Speech from the Throne 2002
The Hague, 17 September 2002
Memebers of the States General,
For some years, it seemed that we in the Netherlands could depend on a number of certainties: our economy continued to grow and we were safe from outside attacks. But these certainties have proved illusory. Since the middle of last year economic growth has virtually come to a standstill and unemployment is rising once more. After the attacks of 11 September last year, we have come to realise that security and stability cannot in fact be taken for granted in our country or in the Western world.
It has also become clear that many are uneasy about developments in our society. There is a growing sense of insecurity and menace, a large influx of newcomers who are not becoming sufficiently integrated, and a decline in the quality of care, education and other services. It is against this background that the election was held and the present government formed.
A great deal has been achieved in the Netherlands over the past few decades. The government is now facing the onerous task of preserving what is good and dealing with the imperfections with clarity and vigour. Far-reaching measures are needed to counter the decline of economic growth. Moreover, the government is mindful of the tasks emphatically assigned to it by the electorate: public safety must be improved, rules obeyed, the integration of minorities expedited and the quality and organisation of public services improved.
The government is fully aware that much of the scope for our country's progress and prosperity stems from cooperation with other nations. This is especially true of our ties with the European Union. The Netherlands was present at the inception of European integration. Today, the European Union is on the brink of a new era, anticipating the accession of new member states and the reform of the common agricultural policy. Important issues regarding the structure of the Union will be addressed in the Convention and subsequently at the Intergovernmental Conference.
The government is aware that these far-reaching changes may be met with mixed feelings. Hence, the debate on this matter must not be confined to politicians and institutions. The public perception of Europe must be infused with renewed enthusiasm. Next year, while holding the chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe, and subsequently when it holds the presidency of the European Union, the Netherlands will take measures to inform the public and get people involved in this debate. The values for which the European Union stands must be crystal clear and enshrined in treaty form.
Over the past year, peace and security have been jeopardised more and more often by tensions both within and between nations. The government will do everything in its power to seek solutions to such problems in international fora. In this connection, special attention must be paid to the alarming developments in the Middle East.
The Netherlands attaches great importance to Europe's vital relationship with the United States. And NATO is of fundamental importance in this. The Dutch defence apparatus contributes according to its capacity, and our armed forces are to be commended for their role in peace operations. The victims of the horrific attacks in the United States just over a year ago remain in our thoughts, and the fight against international terrorism continues unabated. Our country too shoulders responsibility in this.
The Netherlands has a long tradition of international solidarity. The conference on sustainable global development, which was recently held in Johannesburg, underlines the importance of an integrated approach to problems that affect the entire world. Building on our own contribution to that conference, this year proposals will be put before you for a coherent strategy to promote sustainable development, looking at water, energy and poverty reduction, among other things, and focusing on Africa in particular.
The ties that bind the Kingdom together create responsibilities for this country, the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba. In the interests of balanced relations, the government attaches great importance to the present constitutional links within the Netherlands Antilles. The Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands should provide a basis for closer integration within the Kingdom.
As long as crime remains at its present alarming level, the government, in consultation with its partners in the Kingdom, will use its financial contribution to cooperation primarily to strengthen law enforcement.
In response to the problems in our country, the government has resolved to engender a new culture of governance, a culture in which social problems and conflicting interests are discussed openly and frankly, decisions are expeditious and well considered, and in which the law is respected. The government will initiate debate on shared values. Society's norms must be given new force.
It is people themselves who sustain a society. All too often government is expected to prevent or eradicate problems and risks in everyday life. Yet, at the same time, it is becoming less acceptable for government to impose restrictions on people. A new balance must be struck. Society can only function if people are prepared to ask what they can do for one another, before they turn to the government. And people can only fulfil their potential if the State gives them the scope to shoulder responsibility and make choices for themselves. The keywords here are respect, responsibility and accountability. First, respect for one another's privacy, for those in authority and those who serve the public good, but also the respect of government for the people. Second, the responsibility of individuals, civil society and the corporate sector to make a real contribution to the quality of society. And third, accountability refers to the obligation on government and institutions to render account for the manner in which they perform their duties and produce results.
