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The Netherlands: country overview

04 July 2012
by Ina Dimireva -- last modified 29 January 2017

The Netherlands was a founding member of the EEC (now the EU) and participated in the introduction of the euro in 1999. The most important sectors of the Netherlands’ economy in 2015 were public administration, defence, education, human health and social work activities (21.8 %), wholesale and retail trade, transport, accommodation and food services (21.0 %) and industry (15.4 %). The Netherlands’ main export partners are Germany, Belgium and the UK, while its main import partners are Germany, China and Belgium.


Dutch flag

Capital: Amsterdam

Geographical size: 41 542 km²

Population: 16 900 726 (2015)

Population as % of total EU: 3.3 % (2015)

Gross domestic product (GDP): EUR 678.572 billion (2015)

Official EU language(s): Dutch

Political system: parliamentary constitutional monarchy

EU member country since: 1 January 1958

Seats in the European Parliament: 26

Currency: Euro. Member of the eurozone since 1 January 1999

Schengen area member? Yes, Schengen Area member since 26 March 1995.

Presidency of the Council: the Netherlands has held the revolving presidency of the Council of the EU 12 times between 1960 and 2016.

Map of The Netherlands

Country overview

The Netherlands, as the name indicates, is low-lying territory, with one-quarter of the country at or below sea level. Many areas are protected from flooding by dykes and sea walls. Much land has been reclaimed from the sea, the Flevoland polder being the most recent example.

The Dutch Parliament (or Staten Generaal) consists of two chambers. The first, with 75 members, is indirectly elected and has limited powers. The second chamber, or lower house, is directly elected. Members of both houses serve a four-year term. Given the country's multi-party system, all governments are coalitions.

Industrial activity in the Netherlands predominantly consists of food processing, chemicals, petroleum refining as well as electrical and electronic machinery. It has a dynamic agricultural sector and is well known for its plants and cut flowers. The port of Rotterdam is the busiest in Europe, serving a vast hinterland which stretches into Germany and central Europe.

The Netherlands has a history of great painters. The 17th century was the age of the Dutch Masters, such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer and Jan Steen. The 19th and 20th centuries were no less remarkable for their high-calibre artists like Vincent van Gogh and Piet Mondriaan.

Well-known Dutch specialities include raw herring, smoked eel and pea soup, as well as a wide variety of cheeses such as Edam and Gouda.

Economy overview

The Netherlands, the sixth-largest economy in the European Union, plays an important role as a European transportation hub, with a persistently high trade surplus, stable industrial relations, and moderate unemployment. Industry focuses on food processing, chemicals, petroleum refining, and electrical machinery. A highly mechanized agricultural sector employs only 2% of the labour force but provides large surpluses for food-processing and underpins the country's status as the world's second largest agricultural exporter.

The Netherlands is part of the euro zone, and as such, its monetary policy is controlled by the European Central Bank. The Dutch financial sector is highly concentrated, with four commercial banks possessing over 90% of banking assets. The sector suffered as a result of the global financial crisis and required billions of dollars of government support, but the European Banking Authority completed stringent reviews in 2014 and deemed Dutch banks to be well-capitalized. To address the 2009 and 2010 economic downturns, the government sought to stimulate the domestic economy by accelerating infrastructure programs, offering corporate tax breaks for employers to retain workers, and expanding export credits. The stimulus programs and bank bailouts, however, resulted in a government budget deficit of 5.3% of GDP in 2010 that contrasted sharply with a surplus of 0.7% in 2008.

The government of Prime Minister Mark RUTTE has since implemented significant austerity measures to improve public finances and has instituted broad structural reforms in key policy areas, including the labor market, the housing sector, the energy market, and the pension system. As a result, the government budget deficit at the end of 2015 dropped to 2% of GDP. Following a protracted recession during which unemployment doubled to 7.4% and household consumption contracted for nearly three consecutive years, 2014 saw fragile GDP growth of 1% and a rise in most economic indicators. Growth picked up in 2015 as households boosted purchases through reduced saving. Drivers of growth included increased exports and business investments, as well as newly invigorated household consumption.

Useful links

The Commission's Representation in the Netherlands

European Parliament office in the Netherlands

Dutch Government

Tourist information

Source: European Commission, CIA - The World Factbook

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