Country profile:The Netherlands

The Netherlands’ name reflects its low-lying topography, with more than a quarter of its total area under sea level. Now a constitutional monarchy, the country began its independent life as a republic in the 16th century, when 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 Union, Dutch voters echoed those in France by spurning the proposed EU constitution in a 2005 referendum.

Overview Overview Facts Leaders Media 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 at, or below, sea level

After a longstanding policy of neutrality between Europe’s great powers, the 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 water, and 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 countries, over-65s make up an increasing percentage of that population, leading to greater demands on the welfare system.

After two decades of strong growth and low unemployment, the economy ran into more troubled waters as global trade, in which the Netherlands is a major player, slowed 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 killing, the government hardened its line on immigration and failed asylum seekers.

Facts

Overview Facts Leaders Media

Full name: The Kingdom of the Netherlands Population: 16.5 million (UN, 2008) 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 manufacturing, chemicals, foodstuffs GNI per capita: US $45,820 (World Bank, 2007) Internet domain: .nl International dialling code: +31

Leaders Overview Facts Leaders Media 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 2007, three 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 Democrats, the 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 unemployment, slow 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.

Media

Overview Facts Leaders Media The Dutch approach to public broadcasting is unique. Programmes are made by a variety of groups, some reflecting political or religious currents in society, others representing interest groups. These organisations are allocated airtime on TV and radio, in line with the number of members they have.

Public radio and TV channels face stiff competition from commercial stations, which 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 channels, thanks 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 constitution, as is free speech. Newspaper ownership is highly concentrated. Most titles are broadsheets; Dutch readers have not developed a taste for tabloid sensationalism.

The press

Algemeen Dagblad – national, daily NRC Handelsblad – national, daily De Telegraaf – national, daily De Volkskrant – national, daily Trouw – national, daily Elsevier – news weekly Vrij Nederland – news weekly Television

NOS – oversees the country’s three national public networks BVN TV – public, for Dutch-speakers abroad RTL – commercial, operates RTL4, RTL5, RTL7 and RTL8 channels SBS – commercial, operates SBS6, Net5 and Veronica channels

Radio

NOS – oversees public radio stations, including news and information station Radio 1, music network Radio 2, pop station 3FM, cultural station Radio 4 Radio Netherlands – international broadcaster, language services include English Sky Radio – popular commercial FM station, continuous music Radio 538 – popular commercial FM station, pop and dance music

News agency

Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANP)

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