Speech from the Throne 2017
Members of the States General,
Traditionally, on the day of the state opening of parliament, all eyes are on The Hague. But today our thoughts are first and foremost with the people of St Maarten, Saba and St Eustatius, which were hit so hard by the destructive power of hurricane Irma. Our hearts go out to them. It is precisely in difficult circumstances like these that the bonds of unity within our Kingdom come to the fore. Support has been expressed and help offered from many quarters. The government will do all in its power to alleviate the islands’ acute distress. The Caribbean part of the Kingdom will not stand alone as it faces the task of reconstruction.
Looking at the Netherlands as the present government’s term in office draws to a close, we can see many positive developments. More people are finding work. More people are buying homes. Businesses are investing more. And after a number of difficult years we are again seeing a flourishing economy and healthy public finances. But not everyone is feeling the impact of this economic growth sufficiently in their daily lives. It is important that more people profit from this prosperity.
At the same time we can see plenty happening in the world around us. There are the wars and armed conflicts afflicting parts of the world. There is the threat of terrorism and the issue of migration. Geopolitical relationships are also undergoing considerable change.
This year the state opening of parliament falls in a period when a new government is being formed, and so the current government must exercise restraint as regards submitting new proposals. But that does not relieve it of its duty to do what is in the country’s interest. Adjustments are always needed to be able to respond to the latest developments.
Thanks in part to the constructive attitude of many parties in the States General, the Netherlands has strengthened its foundations in recent years. Our country is in far better shape than when the government took office in 2012. This is due to the upturn in the international economy, but also to the adaptability, hard work and resilience of the Dutch people.
After years of adversity, the economy has been growing since 2014. At the beginning of the government’s term it was still shrinking, recording a 1% contraction. This year and next, growth of 3.3% and 2.5% respectively is forecast. Many of the relevant indicators are positive: exports, consumption and corporate investment are growing. The central government budget surplus is continuing to rise.
Having a job or being unemployed makes a big difference to people’s lives. That is why it is so encouraging that more and more people are in paid work. Unemployment is falling rapidly and is expected to stand at 4.3% next year. But in spite of how good all the figures and forecasts are, not everyone is feeling the benefits. There are still people who are struggling to pay the rent every month and to make ends meet, or who are worried about job security. The government has ensured that all groups, including people on low incomes and the elderly, will at the very least maintain their purchasing power in 2018.
The world beyond our borders is always an influential factor in an open and internationally oriented society like ours. Unfortunately, in recent years there has been a trend of increasing international instability. It is a trend that seems to be gathering momentum and which is affecting people’s lives directly and indirectly.
Our country’s close links with the rest of the world are often enriching. Large numbers of Dutch people take foreign holidays. We communicate worldwide via social media. And we earn a large share of our income beyond our borders.
Globalisation is a fact to which we as a country must respond. Many Dutch people are reaping the benefits. But not everyone, and not in all areas. For example, increasingly people are having to compete with workers from other countries who are not always covered by or obliged to follow the same rules.
Tensions in other parts of the world often culminate in war and violence. This violence sometimes hits close to home. The greatest threat stems from terrorist attacks in the countries around us. Locations familiar to everyone can suddenly be transformed into places of fear, grief and human suffering: the Promenade des Anglais, Westminster Bridge, Las Ramblas. But we must not allow ourselves to be ruled by fear. The best response to terrorism is to continue living our lives in the same way. The security services are extremely vigilant and do all they can to prevent attacks. Combating radicalisation requires both preventive and reactive measures, from paying attention to the issue in schools to revoking Dutch citizenship.
The strength of our way of life in the Netherlands lies in the fact that everyone, regardless of their origin or beliefs, can be themselves within the shared values of the rule of law. The government is investing, in numerous ways, in social cohesion, integration, observance of the law, and the strengthening of our shared norms and values. Above all, building a united society is a shared responsibility and an ongoing task for families, schools, associations – in short, for all of us. We each have our own important role to play.
