AN INTRODUCTION TO AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS
The country and its people
The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system. It forms part of the Kingdom of the
Netherlands. This consists of the Netherlands itself and six islands in the Caribbean: Aruba, and the five islands that
make up the Netherlands Antilles – Curacao and Bonaire, just off the Venezuelan coast, and Sint Eustatius, Saba and
Sint Maarten, located southeast of the Virgin Islands.
On 10 October 2010, after a five-year long process of constitutional reform in the Antilles, the new structure of the
Kingdom of the Netherlands went into effect. It is the most far-reaching revision of the Statute of the Kingdom of the
Netherlands since 1954. The Netherlands Antilles was dissolved as a political entity. Curacao and St Maarten,
formerly parts of the Netherlands Antilles, have become autonomous countries within the Kingdom of the
Netherlands. Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba are now special municipalities of the Netherlands. These three islands
are referred to as the ‘Caribbean Netherlands’. The Kingdom of the Netherlands now consists of four countries: the
Netherlands (European and Caribbean Netherlands), Aruba, Curacao and St Maarten.
The Netherlands is also sometimes called ‘Holland’. Holland is part of the names of the two western coastal
provinces, North and South Holland, which have played a dominant role in the country's history. The capital city is
Amsterdam, while the government is located in The Hague. Amsterdam is also the largest city, with a population of
Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht all belong to the large Randstad conurbation which has a population
of ten million (almost two thirds of the entire Dutch population), making it one of the largest metropolitan areas in
Europe. This intense urbanization is due not so much to the four main cities themselves, but to the high number of
medium-sized cities and towns. This is nothing new, however. Fifty per cent of the total population of the Holland
region were already living in cities by 1500 AD. The Netherlands is divided into twelve provinces.
Struggle against the sea
The Netherlands is a low-lying country, with about 27% of its area and 60% of its population below sea level. Most of
the country is very flat, except the foothills of the Ardennes in the southeast and a hilly region in the centre.
Significant areas have been gained through land reclamation and preserved using an elaborate system of polders and
dikes. Polders are flat stretches of land, surrounded by dikes, where the water table is controlled artificially. From the
sixteenth century onwards windmills were used not just to keep the land dry, but to drain entire inland lakes. The
Netherlands’ unique appearance is characterized by large numbers of bridges, dikes, windmills and pumping
The Dutch are the native inhabitants and dominant ethnic group (81%) of the Netherlands. They are also the tallest
people in the world. The average Dutchman stands at 1.82 meters (just over 6 feet), while women average nearly 1.69
meters (almost 5 foot 7).
The dominant religious identification of the Dutch is Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant). Dutch society used
to be strictly organized along religious or ideological lines with every grouping having its own schools, newspapers,
trade unions, clubs and so on. Although modern Dutch society has become increasingly secular, traces of the old
system can still be seen today in the media, interest groups and the education system.
Dutch society is egalitarian, individualistic and modern. Education, hard work, ambition and ability are valued;
things considered non-essential or excessive are not. The Dutch are proud of their cultural heritage: a rich history in
art, architecture and technological advancements, and involvement in international trade and affairs.
The Netherlands is a founding member of the EU, NATO and the OECD, and has signed the Kyoto Protocol. The
Hague area is home to more than 80 international organizations (including NGOs) working in the fields of peace,
justice and security. The Netherlands also hosts five international courts in or near The Hague: the Permanent Court
of Arbitration, the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the
International Criminal Court and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. This has led to the city being dubbed ‘the legal
capital of the world’.
The Dutch language
Dutch is the native language of more than 22 million people in the Netherlands and Belgium. In north-western
France, around 60,000 people speak a Dutch dialect. Dutch is taught at around 250 universities around the world. In
French-speaking Belgium, northern France and Germany, many pupils choose Dutch as their second language. In
1980, the Netherlands and Flanders founded the Nederlandse Taalunie (Dutch Language Union), which promotes
Dutch worldwide and draws up rules for spelling and grammar.
People have been migrating to the Netherlands for centuries, from French Protestants (Huguenots) in the seventeenth
century to twentieth-century immigrants from former Dutch colonies Indonesia and Suriname, and the Caribbean
parts of the Kingdom. In the 1960s and 1970s a labor shortage attracted many migrant workers from southern
Europe, Turkey and Morocco. The total Dutch population is close to 16.5 million, 19% of whom are immigrants
and/or belong to ethnic minorities. People with a foreign ethnic background tend to live in the larger cities:
Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, and The Hague. Here, they make up approximately 30% of the inhabitants.
