The Netherlands (Nederland, ) is a country located mainly in Northwestern Europe. The European portion of the Netherlands consists of twelve separate provinces that border Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest, with maritime borders in the North Sea with Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. Together with three island territories in the Caribbean Sea—Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba— it forms a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The official language is Dutch, but a secondary official language in the province of Friesland is West Frisian.
The six largest cities in the Netherlands are Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Eindhoven and Tilburg. Amsterdam is the country's capital, while The Hague holds the seat of the States General, Cabinet and Supreme Court. The Port of Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe, and the largest in any country outside Asia. The country is a founding member of the EU, Eurozone, G10, NATO, OECD and WTO, as well as a part of the Schengen Area and the trilateral Benelux Union. It hosts several intergovernmental organisations and international courts, many of which are centered in The Hague, which is consequently dubbed 'the world's legal capital'.
Netherlands literally means 'lower countries' in reference to its low elevation and flat topography, with only about 50% of its land exceeding 1 m above sea level, and nearly 17% falling below sea level. Most of the areas below sea level, known as polders, are the result of land reclamation that began in the 16th century. With a population of 17.30 million people, all living within a total area of roughly 41,500 km2—of which the land area is 33,700 km2—the Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Nevertheless, it is the world's second-largest exporter of food and agricultural products (after the United States), owing to its fertile soil, mild climate, and intensive agriculture.
The Netherlands was, historically, the third country in the world to have representative government, and it has been a parliamentary constitutional monarchy with a unitary structure since 1848. The country has a tradition of pillarisation and a long record of social tolerance, having legalised abortion, prostitution and human euthanasia, along with maintaining a progressive drug policy. The Netherlands abolished the death penalty in 1870, allowed women's suffrage in 1917, and became the world's first country to legalise same-sex marriage in 2001. Its mixed-market advanced economy had the thirteenth-highest per capita income globally. The Netherlands ranks among the highest in international indexes of press freedom, economic freedom, human development, and quality of life, as well as happiness.
The Netherlands' turbulent history and shifts of power resulted in exceptionally many and widely varying names in different languages. There is diversity even within languages. This holds also for English, where Dutch is the adjective form and the misnomer Holland a synonym for the country "Netherlands". Dutch comes from Theodiscus and in the past centuries, the hub of Dutch culture is found in its most populous region, Holland, home to the capital city of Amsterdam; government headquarters at The Hague; and Europe's largest port Rotterdam. Referring to the Netherlands as Holland in the English language is similar to calling the United Kingdom "Britain" by people outside the UK. The term is so pervasive among potential investors and tourists, however, that the Dutch government's international websites for tourism and trade are "holland.com" and "hollandtradeandinvest.com".
The region of Holland consists of North and South Holland, two of the nation's twelve provinces, formerly a single province, and earlier still, the County of Holland, a remnant of the dissolved Frisian Kingdom. Following the decline of the Duchy of Brabant and the County of Flanders, Holland became the most economically and politically important county in the Low Countries region. The emphasis on Holland during the formation of the Dutch Republic, the Eighty Years' War and the Anglo-Dutch Wars in the 16th, 17th and 18th century, made Holland serve as a pars pro toto for the entire country, which is now considered either incorrect, informal, or, depending on context, opprobrious. Nonetheless, Holland is widely used in reference to the Netherlands national football team.
The region called the Low Countries (comprising Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) and the Country of the Netherlands, have the same toponymy. Place names with Neder (or lage), Nieder, Nether (or low) and Nedre (in Germanic languages) and Bas or Inferior (in Romance languages) are in use in places all over Europe. They are sometimes used in a deictic relation to a higher ground that consecutively is indicated as Upper, Boven, Oben, Superior or Haut. In the case of the Low Countries / Netherlands the geographical location of the lower region has been more or less downstream and near the sea. The geographical location of the upper region, however, changed tremendously over time, depending on the location of the economic and military power governing the Low Countries area. The Romans made a distinction between the Roman provinces of downstream Germania Inferior (nowadays part of Belgium and the Netherlands) and upstream Germania Superior (nowadays part of Germany). The designation 'Low' to refer to the region returns again in the 10th century Duchy of Lower Lorraine, that covered much of the Low Countries. But this time the corresponding Upper region is Upper Lorraine, in nowadays Northern France.
The Dukes of Burgundy, who ruled the Low Countries in the 15th century, used the term les pays de par deçà (~ the lands over here) for the Low Countries as opposed to les pays de par delà (~ the lands over there) for their original homeland: Burgundy in present-day east-central France. Under Habsburg rule, Les pays de par deçà developed in pays d'embas (lands down-here), a deictic expression in relation to other Habsburg possessions like Hungary and Austria. This was translated as Neder-landen in contemporary Dutch official documents. From a regional point of view, Niderlant was also the area between the Meuse and the lower Rhine in the late Middle Ages. The area known as Oberland (High country) was in this deictic context considered to begin approximately at the nearby higher located Cologne.
From the mid-sixteenth century on, the "Low Countries" and the "Netherlands" lost their original deictic meaning. They were probably the most commonly used names, besides Flanders, another pars pro toto for the Low Countries, especially in Romance language speaking Europe. The Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) divided the Low Countries into an independent northern Dutch Republic (or Latinised Belgica Foederata, "Federated Netherlands", the precursor state of the Netherlands) and a Spanish controlled Southern Netherlands (Latinised Belgica Regia, "Royal Netherlands", the precursor state of Belgium). The Low Countries today is a designation that includes the countries the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, although in most Romance languages, the term "Low Countries" is used as the name for the Netherlands specifically. It is used synonymous with the more neutral and geopolitical term Benelux.