Speech from the Throne 1999

The Hague, 21 September 1999


It gives me great pleasure to see you assembled here to resume your work (...) In many spheres there is an urgent need for resolute legislative measures. These are the words with which my grandmother greeted your predecessors a hundred years ago.

Members of the States-General

The twentieth century has been an era of sharp contrasts. It has seen two World Wars, with great loss of life. By overcoming old antagonisms, through cooperation instead of conflict, Western Europe has succeeded in putting the tribulations of the past behind it. The ongoing process of European integration has brought political stability and economic and social progress. The conviction that Europe needs greater unity has always been rooted in an awareness of increasing mutual dependence.

For many years, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe were unable to take part in this process of integration. They were on the other side of the political and ideological divide. Now that these countries have regained the freedom to determine their own destiny as constitutional democracies, they are seeking to join in the drive towards greater stability and cooperation in Europe. Creating the scope for this is one of the great challenges now facing the European Union.

The twentieth century has also been an age of unprecedented scientific, technological and economic progress. Many have been able to reap the benefits of these changes, and more people have acquired democratic rights. A greater proportion of the world's population now lives in freedom and prosperity. Yet too many people are still excluded from the benefits of progress, most of them in other parts of the world, but some close to home. We must not accept this as inevitable.

As we stand on the threshold of a new century, our country is faced with a number of important challenges: - We must ensure that the Netherlands continues to play a full part in the globalisation of the world economy. - We must seek a sustainable balance between growing prosperity and the preservation of our natural environment. - We must invest in knowledge, and in people who know how to use it responsibly, in the interests of a high-quality society. - We must preserve social cohesion in the face of rapid technological and economic change. - We must strengthen the solidarity of our society, as its age structure and composition change. - We must keep a firm grip on the norms and values enshrined in our Constitution, which give our country stability and direction.

The government is responding to these challenges by investing in the quality of our society. This requires commitment from us all, both at home and abroad.

Our foreign policy is defined by the growing interdependence of countries and peoples. It gives priority to strengthening the international legal order, and to security and justice. These are the principles we stand for in the international arena, and specifically now through our membership of the UN Security Council. The United Nations is making an indispensable contribution to the restoration of peace in East Timor. We also give our full support to efforts by the international community to contain and resolve conflicts elsewhere in the world.

The European Union is one of this century's greatest achievements.

Europe's single currency - the euro - illustrates how far this process of integration has progressed. Our future is more and more determined by what Europe does. The effects of integration are being felt at every level of government within our country.

Closer European-level justice and police cooperation is starting to take shape. The Netherlands is arguing the case for agreements on asylum and migration policy. As more countries accede to the Union, there is an ever greater need for more efficient institutions, more democracy and more transparency in decision-making, and good financial management. Enlargement of the Union is bringing us closer to an undivided Europe.

Serious human rights violations and ethnic cleansing have once again taken place in former Yugoslavia. Acting in concert, NATO members brought the conflict in Kosovo to an end. The Netherlands, too, played its part. We shall also be making a significant contribution to international efforts towards reconstruction and stability in Southeast Europe.

More than three thousand men and women from the Dutch armed forces are taking part in peace operations in the Balkans and elsewhere in the world. Their competence and great dedication show that a professional, well-equipped defence capability is indispensable. The government therefore places great value on the continued development of modern, flexible armed forces.

NATO remains the cornerstone of our security policy. The development of the European Security and Defence Identity will enable Europe to shoulder more responsibility for its own security.

The Netherlands began providing development aid fifty years ago, as an expression of our solidarity with other countries and peoples. Living standards in many developing countries have increased substantially in that time. Although this is largely due to the efforts of the countries themselves, aid has made a contribution. Severe poverty in parts of Africa and elsewhere in the world make the continuation of international aid efforts essential. The effectiveness of bilateral aid will be enhanced by concentrating it in a number of target countries and sectors. In international fora, the Netherlands is pressing for an improvement in the quality of multilateral aid, a stronger position for the developing countries within the system of global trade, and further debt relief for the poorest countries.

The Dutch economy is strong and resilient, and will continue to be so if we succeed in reducing the burden on the environment even further. Production processes and products must be ecologically benign. Experience shows that it costs much more to repair environmental damage than to prevent it. This is often a matter not only of money, but also of careful and responsible decision-making. Our efforts now will determine the future of generations to come.