The Dutch political system
The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system. This means that the government includes
not only the ministers and the state secretaries, but also the monarch (currently Queen Beatrix). The monarch is also
the head of state. The constitution determines how the powers are divided between the Queen and the other
institutions of the State. For example the parliament has certain rights which allow it to check the power of the
government. The ministers are accountable to parliament, but the Queen, who has no political accountability, is not.
The government (ministers and state secretaries) prepares and implements legislation, oversees local government,
carries out the day-to-day business of government and maintains international relations. The number of ministers
tends to change from one government to the next, but the numeric distribution of members of government must
reflect the representation of the coalition partners in parliament as closely as possible. Otherwise one of the coalition
partners might feel sold short, which could eventually lead to the fall of the government.
Gateway to Europe
The Netherlands owes its high rankings in large part to its advanced transport infrastructure – with the port of
Rotterdam and Schiphol Airport as its hubs – and its highly developed telecoms infrastructure. Rotterdam is
Europe’s largest seaport, and the fourth largest in the world in terms of container activity, while Schiphol is western
Europe’s fourth largest airport. Together, they have helped build the Netherlands’ reputation as ‘the gateway to
An open economy is a dependent economy
A range of factors influence the performance of the Dutch economy. One is the relative significance of trade, which
accounts for 60% of GDP. This makes the Netherlands highly dependent on the health of the wider global economy
and therefore susceptible to its fluctuations. Another factor – one that will likely mitigate the effects of any upswing
in the world economy – is the relatively high cost of labor (wages and pension contributions) in the Netherlands.
The most important trade commodities for the Netherlands are machinery and transport equipment, followed by
chemical and mineral products. One of the most famous Dutch exports, however, is flowers. The Netherlands exports
four billion flower bulbs a year, mostly tulips. Sixty per cent of these go to Germany, the UK, France and Japan. The
US tops the list of individual customers, importing some 900 million bulbs a year.
As the gateway to Europe, the Netherlands’ single most dominant sector is that of business services, which accounts
for approximately two-thirds of both its GDP and workforce. Mineral extraction, especially the production of natural
gas, is another prominent sector.
Other sectors that contribute consistently to the Dutch economy include retail, restaurants, repair services and health
care. The industrial sector – particularly metals, machinery and transport equipment companies – experienced an
upswing in 2008 due to an increase in investment both in the Netherlands and abroad. By late 2008, however, the
sector’s growth curve had leveled out. The agricultural and food sector is another vital part of the Dutch economy,
generating approximately 10% of GDP. The Netherlands exports 75% of its agricultural produce
Written by Bram Boxhoorn, Director of the Netherlands Atlantic Association
AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS
Hotel Ambassade Hotel
020 555 0222
City Coordinator Netherlands Atlantic Association
Bram Boxhoorn, Director of the Netherlands Atlantic Association
Wednesday, March 14
4:30 – 6:00 pm Welcome and Introduction to the program
Bram Boxhoorn, Director of the Netherlands Atlantic Association
Bram Boxhoorn is Director of the Netherlands Atlantic Association since 1996. He studied History at the University of
Amsterdam. From 1982 till 1988 he was Coordinator of European Studies at the University of Amsterdam, a study which was
set up by Mr. Boxhoorn, amongst others. From 1988 till 1996 he was Assistant Professor in History at the department of
European Studies at the University of Amsterdam. In 1992 he received his Ph.D. at the Faculty of Arts at the University of
6:00 pm Walk to restaurant
6:30 pm Informal Dinner
Hosted by Bram Boxhoorn
AMMF alumni will also attend.
Restaurant In de Waag
Thursday, March 15
8:30 am Meet with Bram Boxhoorn in the lobby of the hotel
8:45 am Walk to meeting room
9:00 – 10:30 am Integration Debate in the Netherlands
Ahmed Larouz, Founder and CEO of Bridgizz
Ahmed Larouz is a founder and CEO of Bridgizz. An Amsterdam-based global communication and marketing company using
both new and traditional media – to create successful brands and campaigns. This company is operating on an international level
in Europe and the MENA region. Bridgzz has a satellite affiliate in Casablanca (Morocco). Ahmed Larouz was an MMF in 2008.
10:30 am – 12:00 pm Socioeconomic Issues in the Netherlands
Marike Stellinga, Journalist for NRC Handelsblad
Marike Stellinga is economics editor at NRC Handelsblad (a daily newspaper). Between 2000 and 2011 she worked for the
economics section of Elsevier (a liberal conservative weekly). She studied international Financial Economics at the University of
Amsterdam. In 2000 she started working for Elsevier. She writes about political and social economy, public finance, and the labor
market. In 2009 she published The Myth of the Glass Ceiling and in 2010 she was awarded the Citi Journalistic Excellence
Award. In 2005 she was a GMF Fellow.
