The Netherlands (Nederland in Dutch) is a country in the northwest of Europe. It borders the North Sea, Belgium and Germany. It is also refered to by the collective name of its two main provinces: Holland.
Head of state is Queen Beatrix of the House of Orange-Nassau. (See also the Dutch monarchy). Formally, she appoints the members of the government. In practice, she normally appoints, after each election, the choices of the leader of the biggest political party in the parliament.
The parliament consists of two houses. Elections for the Lower House take place every four years, or earlier when the Lower House has taken a no confidence motion against the government. The next elections will take place in May 2002.
Political scientists consider the Netherlands a classic example of a consociational state.
The Netherlands are divided into 12 provinces:
It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, having 16 million inhabitants on a piece of land of about 300 by 150 kilometers (approx. 41,000 square kilometers). One remarkable aspect of the Netherlands is the flatness of the country. About half the country is less than 1 meter above sea level, some parts of it are actually below sea level. The highest point, the Vaalserberg, is 321m high. The low areas are protected by dikes and sea walls. Much of the land, for example the whole of Flevoland, has been reclaimed from the sea - these areas of reclaimed land are known as polders.
The predominant wind direction in the Netherlands is southwest, which causes a moderate maritime climate, with cool summers and mild winters.
Local time is UTC+1. (From the last sunday in March till the last sunday in October: UTC+2).
- April 30 - Queen's day
- May 5 - Liberation day
- December 5 - Saint Nicholas Eve (Sinterklaas), the Dutch predecessor of Santa Claus
There are two official languages: Dutch and the Frisian language, which is spoken in the northern province of Friesland. Main religions are Catholicism (18% in 1999) and Protestantism (15%). 63% of the Dutch don't consider themselves as member of a church.
The Dutch are known as a tolerant people. Their image abroad is mainly based on trade, tulips, windmills, wooden shoes, cheese (Edam, Gouda, Leiden, Limburger) and Delftware pottery. More recently the socially libertine Dutch policies on drugs, prostitution, gay marriage and euthanasia have received international attention; Amsterdam is widely perceived abroad as a 'naughty' city.
Some famous Dutch painters were
From the CIA World Factbook 2000.