With over 17.5 million people and a population density of 416 people per km2, the Netherlands is the most densely populated country of the European Union. Maastricht is an international city - with 120,000 inhabitants - offering many opportunities. The city is located in the Meuse-Rhine Euregion, close to international cities such as Aachen, Düsseldorf, Liège, Brussels and Antwerp. The diversity of European culture is clearly visible in Maastricht. It is for good reason that Maastricht stood at the cradle of the European Union in 1992 at the time of the signing of the Maastricht Treaty - the treaty on European Union.
The Netherlands is the main constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It is a small, densely populated country, lying mainly in Western Europe, but also including six islands in the Caribbean. The kingdom of the Netherlands is divided in four countries (the Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten) and three special municipalities (Bonaire, Sint Eustasius and Saba) forming the Carribean Netherlands. The European part of the Netherlands borders Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest, sharing maritime borders with Belgium, the United Kingdom and Germany. The three largest and most important cities in the Netherlands are Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. Amsterdam is the country's capital and the port of Rotterdam is the biggest European and world's eighth busiest port in terms of cargo tonnage handled. The Hague holds the Dutch seat of government and most of the embassies that are situated in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands' name literally means "Low Country", inspired by its low and flat geography, with only about 50% of its land exceeding one metre above sea level.Most of the areas below sea level are man-made. Since the late 16th century, large areas (polders) have been reclaimed from the sea and from lakes, amounting to nearly 20% of the country's current land mass. With a population density of 416 people per km² - 507 if water is excluded - the Netherlands is a very densely populated country for its size. Nevertheless, the Netherlands is the world's second largest exporter of food and agriculture products, after the United States.
The Netherlands was one of the first countries in the world to have an elected parliament, and since 1848 it has been governed as a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy, organised as a unitary state. The Netherlands has a long history of social tolerance and is generally regarded as a liberal country, having legalized abortion, prostitution and euthanasia, while maintaining a progressive drugs policy. In 2001 it became the world's first country to legalize same-sex marriage.
The Netherlands is a founding member of the EU, G-10, NATO, OECD, WTO and a part of the trilateral Benelux economic union. The country is host to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and five international courts: 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. The first four are situated in The Hague, as is the EU's criminal intelligence agency Europol and judicial co-operation agency Eurojust. This has led to the city being dubbed "the world's legal capital".
The Netherlands has a market-based mixed economy, ranking 17th of 177 countries according to the Index of Economic Freedom. It had the nineth-highest per capita income in the world in 2020. In 2021, the United Nations World Happiness Report ranked the Netherlands as the sixt happiest country in the world, reflecting its high quality of life.