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Country profile: The-netherlands
language: Dutch Prime minister: Jan Peter Balkenende
The Kingdom of the Netherlands
Agriculture In 1998, agriculture accounted for
3.5 percent of the kingdom's GDP. Employment in
agriculture has actually been increasing
slightly over the past decade. In 1995, there
were 109,000 people employed in the sector, but
by 1999 that number had grown to 116,000. Much
of this increase has been the result of growth
in the dairy and horticulture segments of
agriculture. As in many other countries, Dutch
agriculture has been marked by the decline of
the small, family-owned farm and the rise of
large corporations that specialize in
agriculture. Many Dutch agricultural firms have
also become increasingly international and do a
significant amount of their business overseas or
in other European nations.
The main food crops are barley, corn, potatoes,
sugar beets, and wheat. Potatoes are the main
crop by volume, and in 1999 Dutch farmers
produced 8.2 million metric tons of the crop.
That same year, the Dutch harvested 5.5 million
metric tons of sugar beets, 1 million metric
tons of wheat, 240,000 metric tons of barley,
and 58,000 metric tons of corn. Despite its
wheat and barley production, the nation is a
major importer of wheat for animal fodder and
cereal production. After suffering a significant
drop in production in 1998 because of flooding
and bad weather, agricultural harvests were up
23.9 percent in 1999. In 1998, the value of
exports was US$18.7 billion, while in 1999 it
was US$31.7 billion. The major agricultural
processed product was cigarettes. The
Netherlands is one of the least forested
countries in the world. Over 90 percent of its
forest products have to be imported.
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.
Amsterdam: Much of the city lies at, or below, sea level
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.
Queen Beatrix appointed Jan Peter Balkenende as head of a three-party centrist coalition in February 2007, three months after general elections in November 2006.
Prime Minister Balkenende's former coalition sought to curb spending
Mr Balkenende's Christian Democrats govern with the Labour Party and the Christian Union.
He was forced to call early elections after his centre-right coalition collapsed in June 2006 in a row over immigration policy.
It was made up of the Christian Democrats, the free-market People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the small centrist party Democrats-66.
The new government is expected to slow the pace of economic reform; its predecessor had introduced austerity measures to tackle unemployment, slow growth and a budget deficit. Spending cuts and welfare reforms sparked street protests.
It is expected to take a softer line on immigration and has announced an
amnesty for many failed asylum seekers.
The administration includes the first Muslims to attain cabinet rank.
Mr Balkenende was 46 when he first became prime minister in 2002. He had never held cabinet office before and became leader of his party in parliament only in 2001. He holds a degree in economics and law and is a devout Calvinist.
The Dutch approach to public broadcasting is unique. Programmes are made by a variety of groups, some reflecting political or religious currents in society, others representing interest groups. These organisations are allocated airtime on TV and radio, in line with the number of members they have.
Public radio and TV channels face stiff competition from commercial stations, which mushroomed after a 1988 law lifted the ban on commercial broadcasting.
The TV market is very competitive. 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.