| U.S. Department of State
Netherlands, April 1996
Bureau of Public Affairs
AT A GLANCE
Official Name: Kingdom of the Netherlands
Area: 41,473 sq. km. (16,464 sq. mi.).
Capital--Amsterdam (pop. 1.1 million). Others--The Hague, seat of government,
(pop. 695,000); Rotterdam, the world's busiest port (1 million); Utrecht
Terrain: Coastal lowland.
Climate: Northern maritime.
Population: 15.4 million.
Nationality: Noun--Dutchmen and
Ethnic groups: Predominantly Dutch; largest
minority communities are Moroccans, Turks, Surinamese, and Indonesians.
Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant, other, and non-affiliated.
Education: Years compulsory--10. Attendance--nearly 100%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--6/1,000. Life expectancy--78 yrs.
Work force: 6.5 million. Services--50%. Industry--28%. Government-- 16%.
Type: Parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarch.
Constitution: 1814 and 1848.
Branches: Executive--monarch (chief of
state), prime minister (head of government), cabinet. Legislative--bicameral
parliament (First and Second Chambers). Judicial--Supreme Court.
Subdivisions: 12 provinces.
Political parties: Christian Democratic Appeal
(CDA), Labor Party (PvdA), Liberal Party (VVD), Democrats '66 (D'66), other
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP (1995): $350 billion.
GDP growth rate (1995): 3%.
GDP per capita (1995): $23,000.
Natural resources: Natural gas, petroleum,
Agriculture (4% of GDP): Products--dairy, poultry, meat,
flower bulbs, cut flowers, vegetables and fruits, sugar beets, potatoes, wheat,
Industry (25% of GDP): Types--steel, metal products, electronics,
bulk chemicals, natural gas, petroleum products, transport equipment.
Trade (1995): Exports--$146 billion: mineral fuels, chemical products,
machinery and transport equipment, foodstuffs. Imports--$134 billion: mineral
fuels and crude petroleum, machinery, chemical products, foodstuffs. Major
trading partners--EU, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, U.K., U.S.
Exchange rate (1995): 1.60 Dutch guilders=U.S. $1.
The Dutch are primarily of Germanic stock with some Gallo-Celtic
mixture. Their small homeland frequently has been threatened with destruction
by the North Sea and often has been invaded by the great European powers.
Julius Caesar found the region which is now the Netherlands
inhabited by Germanic tribes in the first century BC. The western portion was
inhabited by the Batavians and became part of a Roman province; the eastern
portion was inhabited by the Frisians. Between the fourth and eighth centuries
AD, most of both portions were conquered by the Franks. The area later passed
into the hands of the House of Burgundy and the Austrian Hapsburgs. Falling
under harsh Spanish rule in the 16th century, the Dutch revolted in 1558 under
the leadership of Willem of Orange. By virtue of the Union of Utrecht in 1579,
the seven northern Dutch provinces became the Republic of the United
During the 17th century, considered its "golden era," the
Netherlands became a great sea and colonial power. Among other achievements,
this period saw the emergence of some of painting's "Old Masters," including
Rembrandt and Hals, whose works--along with those of later artists such as
Mondriaan and Van Gogh--are today on display in museums throughout the
The country's importance declined, however, with the gradual loss
of Dutch technological superiority and after wars with Spain, France, and
England in the 18th century. The Dutch United Provinces supported the Americans
in the Revolutionary War. In 1795, French troops ousted Willem V of Orange, the
Stadhouder under the Dutch Republic and head of the House of Orange.
Following Napoleon's defeat in 1813, the Netherlands and Belgium
became the "Kingdom of the United Netherlands" under King Willem I, son of
Willem V of Orange. The Belgians withdrew from the union in 1830 to form their
own kingdom. King Willem II was largely responsible for the liberalizing
revision of the constitution in 1848.
The Netherlands prospered during the long reign of Willem III
(1849- 90). At the time of his death, his daughter Wilhelmina was 10 years old.
Her mother, Queen Emma, reigned as regent until 1898, when Wilhelmina reached
the age of 18 and became the monarch.
The Netherlands proclaimed neutrality at the start of both world
wars. Although it escaped occupation in World War I, German troops overran the
country in May 1940. Queen Wilhelmina fled to London and established a
government-in-exile. Shortly after the Netherlands was liberated in May 1945,
the Queen returned. Crown Princess Juliana acceded to the throne in 1948 upon
her mother's abdication. In April 1980, Queen Juliana abdicated in favor of her
daughter, now Queen Beatrix. Crown Prince Willem Alexander was born in 1967.