12:00 pm Walk to restaurant
12:30 – 2:00 pm Lunch meeting on ‘Slaves in the Polder’
Martijn Roessingh and Perdiep Ramesar, Authors of Slaves in the Polder: How sex workers,
cleaners and seasonal workers are being exploited
Dante Kitchen & Bar
020 774 7473
Martijn Roessingh is a foreign editor at Trouw (a daily newspaper) since 1998. Perdiep Ramesar is a general reporter at Trouw
2:00 – 2:30 pm Walk to Neighbourhood Information Center
2:30 pm – 5:00 pm Metropolitan Issues
Introduction on human trafficking followed by a walk through the ‘Wallen’ district
Neighborhood Information Center
T 020-552 4310
5:00 – 7:00 pm Free
7:00 pm Hospitality at the Homes of Dutch AMMF Alumni
Caspar van den Berg (Political Scientist; GMF Fellow in 2009)
M: +31-6-1501 4762
Patrick Mikkelsen (Senior Spokesman, KPN; GMF Fellow in 2006)
Ed Sinke (entrepreneur; GMF fellow in 1997)
Friday, March 16
8:45 am Assemble in the lobby of the hotel
9:00 – 9:45 am Transfer by minivan to The Hague
Niklaas Hoekstra (Head of the Secretariat of the Netherlands Atlantic Association) will accompany
the group during the day.
9:45 am – 12:00 pm Visit to ICC
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a permanent tribunal to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity,
war crimes, and the crime of aggression. It came into being on 1 July 2002 – the date its founding treaty, the Rome Statute of the
International Criminal Court, entered into force – and it can only prosecute crimes committed on or after that date. The Court's
official seat is in The Hague, Netherlands, but its proceedings may take place anywhere.
As of January 2012 120 states are states parties to the Statute of the Court, including all of South America, nearly all of Europe
and roughly half the countries in Africa. A further 32 countries, including Russia, have signed but not ratified the Rome Statute.
The United States has ‘unsigned’ the Statute, indicating it no longer intends to become a state party.
12:00 – 12:30 pm Transfer by minivan to Parliament
12:30 – 2:30 pm Visit to Parliament and meeting with Members of Parliament
2:30pm – 3:30 pm Meeting with Frank van den Heuvel (Director Public Affairs, TNO)
TNO is an independent research organization whose expertise and research make an important contribution to the
competitiveness of companies and organizations, to the economy and to the quality of society as a whole.
Frank van den Heuvel is its Director of Public Affairs since January 2012. He is also Secretary of the Board of the Netherlands
Atlantic Association. In 2002 he was a GMF Fellow.
3:30 – 3:45 pm Transfer to Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation
4:00 – 5:00 pm Meeting with Marten van den Berg (Deputy Director-General for International
Relations, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation)
Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation
5:00 – 6:00 pm Transfer by minivan to Amsterdam
6:00 pm Free time
Saturday, March 17
9:00 – 9:15 am Assemble in hotel lobby
Paul Steeman and Lisanne van Langen (interns at the Netherlands Atlantic Association) will
accompany the group during the day.
9:15 – 10:00 am Transfer by minivan to farm
10:00 – 11:30 am Agriculture and Land Reclamation
11:30 am – 12:30 pm Transfer by minivan to hotel
Afternoon/Evening Free time
Sunday, March 18
Free Time and Culture
9:00 am – 5:00 pm Free time
6:00 – 8:00 pm Debriefing and Farewell dinner
Hosted by Bram Boxhoorn
Restaurant Kantjil en de Tijger
020 620 0994
Monday, March 19
PLEASE COMPLETE THE EVALUATION FOR THIS CITY!
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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES FOR THE NETHERLANDS
History of the Netherlands
Kossmann, E.H. History of the Low Countries. 1998.
History of Amsterdam
Mak, Geert. Amsterdam, A Brief Life of the City.
News in the Netherlands
NIS News Bulletin (nisnews.nl)
Radio Netherlands (rnw.nl)
Biographies of Famous Dutch
Leiden, Brill. Egodocumemts and History, Series. http://www.brill.nl/publications/egodocuments-and-history-
Classic Novels from the Netherlands
Nescio, The Sponger
Young Titans and little P
Contemporary Novels from the Netherlands
Mulisch, Harry. The Assault
The Discovery of Heaven: a novel
Nooteboom, Cees. In the Dutch Mountains
Reve, Gerard. The Evenings
For more: http://wwNesciow.nlpvf.nl ;
Classic Feature Films from the Netherlands
Haanstra, Bert. Fanfare Giethoorn
Brinker, Hans. The Silver Skates
Contemporary Feature Films from the Netherlands
Maas, Dick. Amsterdamned
Verhoeven, Paul. Black Book