Speech from the Throne 2006

The Hague, 19 September 2006

Members of the States General,

This year your joint session is taking place in a refurbished Hall of Knights. This historic chamber is a symbol of our constitutional democracy. Elections to a new House of Representatives will be held on 22 November. The government realises that it must therefore exercise caution in submitting the budget for 2007. Equally, it has a responsibility to present a budget that builds a solid bridge to the future.

As a strong, prosperous and free country we have a major international responsibility. Conflicts and emergencies in the world call for an active response from the Netherlands. Together with other countries we are helping to maintain the international legal order. In Afghanistan, Sudan, Bosnia, Iraq, Congo and elsewhere, Dutch men and women face danger in the interest of order, security and reconstruction. Dutch troops are well prepared for their tasks and are fulfilling them with wholehearted dedication and conviction in a dangerous environment. They know that they have our support. Our thoughts go out to those who have lost loved ones during these missions.

The fate of the world is our fate too. We will continue to fight against poverty and disease and for a better environment. The Netherlands is helping to ensure that more people in developing countries have access to clean water, sustainable energy, medicines and good education. Individuals, businesses and organisations are becoming increasingly involved in these tasks.

Our country wants to play a positive role in the world, by working closely with others. In times of conflict, in the shadow of the terrorist threat, it is even more important to show by our deeds that there are alternatives to violence and injustice. The Netherlands wants to be a country that searches creatively for new solutions.

The European Union, too, provides a framework for resolving problems and settling disputes. Within the Union, the government is giving its full attention to issues affecting people's daily lives. To safeguard our security and prosperity, to protect the environment and our long-term energy supplies, we need our fellow Europeans. These tasks take precedence over the debate on the structure of the Union.

As regards consultations on future relations within the Kingdom, we face a common task. And one that demands great efforts from us all. The government is doing its utmost to ensure that these discussions yield fruitful results. I myself am particularly looking forward to visiting the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom in the near future.

The Netherlands is a country that assumes its responsibility in the world. Responsibility also exists closer to home, in our care and concern for one another. The government wants to ensure that everyone in the Netherlands can develop fully and can participate in and contribute to our society. Everyone's qualities must be able to come to fruition. Education that inspires is a prerequisite for this. The government is paying special attention to expanding opportunities for work experience and for combining learning and working. Those who work in education need more latitude to cater for the needs of pupils more effectively. To this end, the administrative burden on schools will be cut by more than a quarter next year. Schools that perform well will be subject to fewer inspections.

A major problem is that many young people do not finish school. A growing number of children also have problems in their families or social environment. We must not abandon these young people to their fate. From 1 January 2007 education will therefore be compulsory for everyone aged 18 or under who is not sufficiently qualified for the labour market. Those who are reluctant to stay on will receive extra supervision. Youth care organisations will work together more efficiently and receive financial support in order to eliminate their waiting lists this year. Family supervisors, too, will be better equipped to guide young people.

Research shows that the crime rate is falling. People feel safer. To accelerate this favourable trend, the government is making extra resources available for the police and for improving public safety in the big cities. In the years ahead, our efforts to tackle organised crime in particular will need to continue unabated.

Everyone must be able to participate in our society according to their abilities, whatever their age or state of health. That is the aim of the Social Support Act, which will enter into force on 1 January 2007. People who need home care or special equipment will be able to obtain them closer to home. Their municipality will provide them with help that is appropriate to their needs and living conditions. The quality of nursing homes will be further improved, and extra resources given to home care, making waiting lists a thing of the past. The valuable work of carers will receive extra support from 2007.

We are dependent on one another for our happiness and wellbeing. Concern for others, respect for others' contributions and convictions - these are the foundations of a vibrant neighbourhood, a flourishing city, a strong country. It is encouraging that initiatives are being taken in many municipalities to strengthen the bonds between people. The government is supporting citizens and organisations that are trying to improve understanding between social groups. To understand one another, we need to know what the other person is saying. Language proficiency is therefore a central plank of the Civic Integration (Newcomers) Act. Next year, all municipalities will hold naturalisation ceremonies to welcome new Dutch citizens.

The government is endeavouring to preserve our country's cultural assets and make them more accessible. For instance, the Rijksmuseum is being renovated and a national history museum is to be founded. Culture binds and enriches.

Alongside our efforts on the world stage and what we do for one another, we all share another responsibility: responsibility for the future. Future generations, too, must have the opportunity to build a good life in the Netherlands.

A great deal has been demanded of the public over recent difficult years. With an eye to the future, the government has had to take radical measures and make sweeping changes. Employees, employers and the government have worked together to ensure that our country can now benefit from the favourable development of the global economy. Our country finds itself in a strong position. The Netherlands is performing well. Dutch entrepreneurs are active worldwide. In business, education, health care and numerous other sectors, change is under way. Our country is competitive again. This can readily be seen in the growth in jobs. More jobs and lower taxes mean that people have more money to spend again. Although the economy is expanding, emissions of harmful substances into the atmosphere have been curbed. To further improve air quality, the government is encouraging the use of cleaner cars.

In recent years a firm foundation has been laid on which we can build in the future. The 2007 budget is balanced. Next year the administrative burden will be cut by a quarter compared with 2002. Entrepreneurs are seeing the results in more flexible rules on working hours and working conditions. The government is also making it easier for parents to combine work with caring for their children. Childcare will become cheaper and simpler for working parents, because all employers will henceforth make a financial contribution. Schools are being made responsible for organising care before and after school hours.

A fair and robust healthcare insurance system has been introduced that will help to ensure that care remains affordable and of a high standard in the future. Freedom of choice has increased. Insurers must accept everyone and charge them the same premiums, regardless of their state of health. Children can be insured free of charge.

Significant reforms have also been made to the social security system and the labour market. As a result, more people will be able to work and fewer will need to draw benefit. For the first time, the number of unemployment, incapacity and social assistance benefits has fallen. All these measures will make it possible to preserve the old age pension and other benefit schemes for future generations.

Thanks to spatial planning changes and investment in the infrastructure, the Netherlands is better prepared for the future. In 2007 many concrete results will become visible. Citizens, companies and government authorities now have greater freedom to shape their own environment. A considerable number of new homes are becoming available. Urban renewal is beginning to bear fruit.

Backlogs in the maintenance of waterways, roads and railways are being eliminated. The High Speed Line South and the Betuwe Line will be brought into service, facilitating connections with neighbouring countries.

It is vital to protect the Dutch delta against high water hazards. In cooperation with provinces and water boards, the weak links in our flood defences are being tackled. Concern for nature will be further developed by preserving and developing national parks and landscapes. The government supports the agricultural sector's aim of continuing to set the trend in innovation and is looking after the interests of the vulnerable fishing industry.

The government wants to further strengthen the basis for the future by reducing costs for households and companies and investing in the quality of society. Entrepreneurship and innovation will be made more financially rewarding. The Working on Profit Bill is intended to make a significant contribution to this. Together with employers and employees, the government wants to maintain the favourable position in which our country now finds itself. 2007 will therefore be a year in which the Netherlands takes further measures to secure a promising future.

Members of the States General,

In two months Dutch citizens aged 18 and over will elect a new House of Representatives. Free elections are essential to our democracy. They are the expression of our individual freedom. But they are likewise important for the responsibility we share for the world around us, for one another and for our future.

As members of parliament, you have an important task. You may draw succour from the knowledge that many are wishing you wisdom and join me in praying for strength and God's blessing upon you.

Tuesday 19 September 2006