Elements of the Netherlands' once far-flung empire were granted
either full independence or nearly complete autonomy after World War II.
Indonesia formally gained its independence in 1949, and Suriname became
independent in 1975. The five islands of the Netherlands Antilles (Curacao,
Bonaire, Saba, St. Eustatius, and a part of St. Maarten) are an integral part
of the Netherlands realm but enjoy a large degree of autonomy. Aruba, which had
been a part of the Netherlands Antilles, was granted in January 1986 a separate
status within the kingdom on par with, but apart from, the Netherlands
The present constitution--which dates from 1848 and has been
amended several times--protects individual and political freedoms, including
freedom of religion. Although church and state are separate, a few historical
ties remain; the royal family belongs to the Dutch Reformed Church
(Protestant). Freedom of speech also is protected.
The country's government is based on the principles of
ministerial responsibility and parliamentary government. The national
government comprises three main institutions: the crown, the States General,
and the courts. There also are local governments.
The Crown. The monarch is the titular head of state. The Queen's
function is largely ceremonial, but she does have some influence deriving from
the traditional veneration of the House of Orange--from which Dutch monarchs
for more than three centuries have been chosen; the personal qualities of the
Queen; and her power to appoint the formateur, who forms the Council of
Ministers following elections.
The Council of Ministers plans and implements government policy.
Most ministers also head government ministries, although ministers without
portfolio exist. The ministers, collectively and individually, are responsible
to the States General (parliament). Unlike the British system, Dutch ministers
cannot simultaneously be members of parliament.
The Council of State is a constitutionally established advisory
body to the government which consists of members of the royal family and
crown-appointed members generally having political, commercial, diplomatic, or
military experience. The Council of State must be consulted by the cabinet on
proposed legislation before a law is submitted to the parliament. The Council
of State also serves as a channel of appeal for citizens against executive
States General (Parliament). The Dutch parliament consists of two
houses, the First Chamber and the Second Chamber. Historically, Dutch
governments have been based on the support of a majority in both houses of
parliament. The Second Chamber is by far the more important of the two houses.
It alone has the right to initiate legislation and amend bills submitted by the
Council of Ministers. It shares with the First Chamber the right to question
ministers and state secretaries.
The Second Chamber consists of 150 members, directly elected for
a four-year term--unless the government falls prematurely--on the basis of a
nationwide system of proportional representation. This system means that
members represent the whole country--rather than individual districts as in the
United States--and are normally elected on a party slate, not on a personal
basis. There is no threshold for small- party representation. Campaigns usually
last six weeks, and each party is limited to a budget of about $600,000. The
electoral system makes a coalition government almost inevitable. The most
recent elections for the Second Chamber were held in May 1994.
The First Chamber is composed of 75 members elected for four-year
terms by the 12 provincial legislatures. It cannot initiate or amend
legislation, but its approval of bills passed by the Second Chamber is required
before bills become law. The First Chamber generally meets only once a week,
and its members usually have other full-time jobs. The current First Chamber
was elected following provincial elections in March 1995.
Courts. The judiciary comprises 62 cantonal courts, 19 district
courts, five courts of appeal, and a Supreme Court which has 24 justices. All
judicial appointments are made by the crown. Judges nominally are appointed for
life but actually are retired at age 70.
Local Government. The first-level administrative divisions are
the 12 provinces, each governed by a locally elected provincial council and a
provincial executive appointed by members of the provincial council. The
province is formally headed by a queen's commissioner appointed by the crown.
Defense Forces. The defense structure of the Netherlands
comprises the Ministry of Defense and the various branches of the armed forces.
Political responsibility for the defense of the Netherlands lies with the
minister of defense and the state secretary for defense.
The Royal Netherlands Armed Forces has a peacetime strength of
about 85,500 military and civilians. The Royal Netherlands Army takes part in
the new German-Netherlands Corps and in numerous international peacekeeping
efforts. The Army features an elite Air Mobile Brigade supported by a range of
transport and attack helicopters. The Royal Netherlands Navy is composed of
escort ships, submarines, maritime patrol aircraft, helicopters, a mine
countermeasure force, and a Marine Corps, as well as the necessary supporting
elements. Priority has been given to anti-submarine warfare, with emphasis on
air defense and surface warfare. The weapons systems of the Royal Netherlands
Air Force are primarily fighter aircraft and surface-to-air guided weapons.
From the end of World War II until December 1958, the Netherlands
was governed by a series of coalitions built on a Labor-Catholic base. From
1958 to 1994, governments were formed primarily from a center- right coalition
of the Christian Democrats and the Liberals, with the social
democratic-oriented Labor Party generally in opposition.
