The Netherlands, officially Kingdom of the Netherlands, is a constitutional monarchy located in Northwest Europe. The Netherlands Antilles is part of the state and consists of islands in the Caribbean. The Netherlands is often called Holland after a historic region, part of the present day nation. The country is bounded on the North and West by the North Sea, on the East by Germany, and on the South by Belgium. Land is scarce in the Netherlands and is fully exploited. The natural landscapes have been altered over the centuries. The average January temperature is 35 degrees F and the mean July temperature is 63 degrees F. The Netherlands was considered to be lacking in natural resources. Salt is produced and in the 1950s and 60s, great natural gas reserves were discovered in Groningen Province.
The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries of the world. The Dutch make up the great majority of the nations inhabitants. They are mostly descended from the Franks, Frisians, and Saxons. According to a 1994 estimate, the Netherlands had a population of 15,401,000, an increase of about 17.9% over the 1971 census total. The overall population was about 961 persons per sq. mile. The nation is heavily urbanized; about 27% of the people live in cities of more than 100,000 inhabitants, and another 62% inhabit smaller cities and towns. The largest cities are, the capital, Amsterdam; one of the worlds leading seaports, Rotterdam; the nations administrative center, The Hague; and a manufacturing hub, Utretch. The official language of the Netherlands is Dutch, which is spoken throughout the country. Roman Catholics constitute about 33% and Protestants about 25% of the Dutch population. From the time of the reformation the 16th century, the Netherlands has had a high level of basic education and comparatively high literacy rates.
The Netherlands has played a major role in the European economy for many centuries. Since the 16th century, shipping, fishing, trade, and banking have been leading sectors of the Dutch economy. A diversified manufacturing base was created as employment in agriculture fell and the country became a major energy exporter as large deposits of natural gas were discovered. Most firms are privately owned even though the government distributes about 40% of the Dutch national income. From 1965 to 1980, the gross domestic product of the Netherlands grew at an average yearly rate of 3.8%, about equal to that of neighboring countries of continental Europe. Between 1980 and 1992, the GDP increased by only 2.3% annually. About 23% of the GDP is produced by manufacturing and energy related activities; about 16% by trade; about 9% by public utilities, transportation, and communications; 6% by construction; 4% by agriculture; and 42% by the service sector. The annual gross national product in the early 1990s was about $20,480.
The Dutch currency unit is the guilder, or gulden (1.89 guilders equal a U.S. $1, 1998). As of January 1, 1999, the Netherlands adopted the Euro, the common currency of the European Union, at a fixed conversion rate of 2.20371 guilders to one Euro. De Nedelandsche Bank, the Dutch central bank, is a full participant in the European System of central banks. Amsterdam is the leading center of Dutch banking and insurance and the home of the countrys principal stock exchange.
The Dutch economy is fully open to world trade. Much of the flow of goods into its ports is intended for transshipment to other countries, mainly members of the EU. Major imports are machinery and transport equipment (about 32% of total imports), basic and miscellaneous manufactured goods (30%), food and live animals (11%), chemicals (11%), and crude petroleum (6%). Leading exports of the country are manufactured goods (24%), machinery and transport equipment (24%), food and live animals (18%), chemicals (16%), and mineral fuels (9%). Members of the EU account for most Dutch imports and exports. Germany is the most important single trading partner, accounting for about 27% of Dutch trade. More than 3.9 million foreigners visit the Netherlands every year. The Dutch also enjoy traveling and they generally spend nearly twice as much abroad as foreigners spend in the Netherlands.