The Netherlands has traditionally offered scope to the cultures and religions of people from all corners of the globe. That principle must be upheld. But large-scale immigration and the problems associated with it have put pressure on society. As a result, the government will take steps to promote the further integration of ethnic minorities. Newcomers will be required to learn our language, to appreciate the Dutch identity and culture, and obey the laws of our constitutional democracy. They will be expected to complete an integration course. A more restrictive admission policy and steps to curb illegal immigration will also foster integration. Such measures will give newcomers more opportunity to find their niche in society. Integration depends on constant effort and a mutual willingness to adapt.
The major problems facing the government cannot be solved without the cooperation of civil society and the two sides of industry, which are unifying forces in the community. It is therefore important that they are aware of their responsibilities. For the sake of the quality of society, they will have to continue to focus explicitly on the public interest.
Where citizens and civil society are willing to take responsibility, they must be given the scope to do so. The government will therefore strive to reduce regulation and red tape. It will create the conditions necessary for essential public services to be better organised. In this, the prime concern must be the human scale and the opinions of the public.
In education, the priorities are teaching and the professionalism of teachers. The government proposes to give more responsibility to educational, cultural and research institutions. It will make vigorous efforts to reduce administrative costs and the volume of educational legislation. Next year, proposals will be put before you allowing schools more leeway in structuring basic secondary education and independent study in the second stage of secondary education, and in allocating the funds they receive to reduce class sizes.
Measures will be taken to improve the quality of vocational education and reduce the drop-out rate. One way of doing this is by bringing learning pathways in vocational education closer into line with each other.
In a financially responsible manner, the government will safeguard the public's right to insured care. To this end it will expect medical insurers to fulfil their responsibilities in contributing to the funding and control of health care. At the same time, care providers will be given more scope for enterprise, new initiatives and experiments. The needs of the patient will be paramount, and waiting times will be reduced. Next year, the government proposes to introduce a new funding system for health care, based on solidarity between people in different age, risk and income groups.
As regards the growing number of older people, the government intends to take account of individual wishes and needs in the fields of welfare services, care, income and housing. It will publish an integrated approach to these matters in 2003.
Most young people, I am happy to say, reach adulthood without too much difficulty. Parents bear the main responsibility for their upbringing. But help must be at hand the moment anything threatens to go wrong.
The government attaches great importance to an integrated youth policy aimed at prevention. A policy of this kind depends on close, individual-oriented cooperation between a child's school, the neighbourhood and any agencies involved. If necessary, corrective and repressive measures must also be taken.
The Netherlands is structured on a human scale, which also determines our relationship with the environment in which we live, in the widest sense. Robust cities and dynamic rural areas are both essential to the sustainable development of our country. Farmers and market gardeners will acquire a new function, involving a more cohesive approach to nature, recreation and agriculture. To this end, the government will promote agri-environmental management.
Authorities other than the government have a distinct role to play in spatial policy. The government intends to give them more scope to make their own assessments. The main amendments to the Fifth Policy Document on Spatial Planning will be submitted to you this autumn. The amendments will address the question of how rural areas can absorb population growth. They will also look at ways of making cities more attractive to different income groups and increasing social diversity in deprived areas. In mid-2003, proposals to simplify legislation on housing, the environment and spatial planning will be put before you.
Accessibility is important to economic growth, prosperity and wellbeing. But there are limits to what can be done to meet the increasing need for mobility. The government will invest in the elimination of bottlenecks and improved use of existing infrastructure to help keep traffic moving. New railway stations will be built in Vinex residential developments. The government will contribute to reducing the delays experienced by rail passengers by giving priority to effective, prompt maintenance of the railway infrastructure.
The public feel unsafe and are worried about rising crime rates. Violence and crime have such a severe impact on people's lives that strict enforcement of public order and tough measures to tackle crime are urgently needed.
In 2003, the government plans to strengthen the organisation and powers of the police and the judicial authorities. A national criminal investigation agency will be set up. The government's powers of police management will be strengthened. Agreements will be concluded with regional police force managers and other relevant actors on how to achieve better results. Towards the end of 2004, the government will decide whether the results achieved call for further organisational changes.