The current government, formed in August 1994, is a three-way
"Purple Coalition" of the Labor (PvdA), Liberal (VVD), and Democrats '66 (D'66)
parties headed by Prime Minister Kok of the PvdA. The coalition parties hold 92
of the 150 seats in the Second Chamber. The Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA)
is in opposition with 34 seats. Eight minor parties hold the remaining 24
seats. Descriptions of the four main parties follow.
The Labor Party, a European social democratic party, is left of
center. Labor has 37 seats in the current Second Chamber, which makes it the
largest party. The party joined the VVD and D'66 in the "Purple Coalition" to
form the present government, after having spent the past five years in an
alliance with the CDA. Labor's program is based on greater social, political,
and economic equality for all citizens, although in recent years the party has
begun to debate the role of central government in that process. Although called
the Labor Party, it has no formal links to the trade unions.
The Christian Democratic Appeal was formed from a merger of the
Catholic People's Party and two Protestant parties, the Anti- Revolutionary
Party and the Christian-Historical Union. The merger process, begun in the
early 1970s to try to stem the tide of losses suffered by religiously based
parties, was completed in 1980. It supports free enterprise and holds to the
principle that government activity should supplement but not supplant communal
action by citizens. On the political spectrum, the CDA sees its philosophy as
standing between the "individualism" of the Liberals and the "statism" of the
Labor Party. The CDA won 34 seats in the 1994 parliamentary elections, which
was a significant drop from its previous 54. For the first time in 76 years,
the CDA is not a governing party.
The Liberal Party is "liberal" in the European, rather than
American, sense of the word. It thus attaches great importance to private
enterprise and the freedom of the individual in political, social, and economic
affairs. The VVD is generally seen as the most conservative of the major
parties. The VVD was the junior partner in two governing coalitions with the
CDA from 1982-89, and is now in the three- way coalition with 31 seats in the
Democrats '66, once the largest of the "small" parties in the
Dutch parliament, has grown in size and influence. The electoral fortunes of
D'66 have fluctuated widely since the party's founding in 1966. The 24 seats it
currently holds are double the average of the party's showing over the last 20
years. D'66 is a center-left party, generally portrayed as between the CDA and
PvdA, with its strongest support among young, urban, professional voters. It
professes a pro-European platform of ethnic and religious toleration. D'66 is
currently a governing party.
Domestic Drug Policy
Although prosecuting international drug traffickers is a top
national priority, the operation in the Netherlands of "coffeehouses" selling
cannabis products--of under 30 grams--is tolerated, albeit under strict
criteria and increasing government scrutiny. And while drugs are not legal in
the Netherlands, Dutch policy treats domestic drug use as a health issue,
stressing prevention and treatment.
The legal basis of Dutch domestic drug policy is the Opium Act of
1919 (amended in 1928 and 1976). In addition to permitting authorities to treat
drug use as a health problem, Dutch law also permits them to divide
responsibility for implementing and enforcing the Opium Act between the Health
and Justice Ministries.
The Opium Act distinguishes between "drugs presenting
unacceptable risks"--i.e. "hard drugs" such as heroin and cocaine--"and
traditional hemp products"--called "soft drugs." The law imposes penalties for
the possession, sale, transport, trafficking, and manufacture of all drugs
listed in the Opium Act, except for medical or scientific purposes. Drug
consumption, per se, is not prohibited.
The Netherlands spends about $200 million on health care for
people with various types of addictions; about 40% of this funding goes to drug
addicts. To combat the spread of the HIV among drug users, the Netherlands has
extensive needle exchange programs.
Principal Government Officials
Head of State--Queen Beatrix
Prime Minister--Willem Kok
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs--Hans van Mierlo
Ambassador to the U.S.--Adriaan Jacobovits de Szeged
Ambassador to the
UN--Niek H. Biegman
The Netherlands' embassy in the U.S. is at 4200 Wisconsin Ave.,
NW, Washington, DC 20016; tel: 202-244-5300; fax: 202-362-3430.
The Netherlands abandoned its traditional policy of neutrality
after World War II. The Dutch have since become engaged participants in
international affairs. Dutch foreign policy is geared to promoting a variety of
goals: transatlanticism; European integration; Third World development; and
respect for international law, human rights, and democracy.
As a relatively small country, the Netherlands generally pursues
its foreign policy interests within the framework of multilateral
organizations. The Netherlands is an active and responsible participant in the
United Nations system as well as other multilateral organizations such as the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development (OECD), WTO, and International Monetary Fund. A
centuries-old tradition of legal scholarship has made the Netherlands the home
of the International Court of Justice; the Iran Claims Tribunal; the Yugoslavia
and Rwanda War Crime Tribunals; and the European police organization, Europol.
