Netherlands Essay

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The Kingdom of the Netherlands is a commonwealth of three  countries,  formed  by charter  between  the Netherlands,  the Netherlands  Antilles, and Aruba, the latter two of which originated as part of the Netherlands’ colonial empire.  The Netherlands  Antilles (309  sq.  mi.,  population   225,000, gross  domestic product  [GDP] $2.4 billion in 2004) is also known as the  Dutch  Antilles  (sometimes  still referred  to in texts as the Dutch West Indies, the Colonial-era term)  and  includes  the  islands  of Bonaire,  Curacao, Saba, Saint Eustatius, and Saint Maarten.  The political union  of these  five islands was scheduled to be dissolved in December 2008, with each island becoming a sovereign nation within the federacy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands,  but the dissolution has been postponed  (though no date is set, plans for dissolution  proceed). Aruba (74 sq. mi., population 104,000, GDP $2.4 billion in 2008) was once part of the Netherlands  Antilles but seceded in 1986 after years of struggle and debate.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands  is often referred to as “the Kingdom,” both  to disambiguate  because foreigners  so  often  use  “the  Netherlands”  to  refer to  both  the  country  and  the  commonwealth,   and in order  to avoid the appearance  that  the European nation  is superior  to the New World  entities  in the commonwealth’s  estimation.   The  current   form  of the Kingdom was formed in 1954, though  an entity of the  same  name  persisted  from  1830 (when Belgium declared independence)  to 1954. The Kingdom came about as a result of a radio address by the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina on New Year’s Day, 1942, when the Dutch royals were in London, in exile from the Nazioccupied Netherlands. In this speech, Wilhelmina declared  that  the  government  wished to reexamine its relationship  with its colonial holdings,  and  that after the Nazis were expelled from the Netherlands, the government would raise the colonies up to a position of equal participation  in the kingdom. Although the primary purpose  of the speech was to drum  up support for the Dutch in democracies like the United States, where many Americans had a natural distrust of monarchies  and colonial powers, the government made good on its promise, negotiating the practicalities over the nine years between the end of World War II and the institution of the Kingdom in 1954.

The administration of the  Kingdom  falls to  the monarch—currently Queen  Beatrix (b. January  31, 1938), who  took  power  in  1980 when  her  mother Queen  Juliana (daughter  of Wilhelmina)  abdicated because of her failing health—working in conjuction with the Council of Ministers  of the Kingdom. The Council in turn  is made up of the Council of Ministers of the Netherlands—the country’s executive cabinet—along with a plenipotentiary  minister  from both Aruba and the Netherlands  Antilles. The prime minister of the Netherlands acts as chair of the Council. Because the Kingdom does not have an economy or laws separate  from its member  nations, administration  is a periodic rather  than ongoing task. Upon dissolution  of the Netherlands  Antilles as a political union, the constituent islands will have plenipotentiary ministers of their own.

Government And Economy

The Netherlands(16,033sq.mi.,population16,440,000) includes most of the Kingdom by any measure. The densely populated  country, though  associated in the Western  imagination with windmills, wooden shoes, and Sinterklaas, is also the oldest capitalist country in the world, with the first stock exchange. Amsterdam, famous  now as the  laboratory  where  the  country’s experiments  with progressive legal reforms play out, was the wealthiest  trading  center  of the early modern world, and the country’s early success with free market economics—a century before Adam Smith— paved the way for the Colonial era, funding fleets of trading  ships to plot  spice routes  and  slave routes. Much of the shape of the modern  economy was first traced in Amsterdam,  from boom and bust cycles to the phenomenon of speculator-investor mania to the insurance industry and retirement funds—with much of that in place years before the free market Patriots expelled the  British from the  American  colonies in the interest of capitalist democracy.

The modern  day Netherlands  is an industrialized and cosmopolitan  country. With Belgium and Luxembourg,  the  country  is part  of the  Benelux economic union (the name coming from the first letters of each of the three countries) and was instrumental in the  European  communities  that  led to the  formation  of the European  Union. In the late Middle Ages and early modern  eras, the Benelux countries were  called  the  Low Countries,  known  for  their wars, their music, and their art. The unofficial “capital city” of Western  law is The Hague, the Netherlands’ third-largest  city, home  to the International Court  of Justice, the International Criminal Court, Europol  (the  EU’s  criminal  intelligence  agency), the International Criminal Tribunal  for the Former Yugoslavia, and the  Special Tribunal  for Lebanon. Though  the  capital  of the  Netherlands  is Amsterdam, the government  operates principally from The Hague, where the Supreme  Court  is located, along with the Queen’s offices and domicile, and all foreign embassies.

The Netherlands  is a parliamentary  constitutional monarchy,  and rated as the fourth  most democratic country in the world by The Economist, as of the end of 2008. The general tendency in Dutch politics is to move toward  consensus  and synergy. The monarch arbitrates between political parties during the formation  of the  Council  of Ministers,  which consists  of

13 to 16 members.  The prime  minister  has no official power greater than that of other ministers, and is almost always the leader of the political party with the greatest  representation in government.  The States-General, a bicameral parliament,  consists of the 150 members  of the Lower House (or Second Chamber) elected in direct  elections every four years or upon the dissolution  of a cabinet, and the 75 members  of the  Upper  House  (First Chamber)  who are elected by the provincial assemblies (themselves elected by direct  election  every four years). Legislators of the Upper House have the power to reject legislation, but not to amend or originate it.

The Social-Economic Council, a body of regional regulatory  agencies,  consults  with  the  government on all major decisions, and in turn  meets with trade and economic unions as part of the Dutch tendency toward consensus-seeking. The Social-Economic Council is charged with providing advice to form an economic policy that is fair to labor, fair in its distribution  of income, and promotes  healthy sustainable economic growth in the nation.

A prosperous country, the Netherlands has the 16th largest economy in the world, with economic growth considerably above the European average. Inflation is low, and unemployment is the lowest in the European Union.  Industry  centers  around   chemicals,  petroleum, and food processing, and Dutch  investors are among the five largest groups of foreign investors in American companies. Amsterdam  continues  to be a hub of stock trading activity, while Rotterdam  is the continent’s largest port, and the busiest port outside Asia. The recently built Betuweroute railway is a highspeed freight railway bringing goods from Rotterdam to Germany.


  1. Paul Arblaster, A History of the Low Countries (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005);
  2. C. H. Blom and Emiel Lamberts, eds., James C. Kennedy, trans.,  History of the Low Countries (Oxford, 1999);
  3. Bernard A. Cook, Belgium: A History (Peter Lang, 2005).

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