The police and the judicial authorities have made a determined effort in recent years. Building on the results they have achieved, priority will be given to combating the types of disturbance and crime most frequently affecting the public. These include robbery and threatening behaviour in the streets, vandalism, burglary and drug-related nuisance. This will require an active, visible police presence, 24 hours a day. Arrangements will be made to deploy the police along these lines wherever possible. Other bodies, such as the judiciary and the probation service, will also have to adapt.
In the interests of safety on public transport, stricter surveillance and controlled access will be introduced in metro and railway stations in the coming year.
To widen the investigative powers of the police and the judicial authorities, the government will next year introduce a statutory general compulsory identification obligation and increase the use of DNA technology.
Serious incidents over the last two years have demonstrated the need to focus on other safeguards, such as the fire service, transport safety and disaster response. Prime responsibility for enforcing the terms of licences and other forms of prevention, and for disaster response, rests with the municipalities and provinces. The government will promote regional cooperation among fire and accident response services. Later this year a bill will be submitted to improve preparations and drills and the quality of disaster management plans. Over the next four years additional resources will be made available for the safe storage and carriage of hazardous substances. Attention will also be focused on improving safety in tunnels.
The recent floods in Europe have once again made it clear that a fresh approach to water management is necessary. In addition to raising the dikes, new measures will be needed for the retention, storage and drainage of water.
The government will introduce or amend legislation and standards to ensure food safety. For its part, the industry must live up to its social responsibilities in this field.
The government's social, economic and fiscal policy is designed to increase employment and profitability, reduce inflation and improve government finances, both before and after 2006. The budget for 2003 forms part of a multi-year policy aimed at paying off the national debt in about 25 years. This is the most reliable way of maintaining collective provision for our ageing population.
Other important elements of government policy are preventing sickness absence, tackling the issue of incapacity for work, a pensions covenant with the social partners, ways of combining work and care, and more effective operation of the labour market. Scope for enterprise will also be created by means of substantial reductions in administrative costs.
Our policy intentions are under pressure because the economic prospects are considerably poorer than was expected last year. The growth rate of 1.5 per cent in Gross Domestic Product predicted for 2003 is almost half that forecast earlier. This is significantly lower than the United States or the European Union average.
There is a downturn in the international economy. High share and property prices have distorted perceptions of the country's prosperity. Furthermore, over the last few years the government and many individuals have failed to exercise sufficient moderation; wage increases have been considerably higher in the Netherlands than in neighbouring countries. This has weakened our competitiveness. Unemployment is going up by nearly 8,000 people every month. Our ability to maintain current levels of pension provision is under threat from a combination of excessive wage rises, a fall in the financial markets and the rising costs of demographic ageing.
In the light of this sombre economic situation, the government feels compelled to take measures to sustain the prospect of paying off the national debt on schedule. It will be necessary to keep wage costs at or below the level of inflation for a considerable period, in both the public and the private sector.
In these difficult conditions, people's purchasing power will decline. However, the burden will be spread as evenly as possible. Particular attention will be devoted to the purchasing power of pensioners whose only income is the General Old Age Pension (AOW).
To provide a financial incentive to work, the employed person's tax credit will be increased with effect from 1 January 2003.
Despite further cuts, the government will continue to give priority to education, care and public safety. In its role as employer, too, the government will moderate wage costs. It will make additional funds available to relieve pressure on the labour market, notably in such sectors as care and education. The government expects broad public support for a policy of wage moderation over several years. When the market sector also succeeds in cutting wage costs, it will be possible to reduce employers' and employees' contributions.
Members of the States General,
With this budget the government aims to respond to the public's uncertainties, problems and ambitions. The government is aware that it cannot solve everything within a short space of time. It puts forward these proposals in the knowledge that results can only be achieved by a concerted effort on the part of society as a whole. The government hopes to work with you to achieve its objectives and to that end looks forward to productive consultation.
May your personal convictions be a source of strength and inspiration in discharging your responsible task. God's blessing be on your work.