Netherlands country profile

Map of 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, during a long struggle with Hapsburg Spain, 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.

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.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands consists of four countries, Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten and the Netherlands – which comprises some 98% of the Kingdom’s land area and population and administers most of its affairs.


  • Capital: Amsterdam, (government) The Hague
  • Area: 41,850 sq km
  • Population: 17.7 million
  • Languages: Dutch, also West Frisian, Papiamento, English
  • Life expectancy: 79 years (men) 83 years (women)


Head of state: King Willem-Alexander

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima wave from the palace balcony in The Hague
Image caption,King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima wave from the palace balcony in The Hague

King Willem-Alexander became the first Dutch male monarch in more than a century in April 2013 when his mother Beatrix abdicated to end a 33-year reign.

The generational change in the House of Orange-Nassau gave the Netherlands a moment of celebration and pageantry at a time of recession brought on by the European economic crisis.

The much-loved Beatrix ended her reign in a nationally televised signing ceremony as thousands of orange-clad people cheered outside. Her retirement followed in the tradition of her mother and grandmother.

Prime minister: Talks underway to form new government

Geert Wilders
Image caption,Geert Wilders’ victory has sent tremors around Europe

Former Prime Minister Mark Rutte is serving as a caretaker leader peending the outcome of talks to form a coalition government following the November 2023 general election. Veteran anti-Islam populist leader Geert Wilders won a dramatic victory when his Freedom party (PVV) became the biggest party in parliament.

Mr Rutte announced his government’s resignation in July 2023 when his coalition failed to agree on how to handle increasing migration.

Mr Wilders’ win has shaken Dutch politics and has also sent tremors across Europe, but to fulfil his pledge to be “prime minister for everyone”, he will have to persuade other parties to join him in a coalition. His target is 76 seats in the 150-seat parliament.

The Dutch coalition process tends to take several months before a government is formed.

Centre-right VVD leader Dilan Yesilgöz, whose VVD party came third in the vote, has said she would not take part in the next administration because Dutch voters had given a “clear signal”.

Without the liberals, Mr Wilders will struggle to make up the 76 seats needed to form a majority. The only other major potential partners are the newly formed centrist New Social Contract and the centre-right Farmer Citizens Movement.


Dutch newspaper front pages

The Dutch approach to public broadcasting is unique. Programmes are made by groups which reflect political or religious currents, or other interests. These organisations are allocated airtime on TV and radio, in line with the number of members they have.

Public radio and TV face stiff competition from commercial stations. 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.


The Binnenhof Palace in The Hague along the Hohvijfer canal
Image caption,The Netherlands parliament building in The Hague

Some key dates in the history of the Netherlands:

1396-1467 – Most of what is now the Netherlands and Belgium is eventually united by the Duke of Burgundy, Phillip the Good.

1477 – Region increasingly comes under Hapsburg control.

1500-1558 – Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and Archduke of Austria, King of Spain and Lord of the Netherlands as titular Duke of Burgundy. Born in Ghent he turned rule of the region over to his Spanish relatives.

16th Century – The Protestant Reformation rapidly gains ground in the Netherlands and much of northern Europe. But Charles V and later Philip II consider it a threat to the political system.

c.1566-1648 – The Eighty Years’ War or Dutch Revolt. Amid growing resistance to centralised Hapsburg rule, Philip II sends in troops to crush the rebellion and make all the Netherlands Catholic once more.

Spanish troops reconquer the southern Netherlands, now Belgium, but fail to completely suppress the rebels.

1579 – Protestant-dominated Dutch Republic established.

1609-1621 – Twelve Years’ Truce: facing military stalemate and increasing financial costs, both sides agree to a halt to the fighting.

1621-1648 – Fighting resumes as part of the wider European Thirty Years’ War. In 1648 Spain recognises the Dutch Republic, while retaining the southern Netherlands, in the Peace of Münster, part of the Peace of Westphalia.

1652-1674 – As major rivals in world trade and naval power, the Dutch Republic and England fight three naval wars in the 17th Century.

1672 – The “Disaster Year” for the Dutch Republic. England declares war (the Third Anglo-Dutch War), followed by France, Münster and Cologne – which then invade. The country’s leader, Johan de Witt and his brother Cornelis are lynched and a William III is appointed the country’s ruler.

1688 – William III invades England at the invitation of Protestant British nobles feuding with the Catholic James II. This leads to the “Glorious Revolution” confirming the principle of parliamentary rule and Protestant ascendency in England.

William becomes co-monarch with his wife Mary, James’ eldest daughter. This secures England as a critical financial and military ally in the Republic’s long-standing wars with Louis XIV of France.

1785-1815 – French-Batavian period: The French Revolution sees first a pro-French Batavian Republic, then the Kingdom of Holland, ruled by a member of the House of Bonaparte, and finally annexation by the French Empire.

1815 – Modern Kingdom of the Netherlands, which includes what is now Belgium and Luxembourg, emerges after the defeat of Napoleonic France.

1830 – Belgium secedes from the Netherlands.

1839 – Netherlands recognises Belgian independence in the Treaty of London. Luxembourg became a fully independent country.

1914-1918 – The Netherlands maintains its neutrality during World War One.

1932 – A 31km dam is completed across the Zuider Zee forming a freshwater lake known as the Ijsselmeer. Part of the lake has since been drained and the reclaimed land used to grow crops.

1940 – Nazi Germany invades. The Dutch Royal Family flees to England, accompanied by the Dutch cabinet. The Dutch army is overwhelmed and the Netherlands surrenders.

1944 – As Allied forces advance towards Germany, the Netherlands becomes the site of bitter fighting.

1945 – The occupation ends with the surrender of German forces in the Netherlands. The Netherlands goes on to become a charter member of the United Nations.

1948 – Benelux customs union between Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands comes into effect.

1949 – The Dutch East Indies, which had been occupied by Japan during World War Two, becomes independent as Indonesia after a four-year independence struggle against Dutch colonial authorities.

1949 – The Netherlands abandons its policy of neutrality and joins Nato.

1952 – The Netherlands is a founding member of the European Coal and Steel Community, which becomes the European Economic Community five years later in 1957 with the Treaty of Rome.

1963 – Colony of Netherlands New Guinea is ceded to Indonesia.

1975 – Dutch colony of Surinam achieves independence. Hundreds of thousands of Surinamese emigrate to the Netherlands.

1980 – Queen Juliana abdicates; Beatrix becomes queen.

2002 – The Netherlands adopts the euro.

Widespread shock as anti-immigration party leader Pim Fortuyn is killed by gunman.

2003 – Animal rights activist Volkert van der Graaf sentenced to 18 years for Fortuyn killing.

2004 – Queen mother Juliana dies, aged 94. Juliana reigned for 32 years from 1948.

Film-maker Theo Van Gogh is murdered. He was reported to have received death threats after his controversial film about the position of women in Islamic society. A radical Islamist is jailed for life for the murder in 2005.

2010 – The Netherlands Antilles is dissolved and Aruba, Curacao, St Maarten become nations within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba, became autonomous special municipalities of the Netherlands.

2013 – Queen Beatrix abdicates; her son Willem-Alexander becomes king.

2014 – Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur is shot down over Ukraine, close to the border with Russia.

2018 – Parliament votes overwhelmingly in favour of recognising the massacres of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman troops in 1915 as genocide.

The Dutch port of Rotterdam is the largest in Europe.

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