Space is a scarce commodity in our country. Economic expansion increases the demand for land for industrial sites, housing, infrastructure and recreational facilities. A prosperous society imposes high demands on the quality of its spatial planning. Towns and cities with fine historic buildings, surrounded by cultivated landscapes and areas in which nature is given the chance to develop, are considered of great value. The desire to preserve this diversity is forcing us to make our cities more compact - as places in which to live as well as to work - and to ensure that the variety of the countryside is maintained, with open spaces and a rich and accessible natural environment. If we are to preserve the vitality of the countryside, we must ensure that the activities it supports are sustainable. Guidelines on how this can be achieved will be laid out in the Fifth Policy Document on Spatial Planning.

The agricultural sector is on the threshold of far-reaching reforms. The limits imposed by the environment leave us with no choice. This is an immense challenge, especially to intensive livestock farming. And European legislation makes it even more necessary for us to ensure without delay that manure is disposed of in a responsible manner.

The people of the Netherlands are calling for ever higher standards governing the safety of food and the ways in which it is produced. This imposes obligations on those involved in the production and marketing of food. Standards must be tightened up and inspections improved.

Spatial planning in the Netherlands is largely determined by our location. Our country has traditionally been a centre where goods flows converge and diverge. Our economic and cultural openness and our social stability make the Netherlands an attractive prospect for foreign investors. As an international meeting place, it has its own unique colour and vitality. All this means considerable movements of people and goods, which must be properly channelled. The Dutch government therefore devotes considerable attention to the quality of the country's infrastructure, and will continue to do so. The challenge is to reconcile this mobility with the new demands of sustainability. Public transport will have to play a greater role, particularly in urban areas. The Netherlands must continue to be fully integrated in the major international and European transport networks. The mainports of Rotterdam and Schiphol are focusing on the application of leading-edge knowledge and technological innovation to enable them to continue to fulfil their roles as distribution centres efficiently.

The importance to our society of communication and the electronic exchange of information is rapidly increasing. Communications infrastructure should be accessible, reliable and of a high standard. New applications are making it possible for the authorities to improve their services and for Dutch industry to remain competitive. New technologies are bringing about major social, economic and cultural changes. It is important for people to learn how to use computers. The government is helping schools to play a key role in this process. Above all, we must invest in people. Our society cannot afford not to make use of the talent available. Government, educational institutions, the social partners and companies all share responsibility for creating a challenging climate in which to learn and work.

< <<< The rapid changes taking place in our society make great demands on our adaptability. Many people are uncertain about their future, their safety, their job, and about how to ensure they continue to receive the care and attention they need in later life. Strengthening the social infrastructure is a matter of high priority. By investing in jobs, social and economic security, care and public safety, the government is creating the conditions to allow everyone to participate actively in society.

Employment growth in recent years has been extremely favourable. Many people - government and social partners alike - have helped to bring this about. However, attention should still be focused on those who have not yet found work. It is desirable, for both social and economic reasons, that they too take part in the labour process. For many people, work - including voluntary work - is an important factor enabling them to function in society. Both women and men are seeking a better balance between work and private life. Greater freedom of choice makes it easier for people both to be economically independent and to care for their families.

The numbers of those who are ill or unfit for work and claiming benefit are high. Special efforts are required to ensure that people do not leave the labour market prematurely and that, if they do, they are able to return to work. The reformed, client-friendly system for providing benefits and employment services attaches primary importance to prevention and re-entry. Safeguarding entitlement to social benefits continues to be a state responsibility.

Good health is extremely important to people. Even those who are disabled or chronically ill make every effort to achieve the best possible quality of life. The aim of investments in the care sector is to ensure that patients benefit from advances in science and technology.

Care institutions, insurers, professionals, patients' organisations and the government must cooperate in the interests of further improvements in health care. Funds and effective legislation are essential, but these are not enough on their own. It is necessary for all concerned to continue to work towards efficient, flexible care provision with the patient at its centre. Only in that way can waiting lists and workloads be reduced. Furthermore, every individual has a responsibility for his own health: a healthy lifestyle can prevent many of the diseases of modern affluent society.

The make-up of the population of the Netherlands is changing rapidly. The proportion of people from ethnic minorities is steadily rising. It is important for these new fellow citizens to be integrated into Dutch society. Training and reducing the high rates of unemployment among ethnic minority groups will help to increase their self-reliance. Shared norms and values are a prerequisite for cohesion in our society. We live side by side as free citizens, each with our rights and obligations, and with respect for the views of others. Individuals and government alike should always be on the alert for racism and discrimination.

