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.