Dutch security policy is based primarily on membership in NATO,
which the Netherlands joined in 1949. The Dutch also pursue defense cooperation
within Europe, both multilaterally--in the context of the Western European
Union--and bilaterally--as in the German- Netherlands Corps. In recent years,
the Dutch have become significant contributors to United Nations peacekeeping
efforts around the world.
The Dutch have been strong advocates of European integration, and
most aspects of their foreign, economic, and trade policies are coordinated
through the EU. The Netherlands' postwar customs union with Belgium and
Luxembourg (the Benelux group) paved the way for the formation of the European
Community (precursor to the EU), of which the Netherlands was a founding
member. Likewise, the Benelux abolition of internal border controls was a model
for the wider Schengen accord, which today has 10 European
signatories--including the Netherlands--pledged to common visa policies and
free movement of people across common borders.
The Netherlands is the fourth-largest foreign aid donor, giving
about 1% of its gross national product in development assistance. The country
consistently contributes large amounts of aid through multilateral channels,
especially the UN Development Program, International Development Association,
and EU programs. A large portion of Dutch aid funds also are channeled through
private ("co- financing") organizations that have almost total autonomy in
choice of projects.
In 1995, Dutch development assistance--as defined by the
OECD--was about $4 billion. The policy priorities of Dutch aid for 1995 were
the environment, women in development, urban poverty alleviation, and research.
Dutch aid is also targeted on emergency aid, programs for the private sector,
and international education.
The Netherlands is a member of the European Bank for
Reconstruction and Development, which recently initiated economic reforms in
Central Europe. The Dutch strongly support the Middle East Peace Process and
contributed $22 million in 1994 to international donor- coordinated activities
for the occupied territories and also for projects in which they worked
directly with Palestinian authorities. These projects included improving
environmental conditions and support for multilateral programs in cooperation
with local non-governmental organizations. In 1995, the Dutch provided
significant amounts of aid to Bosnia and Rwanda, among others.
The United States' partnership with the Netherlands is its oldest
continuous relationship and dates back to the American revolution. The
excellent bilateral relations are based on close historical and cultural ties
and a common dedication to individual freedom and human rights. An
outward-looking nation, the Netherlands shares with the U.S. a commitment to an
open market and free trade. It is the United States' eighth-largest export
President Clinton invited Prime Minister Kok to Washington for an
official working visit on February 27 and 28, 1995. Issues such as NATO, the
UN, narcotics policy, trade relations, and international crises were discussed,
and the meeting demonstrated the characteristic friendly atmosphere and good
trade and political relations between the U.S. and the Netherlands.
The United States and the Netherlands often have similar
positions on issues and work together bilaterally and through the UN and other
multilateral organizations on matters concerning NATO, trade and economic
cooperation, and regional and global problems.
International Drug-Trafficking Control
Narcotics trafficking is one such global problem. The Netherlands
is considered an important transit point for narcotics; it has a major
international airport hub, and Rotterdam is the world's largest container port.
The Dutch Government has been working to tighten controls on its airports and
The Dutch work closely with other countries, including the U.S.,
on international programs against drug trafficking and organized crime. The
Netherlands is a signatory to international counter-narcotics agreements, a
member of the UN International Drug Control Program and UN Commission on
Narcotic Drugs, and a leading contributor to international counter-narcotics
The Netherlands plays a major role in international environmental
forums and often cooperates closely with the United States. The Dutch were
among the first to join the GLOBE Project, initiated by Vice President Gore,
under which schools around the world cooperate in collecting environmental data
and entering it into a computer network for use by scientists and other
researchers. The Clinton administration works closely with the Dutch on climate
change, biodiversity issues, global deforestation, the sustainable development
of rainforests, ozone layer depletion, and the environmental aspects of the
Middle East Peace Process.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Kirk Terry Dornbush
Deputy Chief of
Mission--William P. Pope
Political Counselor--Bronson Percival
Economic Counselor--Jack Croddy
Commercial Counselor--Rafael Fermoselle
Administrative Counselor--Wajat Iqbal
Agriculture Counselor--Steven Yoder
Affairs Counselor (USIS)--Karl Olssen
Consul General, Amsterdam--John Shearburn
The U.S. embassy is located at Lange Voorhout 102, 2514 EJ The
Hague; tel: 31-70-310-9209; fax: 31-70-361-4688. The consulate general is at
Museumplein 13, 1071 DJ Amster-dam; tel: 31-20-5755- 309; fax: 31-20-5755-310.