18TH CENTURY TO TODAY - OVERVIEW
18th century :
- Consolidation at first, then decline setting in. The dynamism and energy of the previous century faded, with Amsterdam focusing more and more on banking, considered save.
In the long term the Netherlands were unable to keep up with England, while France as well became ever stronger and expansionistic. That many enemies would have necessitated way higher military expenses than the Netherlands could ever afford.
- At the end of the century, invasion and occupation by the French. The English imposed a total blockade, to hurt the French. In the same time finishing off their moribund old rival, Holland.
19th century :
- Napoleon incorporated the Netherlands into the French empire. More cannon fodder for his wars. Ever higher taxes, and economic stagnation lead to general poverty.
- After French defeat at Waterloo, the victorious European powers decided on a strong buffer state to contain France.
North and South were reunited in 1815, under a Dutch king. A new monarchy, since the Northern Netherlands had been a republic for most of their existence.
- Two hundred years of separation, with during that time many acts of war and destruction between the two parts, proved to have caused serious alienation and mistrust.
Moreover, the frenchified higher circles of the South were not happy at all with those Dutch speaking "arrogant Hollanders". And in addition they were protestant too ! You can imagine what the powerful Catholic church thought about that.
In 1830 revolution broke out in Brussels, wholeheartedly supported by France that was not charmed by a powerful state on its northern border.
A French army moved in and defeated the Dutch forces. Leading to the independent state of Belgium, and to the Netherlands as we know it today.
- Around the middle of the 19th century, industrialization started in the Netherlands. Much later than in other Western European countries. Trade picked up again, the beginning of a second "Golden Century" for Holland and Amsterdam.
Economical prosperity in other parts of the country was far more limited.
- Traditionally, the Dutch had never been too keen on colonisation. Mainly for purely practical and financial reasons. Not out of morality.
Sure, they had posts and forts all over the world since early 17th century. But they were primarily interested in trade, and tried to create a favourable business climate through local rulers and elite. Much cheaper.
That changed late 19th century when European powers started to carve up the world into exclusive territories. No more room for other nations.
The Netherlands claimed they wanted to educate and develop Indonesia. With what they called an "ethical policy". And in no time, they were involved in colonial war.
20th century :
- The Netherlands managed to remain neutral during the First World War. However, the costs of war were enormous. Full and permanent military mobilisation against all sides. While about a million Belgian refugees flooded the country, with at the time 6 million inhabitants (in 2015 nearly 17 million).
- Between the world wars, rapid modernisation of the country continued. After serious flooding in 1916, huge water defence works were decided : the enclosure dam in the Zuiderzee, and vaste land reclamation.
- In 1940 German troops marched into the neutral Netherlands. World War II caused immense damage in lives, property and infrastructure. Also the psychological shock was going to prove long lasting, the war and consequences strongly dominating the minds till deep into the 1960ies.
- The 1953 Flood Disaster was answered with the Delta Works, an immense complex of dams and locks to secure the southern delta and Holland. Symbolic for the growing self-confidence of a nation on its way to a makeable and affluent society. Economical ups and down did little to change that feeling until after the turn of the century.
- Dutch prosperity was based on both external and internal factors.
External, because the whole of Western Europe saw a constant increase in productivity and income. The Netherlands being the gateway to Germany, the booming economy of our neighbours was of evident importance.
Important internal factors were the creation of a social and stable society. The almost complete lack of labour unrest made the rest of Europe somewhat enviously speak of the "Dutch miracle".
The discovery and exploitation of enormous natural gas reserves made a balanced state budget possible, with an excellent system of social benefits for the entire population. The Netherlands being an exporter of energy, the oil crisis of 1973 had less of a direct impact.
- The unexpected fall of communism brought spectacular economic growth, and a drastic change in policy. Private enterprise was declared the supreme good. Public services and infrastructure to be sold and privatised.
A trend break from a rather egalitarian mindset towards a widening difference of incomes.
21st century :
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- The beginning of the 21st century saw a growing feeling of uneasiness and social unrest caused by rapid changes in society, too rapid for many people. The Netherlands even more swiftly shifting from a producing and trading country to one of mere services, with production being moved to low-wage countries.
Feelings of uncomfort were deepened by demographic changes started during the last decades of the twentieth century.
Huge numbers of lowly skilled workers had come to stay, mainly from north Africa and Turkey, to fill those jobs that now were being moved abroad. High umemployment and cultural differences were starting to create tension between communities. While populist politicians certainly did not bring solutions any closer.
- The financial crisis of 2008 hit hard, with skyrocketing unemployment figures, especially in the parts of society already under treath. Although most people realise that in these circumstances the traditional Dutch welfare state will at a certain point become unaffordable, no party really dares drastic measures. Indeed, taking the plunge will not make one popular. But that is of course nothing specifically Dutch.