Survival Guide 2012.
Expatica offers a whistle-stop tour of life in the modern Netherlands.
The challenges and benefits of the maternity system in the Netherlands and how it differs to other countries.