Netherlands country facts

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Here are some facts about the Netherlands, which holds general elections on Wednesday.

- GEOGRAPHY: Bordered by Belgium to the south and Germany to the east. Its northern and western shores face the North Sea.

- SURFACE AREA: 41,526 square kilometres (16,033 square miles), of which 7,643 sq km is water. Twenty-six percent of of the land is below sea level.

- POPULATION: 16.58 million as at January 2010. The Dutch are the world's tallest people (average 1.82 metres for men).

- CAPITAL: Amsterdam (pop. 760,000) is the capital but The Hague is the seat of government.

- RELIGION: Catholic (29 percent), Protestant (19 percent), Muslim (five percent) and 42 percent non-religious.

- HISTORY: Recognised as a republic independent from Spain in 1648, the Netherlands was occupied by France in 1795 and became a monarchy in 1806 before regaining independence in 1813. It was briefly united with Belgium from 1815 to 1830, and was occupied by Germany from 1940 to the end of World War II in 1945.

It was a founding member of what later became the European Union and belongs to the UN, OECD and the Council of Europe.

- POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS: The Netherlands is a constitutional and hereditary monarchy. The head of state since 1980 is Queen Beatrix. A 150-seat lower house of parliament is directly elected every four years on the basis of proportional representation. The last government led by a centre-left coalition under Christian Democrat Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende fell in February 2010 in a spat over the Netherlands' continued military role in Afghanistan.

- ECONOMY: The Dutch economy relies heavily on exports. It is the EU's third biggest gas supplier and the world's biggest flower exporter. Rotterdam is Europe's biggest and the world's fourth biggest commercial sea port in terms of trade volumes.

Unemployment was 5.9 percent in the three months ending April 2010.

GDP amounted to 569.8 billion euros in 2009, about 34,400 euros per person.

- ARMED FORCES: The Netherlands has about 48,000 soldiers, some 2,000 of whom are deployed in Afghanistan under a NATO-led force. Their withdrawal will begin in August.


© 2010 AFP

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