Some areas in our major cities are facing an accumulation of problems: children dropping out of school, long-term unemployment, crime, aggression and social exclusion. Improving the quality of life in the cities is central to efforts to create a stronger social and economic base for the Netherlands. Urban problem areas should have a chance of developing into good places in which to live and work.

Policy on aliens continues to be based on the principle that the persecuted and the displaced should be protected. Proposed amendments to the Aliens Act will expedite the procedures for deciding whether asylum seekers are entitled to a temporary stay in the Netherlands. It is in the interests of all concerned to clarify the situation as soon as possible. The position of those who are entitled to protection will be improved if they spend less time in reception facilities and can enter the labour market sooner than is now the case. Asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected are no longer entitled to benefits or services and should leave the country.

Public safety is essential to a strong society. People must be able to feel safe. Too many still do not feel safe enough. This imposes grave demands on the effectiveness, integrity, presence and resolve of the police. The government has decided to make extra resources available to enable the police to perform their duties.

As our society develops, so crime changes. This is one reason why new methods are needed for the maintenance of law and order. The authorities are to be given greater powers to combat fraud and money laundering, to investigate criminal offences and to tackle street violence.

The coalition agreement reserved funds - eventually totalling over 9 billion guilders - for new policy on employment, education, care, poverty reduction, public safety, infrastructure and the environment. The budget for the coming year develops these priorities and includes additional resources, mainly for social care, youth policy and education. About one billion guilders will be used to reduce tax and social security contributions. The employed person's allowance will be increased further, to boost the number of people seeking work and to encourage wage moderation. Measures to increase employment will also include a reduction in the VAT rate for labour-intensive services. Taken together, the measures in the field of tax and social security contributions will promote a balanced development of income. Particular attention will be given to the incomes of young disabled people.

The government deficit is expected to be 0.5% of gross domestic product next year. The debt ratio is also falling more quickly than expected. A sound financial and economic policy is, however, still called for.

With the changes to the tax system planned to take effect on 1 January 2001, the government intends to strengthen the economic structure, improve the employment rate and take more account of the demands of the environment. This will tailor the tax system to the needs of the 21st century.

High-quality public administration inspires active citizenship and encourages a sense of civic commitment. Reciprocity and trust will strengthen the foundations of our constitutional democracy and ensure that it remains resilient in the next century.

The foundations of our democracy are in constant need of maintenance. The continuing fall in the turnout at elections is a cause for concern. The new opportunities afforded by technology are being studied, but these will never be able to replace the personal commitment of individuals. The government continues to work towards the introduction of legislation on the corrective referendum.

Clear legislation and the judicious use of regulation are significant factors contributing to the effective functioning of the market in a society that is becoming ever more critical and complex. Upholding the rule of law demands high standards of the authorities and the judiciary.

In such a rapidly changing society, we must all constantly adapt to new demands and new circumstances. The state should lay down general rules, guarantee public safety and offer protection when necessary. It must uphold norms and values and must also be able to hold others to account in this regard. Of the people and for the people, the government is the guarantor of the rule of law.

The introduction of a one-stop system will make the authorities more readily accessible. It will also make it easier to direct individuals through the maze of agencies and regulations. This end will be served by taking advantage of the potential offered by modern information and communication technology.

The government must make it clear what it does, and why and how it does it. This calls for good teamwork and trust between those who bear political responsibility and their civil servants. Transparency and accountability are indispensable. Integrity on the part of public servants and public confidence in their sense of responsibility are central to the work of the civil service.

In the Kingdom as a whole, too, the quality of public administration merits particular attention. The government of the Netherlands Antilles is faced with the challenge of serious financial and economic problems. Aruba has made good progress in reorganising its public finances, and the emphasis there now lies on improving standards of public administration. Consultations are taking place at Kingdom level on proposals for modernising the cooperation relationship between its constituent parts.

Members of the States-General,

As we reach the end of this century, it is time to take stock. Much that is good has been achieved in the Netherlands. Many people have contributed to that success. In an awareness of our strengths, while never losing sight of our weaknesses, this gives us confidence for the future. In the new century, too, we shall all need to invest in the quality of our society and in international cooperation. The government will continue its unceasing efforts to achieve a strong economy and a vital society. In doing so it will work with you, with other tiers of government and with every member of society.

I sincerely hope that you will discharge your responsible duties with dedication and commitment, in the confidence that many people join me in wishing you wisdom and praying that you will be blessed.