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Antilles / Netherlands Country Profile
The Netherlands' name reflects its low-lying topography, with more than a quarter of its total area under sea level. Now a constitutional monarchy, the country began its independent life as a republic in the 16th century, when the foundations were laid for it to become one of the world's foremost maritime trading nations.
Although traditionally among the keener advocates of the European Union, Dutch voters echoed those in France by spurning the proposed EU constitution in a 2005 referendum.
The Netherlands has produced many of the world's most famous artists from Rembrandt and Vermeer in the 17th century to Van Gogh in the 19th and Mondrian in the 20th. It attracts visitors from across the globe.
After a longstanding policy of neutrality between Europe's great powers, the bitter experience of invasion and occupation during World War II led the Netherlands to become a leading supporter of international cooperation.
Almost 20% of the total area of the Netherlands is water, and much of the land has been reclaimed from the North Sea in efforts which date back to medieval times and have spawned an extensive system of dykes.
It is one of the world's most densely populated nations. As in many European countries, over-65s make up an increasing percentage of that population, leading to greater demands on the welfare system.
After two decades of strong growth and low unemployment, the economy ran into more troubled waters as global trade, in which the Netherlands is a major player, slowed in the early years of the new millennium.
There was concern that Dutch society's longstanding tradition of tolerance was under threat when homosexual anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn was assassinated in 2002.
Anxiety over increased racial tension has intensified further since the murder in 2004 of Theo Van Gogh who had made a controversial film on the position of women in Islamic society. A violent extremist later confessed and was jailed for life.
After Mr Van Gogh's killing, the government hardened its line on immigration and failed asylum seekers.
Full name: The Kingdom of the Netherlands
Population: 16.7 million (UN, 2010)
Capital: Amsterdam; seat of government: the Hague
Area: 41,864 sq km (16,164 sq miles)
Major language: Dutch
Major religion: Christianity
Life expectancy: 78 years (men), 83 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 euro = 100 cents
Main exports: Metal manufacturing, chemicals, foodstuffs
GNI per capita: US $49,350 (World Bank, 2009)
Internet domain: .nl
International dialling code: +31
Head of state: Queen Beatrix
Prime minister: Mark Rutte
Mark Rutte heads a minority government propped up by the controversial anti-Islam party of Geert Wilders.
His government - a coalition of his liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) - was installed in October 2010, following lengthy negotiations after elections in June.
Elections were called after the former CDA-led government of Jan Peter Balkenende collapsed in February in a dispute over continued military support to NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The VVD-CDA coalition commands only 52 seats out of 150 in the lower house of parliament, but has made a deal with the right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV) for the support of its 24 MPs to pass policy through parliament. The party does not hold any government positions.
The PVV is headed by Mr Wilders, who campaigns for an end to Muslim immigration and a ban on new mosques. He has faced charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims.
Mr Wilders' party made significant gains in the June elections, nearly tripling its support from nine seats previously.
Observers said the new power wielded by Wilders would test the Netherlands' reputation for multi-cultural tolerance.
On taking office, Mr Rutte said his government's priority was to revitalise the economy and to meet election promises on burning issues such as immigration.
Mr Rutte is a former human resources manager at Anglo-Dutch multinational Unilever.
The Dutch approach to public broadcasting is unique. Programmes are made by groups which reflect political or religious currents, or other interests. These organisations are allocated airtime on TV and radio, in line with the number of members they have.
Public radio and TV face stiff competition from commercial stations. Viewers have access to a wide range of domestic and foreign channels, thanks mainly to one of the highest cable take-up rates in Europe. Every province has at least one local public TV channel. The three national public TV stations enjoy high audience shares.
Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the constitution, as is free speech. Newspaper ownership is highly concentrated. Most titles are broadsheets; Dutch readers have not developed a taste for tabloid sensationalism.
There were 14.9 million internet users by June 2010 (Internetworldstats), comprising nearly 90% of the population.
Algemeen Dagblad - national, daily
NRC Handelsblad - national, daily
De Telegraaf - national, daily
De Volkskrant - national, daily
Trouw - national, daily
Het Parool - Amsterdam daily
Het Financieele Dagblad - financial daily
Elsevier - news weekly
Vrij Nederland - news weekly
NOS - oversees the three national public networks
BVN TV - public, for Dutch-speakers abroad
RTL - commercial, operates RTL4, RTL5, RTL7 and RTL8
SBS - commercial, operates SBS6, Net5 and Veronica
NOS - oversees public radio, including news and information station Radio 1, music network Radio 2, pop station 3FM, cultural station Radio 4
Radio Netherlands - international broadcaster, language services include English
Sky Radio - popular commercial FM station, continuous music
Radio 538 - popular commercial FM station, pop and dance music
BNR Nieuwsradio - commercial, news
Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANP) - news agency
DutchNews.nl - news in English
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