Speech from the Throne 2008

The Hague, 16 September 2008

Members of the States General,

The Netherlands can respond to the exacting demands that are now being made of us with confidence and self-assurance. Global developments are causing people concern. There are threats to peace and security in many parts of the world. Sustainable economic growth cannot be taken for granted. Greater efforts are needed in our own country to ensure the quality of our living and working environment and to enhance mutual respect.

The government intends to work with everyone in the Netherlands to build a country that has confidence in itself and keeps its gaze fixed on the future. The proposed budget for 2009 emphasises intensive international cooperation, the best possible conditions for sustainable economic growth, and an environment that provides people with a sense of confidence and certainty.

Peace and security demand our constant attention. The Netherlands has traditionally contributed to peace missions and development cooperation. As an internationally oriented country, we take a responsible and constructive attitude. Today, as in the past, we will not flag in our efforts in the fields of the international legal order, human rights, development cooperation and crisis management. To carry out our security tasks properly, we will invest in materiel and human resources.

The presence of Dutch troops in Afghanistan and other conflict areas confirms that our solidarity transcends national borders. Our forces deserve our unceasing appreciation for the demanding task that they carry out, often at the risk of their own lives. Our thoughts are with those who have fallen and with their families.

Fragile states are experiencing great difficulty in attaining the Millennium Development Goals. For this reason, the government will invest more in these countries. It will also endeavour to promote freedom of expression, media diversity and freedom of religion in the world. To this end, the resources of the Human Rights Fund will be increased.

The European Union has brought freedom and security to our continent. The government will continue to strive for close European cooperation. It is gratifying that you, the States General, have approved the Treaty of Lisbon. The government hopes that the Union's member states will continue the ratification process in 2009.

European cooperation is also crucial to achieving sustainable economic growth. The EU budget should increasingly be aimed at meeting this objective.

Sustainable economic growth cannot be taken for granted. The world economy has encountered setbacks. Demand for food and energy is rising everywhere, as are prices. The crisis on the financial markets is slowing growth in the Netherlands and abroad. Thanks to our efforts in past years, the Dutch economy is in relatively good shape. Unemployment is low. Since 2000, the purchasing power of households has risen by an average of 12%. Our pension system and other social services are solid. But vigilance is still called for.

The government plans to further reinforce the foundations of our economy by improving our country's competitiveness, curbing inflation and increasing the rate of labour market participation. VAT will therefore not be increased. This should make possible responsible pay awards and a reduction in employees' social insurance contributions. In this way, the burden of tax and contributions on individuals and businesses can be decreased in 2009.

The government is aiming for a budget surplus again next year, so as to ensure the quality of care and funding for the state old age pension system in the long term. A budget surplus alone is not enough to ensure a sustainably high level of public services, however. It is also necessary for more people to go to work. Everyone who can make a contribution must do so.

There are personnel shortages in health care, education and other sectors. This is another reason why the government is keen on raising the rate of labour market participation. Childcare will continue to be an attractive option for parents in paid work. It will become financially more attractive for benefit claimants to take up employment. Employers will receive grants when they hire the long-term unemployed. Instead of social assistance benefit, young people below the age of 27 will be offered a suitable combination of learning and working. The scheme for young disabled persons will be modified so that they will be helped to find jobs at an earlier stage. Employees who stay in work beyond the age of 62 will receive a bonus. People with part-time jobs will be financially rewarded for working longer hours. We will make it easier for highly qualified foreign nationals to work in the Netherlands.

The business community and the financial sector are essential to a healthy economy. The government will create more scope for enterprise. The SME profit exemption will be increased. The rate of tax in the lowest band of corporation tax will be reduced. The elimination of first day notification of new employees to the tax authorities is one measure that will diminish the administrative burden on employers. Application procedures for permits will be simplified. The government will also offer promising companies support for their further growth for a five-year period.

Economic development is only possible with an adequate infrastructure. The government plans to increase road and rail capacity. Construction projects for this purpose must be completed more quickly. The government will introduce emergency legislation on road widening in the House of Representatives. The burden of taxation will also be divided more fairly among road users. In the future car ownership will be taxed less heavily and car use more heavily. The government will take the first step next year towards introducing this system. Tax on car purchase will be lowered; motor vehicle tax will be raised. The cleaner cars are, the less tax car owners will pay. Travelling by train will also be made more attractive: new stations will be opened and more trains will operate.

The Netherlands is well protected against floods. But the expected rise in sea levels will necessitate a substantial effort for a number of years. We want our great-grandchildren to be able to live as safely in the Netherlands as we do. The government will introduce legislation that will lay the basis for this.

Strengthening the economic infrastructure should go hand in hand with taking care of nature and the environment. We must become much less dependent on fossil fuels. To this end, the government will promote the use of solar, wind and geothermal energy. Procedures will be simplified so as to speed up the construction of wind parks in the North Sea. A grant scheme will encourage the purchase of heat pumps and solar water heaters. Half a million homes will be made more energy efficient over the next three years.

