The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy. Executive power rests with the prime minister. The monarch appoints the prime minister on the recommendation of parliament - usually the head of the majority party or coalition in the legislature. Parliament consists of a 75-member First Chamber (Eerste Kamer) chosen by the 12 provincial councils, and a 150-member Second Chamber (Tweede Kamer) which is directly elected.
The Netherlands has had a queen on the throne for more than 120 years. In January of 2013, Queen Beatrix announced her abdication, after 33 years as Queen, and the assumption to the throne of her son Willem-Alexander. The ceremony took place on April 30.
The Netherlands' economy has a long history of prosperity. Industrial activity is predominantly food processing, chemicals, petroleum refining, and electrical machinery. In order to meet the requirements for entrance into the European Monetary Union (EMU), the government was forced to take stringent measures to cut the deficit, including reducing welfare benefits and reforming the tax structure. The Netherlands was among the 11 founding European countries that established the Euro currency in January 1999.
Since then, the global recession has taken a toll on the Dutch economy, particularly as a member of the eurozone. In April 2012 the government collapsed after failing to garner support for austerity measures that would cut the budget deficit. The Netherlands is still in a stronger economic position than some of its southern eurozone partners. A new Prime Minister and government party has been in place since November 2012. The new (the VVD-PvdA) government is comprised of members of both the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and Labour Party (PvdA).
A newcomer's perspective
Foreign residents and visitors should feel comfortable in the Netherlands. The Dutch are renowned for their mastery of foreign languages. English is the second language, used predominantly in business, and German and French are also widely spoken.
Having escaped the bombing of World War II, Amsterdam presents an almost museum-quality atmosphere, with charming houses of classic Dutch style lining the canals. The country abounds in beautiful areas that reflect the Golden Age of the 17th century, and its museums are full of artistic treasures.