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Last updated : Nov 2009
Netherlands History
Netherlands History - TravelPuppy.com
From the early Middle Ages, the region of the Low Countries had not only established itself as one of the most prosperous parts of Europe but also, paradoxically, as one of the most politically unstable. At various times, the ambitions of both the kings of France and the Holy Roman Emperors threatened to annexe the region. Neither was powerful enough to permanently subdue the proud municipalities, which had grown up during the medieval period, largely as a result of the wool trade.

By the early 16th century, imperial influence had gained the upper hand. The Low Countries had become, partly through dynastic ties, annexed to the far-flung empire of the Hapsburgs. It was against Hapsburg rule that the largely protestant northern provinces of the Low Countries, led by William of Orange and Nassau, rebelled during 1568.

The struggle for independence lasted until 1648, also saw a remarkable growth in Dutch sea power, as many Spanish and Portuguese possessions in the New World and the East Asia were seized.

The 17th century, the so-called Golden Age, also witnessed a flowering of art and culture, which placed the tiny but rich country at the forefront of European culture.

In 1689, William III of Orange also became King of England, although the association was severed on his death in 1702.

During the 18th century, the power of The Netherlands was on the wane and it was absorbed into Napoleon’s empire in 1810. Subsequently, the whole area of the Low Countries was briefly reunited (1814-30).

In 1848, the constitution was amended, leaving the monarch with only limited powers. The Netherlands took no part in World War I but suffered badly as a result of the Nazi invasion of 1940.

Post-war Dutch diplomacy has concentrated on increasing European unity. These efforts culminated in 1957, when The Netherlands became one of the six founder members of the European Community.

In the second half of 1991, the Dutch held the Presidency of the EC and were responsible for organising the crucial summit at Maastricht in December 1991, which was set up to decide the future of European Union integration in economic and monetary policy, as well as other areas. By and large, the Dutch are enthusiastic Europeans and the EU is the main focus of Dutch foreign policy. Interests further afield are largely concerned with former colonial possessions in the Caribbean (the Dutch Antilles, Surinam) and the East Indies.

Domestic politics for much of the post-World War II period have been dominated by the customary Western European blend of conservative and social democratic governments, frequently in coalition.

The two leading parties are the centre-right Christen-Democratisch Appel (Christian Democrat Appeal, CDA) and the social-democratic Partij van de Arbeid (Labour Party, PvdA). The centrist Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (People’s Freedom and Democracy, VVD) often joined one or the other of the pair, to form a coalition government.

Various other political groupings occasionally have registered strong electoral showings and managed minor representation within government. These include the ecologist Green Party, the radical Democraten 66 (D66) and, most recently, the List Pim Fortuyn, which emerged at the election of May 2002. Taking its name from its charismatic leader, Pim Fortuyn, the List campaigned on a far-right anti-crime, anti-immigration platform. This struck a chord with a disillusioned electorate and coincided with the resurgence of the far right throughout Western Europe. At the poll, List Pim Fortuyn emerged as the second-largest party and entered government in coalition with the CDA.

However, during the campaign, Fortuyn himself was assassinated. A common feature of European far-right parties is the influence of a single dominant personality which guarantees the party’s cohesion, for example, Jean-Marie Le Pen of the French Front Nationale, or Jorg Haider, leader of Austria’s Freedom Party, and a propensity for self-destructive internal feuding. Once in office, without Fortuyn, the List almost immediately fell apart, causing the collapse of the government. New elections were called. Held in January 2003, the CDA was returned as the largest party and it now governs in coalition with VVD and D66 with CDA party leader Jan Peter Balkenende as premier. The List Pim Fortuyn was reduced to a handful of seats but it has left its mark on Dutch politics in the form of a hardening of the official attitude towards immigrants and asylum seekers.