Dutch agriculture and horticulture are very innovative. This creates opportunities for sustainable development in these sectors. The government will encourage the greenhouse culture sector to become a net energy supplier. The fishing industry also deserves a stable future.

People derive a sense of certainty and confidence from their living environment. The budget for 2009 includes a coherent package of proposals to enhance the quality of this environment. People want to live in safe, pleasant neighbourhoods where there are good schools for their children. They want to have space for relaxation and sport, for young and old. They expect care and nursing that respect their dignity as human beings. They wish for a government that is reliable and clear in what it says. Cooperation with local authorities, housing associations and the public is needed to achieve these ends.

Respect, security and trust are core values in our democracy, which is grounded in the rule of law. We must take action against those who break society's rules. To prevent recidivism, prisoners must receive adequate supervision and guidance on their return to society. Drug addicts who commit crimes will be forced to seek help earlier. Aggressive or intimidating behaviour in public is unacceptable. Serious anti-social behaviour will be tackled effectively by means of banning orders. People who threaten police officers, ambulance personnel and other public servants will be dealt with firmly.

Clarity as to what is and what is not permissible fosters trust among citizens and promotes confidence in the government. People feel safer if there is supervision in residential areas and in town centres. In 2009 an additional 125 community police officers will be employed. Municipalities will be authorised to impose fines immediately for certain minor offences. Members of the public can also contribute to a safe living and working environment. The government will continue to work to ensure a bigger role for volunteers in the fire service and the police. Special attention will be focused on making individuals and business more self-reliant in emergencies and disasters.

Most young people in the Netherlands are doing well, but there are also those who are having a hard time of it. The government wants to give them more opportunities. In addition, the criminal justice authorities, the police and the youth care services are working together closely to correct undesirable behaviour in young children early on. There will also be a greater focus on prevention. Parents will be held to account for their children's behaviour. To provide appropriate help sooner, a register of at-risk juveniles will be introduced. The establishment of Youth and Family Centres and Community Safety Partnerships will also make a contribution here.

Education and training improve opportunities. The government is working hard to improve education. It is particularly interested in improving basic language and numeracy skills and reducing the number of underperforming schools. Lowering the drop-out rate remains another priority. Vocational schools will be created specially for pre-secondary vocational pupils who are good with their hands. Education is only as good as the teachers who provide it. To strengthen their position, teachers will be given better pay and more opportunities for training.

The government seeks to encourage culture and the arts to flourish, and to introduce all young people to them at an early age. To that end, as from 2009, all children under 12 will be able to visit museums free of charge. Young people under 18 who have a culture card can discover the inspiring cultural wealth of this country.

There is a close link between good health and sport. The government is therefore investing more in sports opportunities for young people and the disabled. Centres for top-level sport and education will be set up to provide better support for talented athletes. The 2028 Olympic Plan can be a source of inspiration, boosting sport at all levels.

People's quality of life is improved by good, accessible care. The government wants to organise care so that the chronically ill can receive care close to home. Patients will be given more information on the quality of care on offer. The introduction of an electronic patient database will reduce the number of medical errors. Innovation and greater freedom to negotiate prices are necessary to cut waiting lists and keep care good and affordable. In 2009 the government will take further steps to this end. People with severe disabilities brought on by disease or old age will have more choice in deciding on the long-term help they need. The necessary care can also be provided at home, which will allow the elderly to stay in familiar surroundings for longer.

This country draws strength from the rule of law, which affords protection and certainty to our citizens. We defend equality, freedom, solidarity, democracy and the principles of the rule of law, both at home and abroad. This is our shared responsibility. The government is lending its support to the establishment of a Centre for Democracy and the Rule of Law. A code of good governance will be drawn up, so that citizens know what they can expect from the public authorities. Furthermore, a national commission will be established to explore ways of making the constitution more accessible. The government will also be drawing up a responsible citizenship charter. Everyone living in the Netherlands should remain imbued with the democratic values and responsibilities that form the foundation of Dutch society.

A good command of the language is a prerequisite for participating in Dutch society. The government is expanding opportunities for recruiting language coaches. The use of native speakers to help immigrants learn Dutch is invaluable.

Democratic principles like legal certainty, reliable governance and mutual respect also underpin relations within the Kingdom. In December the government hopes to take a major step towards implementing the agreements on constitutional change in the Netherlands Antilles, along with the governments of the overseas parts of the Kingdom and the individual islands. Under the new system Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba will become part of the Netherlands as public bodies. Preparations are currently being made for this change of status.

Members of the States General,

The measures the government intends to carry out in 2009 aim to increase our country's self-assurance and strengthen the foundations of our economy and our society. The government realises it cannot do this alone. Everyone will have to shoulder their own responsibility and make a contribution. We need the commitment of all: ordinary citizens, workers, employers, public authorities and our European and international partners. Only together can we build a better future. Together we can make the Netherlands stronger.

You, members of the States General, bear a heavy responsibility. The government looks forward to a good working relationship with you. In discharging your duties, you may feel supported in the knowledge that many are wishing you wisdom and join me in praying for strength and God's blessing upon you.

Tuesday 16 September 2008