In order to safeguard our national security and prosperity, the Netherlands works with other countries in the European Union, NATO, the United Nations and various other international organisations. Only by acting in concert can we address the many international challenges we face. This is why the withdrawal from the European Union of a natural ally like the United Kingdom is a disappointing step, which requires careful handling. In Brussels the Netherlands continues to strive for a European Union that provides solutions to problems in the areas of security, migration, and climate and energy.
For instance, the commitments made under the Paris Agreement must be incorporated into a robust European climate and energy policy. Combating climate change is by definition an international task, to which every country must contribute. In the Netherlands, we are continuing to fully implement the Energy Agreement for Sustainable Growth, which centres on the reduction of CO2 emissions.
In 2018 the Kingdom will be a member of the UN Security Council. Our membership underlines our ongoing commitment to stability worldwide, using all the means at our disposal: diplomacy, development cooperation and the deployment of military personnel.
Sending our military personnel to serve abroad is a great responsibility. It is consistent with the international tradition upheld by the Netherlands and furthers our interests. The Dutch men and women who work for peace and security, often far from home, deserve our support and our utmost respect. Dutch military deployment is primarily directed at the wider arc of instability around Europe, because that affects the Netherlands and its allies the most. The government recently presented you with proposals to extend into 2018 the ongoing missions in Lithuania, Afghanistan and Mali, and the Netherlands’ contribution to the fight against ISIS and to anti-piracy operations.
In order to alleviate a number of pressing problems, extra money will be set aside for security and counterterrorism. The intelligence services will be enabled to recruit more personnel. The Royal Military and Border Police will receive funding to strengthen border control, including at Schiphol airport. In order to deal better with the increasing risks and threats in the digital world, extra money will be made available to tackle cyber-espionage, cyber-sabotage and cybercrime.
Security and stability provide the foundations for growth and prosperity in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom too. Extra money will therefore be made available for the coastguard, and efforts to fight cross-border crime and crime that undermines society will be continued for another four years. Good education and poverty reduction are an essential part of efforts to achieve structural improvements in the situation in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom. Where possible, the government offers practical support to local initiatives. The recent agreements on poverty reduction made with the new government of Curaçao are an example of this approach.
The government feels a continuing and special responsibility to ensure justice for the innocent victims of flight MH17. On 17 July this year, three years to the day after the downing of the aircraft, their next-of-kin gathered in the memorial forest in Vijfhuizen, where 298 trees have been planted in memory of those who died. All the countries involved recently decided that the next step, the criminal prosecution and trial of the perpetrators, would take place in the Netherlands. Funds have been reserved for this purpose from 2018.
More money will be available next year for nursing-home care. The aim is to make it possible to provide additional dedicated care to the most vulnerable elderly people by employing more staff. This addresses a broadly felt wish in society and in the States General. In order to comply with the quality standards for nursing homes, a first step will be taken in 2018 with a budget increase of €435 million.
Good education for all children is important, and good teachers make all the difference. Their work deserves our recognition. The government is investing €270 million in improvements to and new agreements on terms of employment in primary education.
During the term of this government, gas extraction in the province of Groningen has been reduced by more than half, and from 1 October this year production will be curtailed even further. But more is needed to ensure justice for those among the local population who have been adversely affected by the gas industry in the province. A compensation fund and a new compensation protocol are being prepared. The government is aware that the serious concerns of those who live in the earthquake zone in Groningen will not be assuaged overnight.
Members of the States General,
On this day we traditionally take stock of the state of our nation, as a basis for shaping future policy. It is always a snapshot on a journey and never the final picture. The government faces the constant task of working for growth and a better life for everyone who lives in our country. This is in keeping with our history, in which time and again we have been able, together, to rise to greater heights.
With the prospect of a new government taking office, today marks the start of a new parliamentary year. A year in which the new administration’s programme will set the parameters for your work. The Netherlands is a country of government by coalition. Through cooperation a great deal has been achieved over the past few years, and there is much that can be built upon. As representatives of the people, you bear a special responsibility in this regard. 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.