Situated in Western Europe, the Netherlands is a small (41,528 km²), densely populated country with 16.8 million inhabitants. The Netherlands borders Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest, sharing maritime borders with Belgium, the United Kingdom and Germany. The Netherlands’ name literally means ‘Low Country’, influenced by its low land and flat geography, with only about 50% of its land exceeding one meter above sea level.
Most of the areas below sea level are man-made. Since the late 16th century, large areas (polders) have been reclaimed from the sea and from lakes, amounting to nearly 17% of the country’s current land mass. Three major European rivers (the Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt) mouth through the Netherlands into the North Sea and form a major delta. Struggling against the water for centuries, the Dutch have developed a water system consisting of dikes, polders and dams.
The Netherlands is a founding member of the EU, the Eurozone, G-10, NATO, OECD, WTO and part of the trilateral Benelux economic union. With open borders in the EU and through the creation of a single European market, the EU wants more competition and a greater number of consumers. Of all the European countries, the Netherlands benefits most from the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital, thanks to its position as a distributer.
The country was one of the first in the world to have an elected parliament, and since 1848 it has been governed as a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy, organized as a unitary state. As there are many political parties, there has always been a coalition government, which makes it a country of compromises. The Netherlands has a long history of social tolerance and is generally regarded as a liberal country. Its most important cities are the capital Amsterdam, The Hague, which holds the Dutch seat of government and parliament, and Rotterdam with the largest port of Europe.
It has a market-based mixed economy, a high per capita income and is ranked in the top 10 happiest countries in the world, reflecting its high quality of life. Three quarters of the population works in the tertiary sector, a quarter in the industrial sector and only 4% in agriculture. Other major industries include chemicals, metallurgy, machinery, electrical goods, and tourism. Examples of international companies operating in Netherlands include Randstad, Unilever, Heineken, ING Group, AKZO Nobel, Shell, Philips, ASML and Aegon.
The key trading partners of the Netherlands are Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom, United States, France, Italy, China and Russia. The Netherlands is one of the world’s 10 leading exporting countries and second largest exporter of food and agriculture products, after the United States. This is due to the fertility of the soil and the mild climate. The predominant wind direction in the Netherlands is south-west, which causes a moderate maritime climate, with cool summers and mild winters, and typically high humidity. This is especially true close to the Dutch coastline, where temperatures can be more than 10 °C (18 °F) higher (in winter) or lower (in summer) than in the (south) east of the country.
The majority of the population of the Netherlands is ethnically Dutch (an estimate of 80.9% Dutch, 2.4% Indonesian, 2.4% German, 2.2% Turkish, 2.0% Surinamese, 1.9% Moroccan, 0.8% Caribbean, part of the Dutch Kingdom, and 7.4% others). The official language is Dutch, which is spoken by the vast majority of the inhabitants. The Netherlands has a tradition of learning foreign languages, formalized in Dutch education laws. Some 87% of the total population indicate they are able to converse in English, 70% in German, and 29% in French. English is a mandatory course in all secondary schools. In lower and higher level secondary school educations, one or, respectively, two additional modern foreign language are mandatory during the first years of education. Besides English, the standard modern languages are French and German, although schools can replace one of these modern languages with Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, or Russian.
On average, the percentage of higher educated people in the Netherlands is 28%, however, in the age category 30-34 years, 42% has a higher education. With these numbers, the Netherlands already achieved the Europe 2020 strategy challenge of having more than 40% of higher educated people in this age group.