Speech from the Throne 2018
Members of the States General,
During the forthcoming parliamentary year we will start commemorating the 75th anniversary of liberation. In the autumn of 1944, occupying forces were driven out of large parts of the southern Netherlands. The rest of the country north of the great rivers had to endure a long winter of famine before the national anthem – the Wilhelmus – rang out once more.
Such moments of commemoration bring home to us how strong the country built up in the intervening period has become. Strong in terms of prosperity, enterprise and socioeconomic security. Strong by virtue of the democratic values anchored in our state and the rule of law: equality, tolerance, freedom and legal certainty. And strong because we have healthcare, education and a roof over our heads. Post-war history is a chronicle of progress and improvement. Despite periods of decline, the overall trend is upward and forward.
The government aims to make this strong country of ours even stronger. The necessary economic conditions are in place. In 2019 the economy is set to grow for the sixth successive year. Next year national income is expected to increase by 2.6% and the surplus on the central government budget will be 1%. This will reduce the national debt and ensure the Netherlands is better prepared for future economic shocks. Unemployment is due to fall to a historic low of 3.5%.
This is therefore the time to decide what direction we should take. To make choices that afford us room to manoeuvre and give us security, both in the here-and-now and for future generations. More people should have a tangible sense that things are going well: at home, at work and in their neighbourhood. And more people should feel that politicians are there for everyone. People ask: can we and our children continue to count on good healthcare, an affordable home, a job, a good education, a safe neighbourhood, a clean living environment and a good pension? And they ask a question that can’t be answered with a calculator: in the Netherlands, do we live sufficiently with each other and not too much alongside each other? We can’t simply assume that our country will continue to improve. It requires continuous maintenance and innovation. Confidence in the future is a work in progress.
Building a close-knit society is a matter for everyone in our country. Let us be clear: many things are going well. The Netherlands is a country of volunteers, churches and associations which joins together to celebrate special sporting achievements and national holidays. But where things are going less well, the government intends to take action. That can’t be done with a single programme or Act of Parliament, since a close-knit society involves all policy areas and all tiers of government.
The government will launch initiatives to combat loneliness among the elderly and give vulnerable groups a firmer footing in society. We should not simply resign ourselves to the fact that more than half of people over 75 say they feel lonely. Nor should we accept that people with problem debts, people with mental health issues and a growing number of young homeless people end up living on the margins of society. Central government will seek to forge broad coalitions with provinces, municipalities and local bodies to lift people out of isolation and give them a fresh chance.
The government is also investing in historical awareness and cultural diversity. Heritage and culture show us where we came from and hold up a mirror to us in the present, so they are of great significance to our country’s future. During this government’s term in office, an additional €325 million will be earmarked for heritage. The budget for culture will be increased by an amount rising to €80 million a year from 2020. This will provide more scope for new artistic talent and will enable all children to visit a museum during their time at school.
Of course, building a close-knit society also involves integration. In the government’s proposals for a new civic integration system, asylum permit holders are expected to find work immediately and acquire a good command of Dutch as soon as possible. After all, work and language are the fastest route to full participation in society.
With a view to promoting a strong society, it is encouraging that people will have more to spend next year. Both the broad swathe of people on modal earnings and groups such as the elderly and benefit recipients stand to gain. Wages in our country are rising. People are getting back into work, rising up the career ladder, or working longer hours. And the modernisation of our tax system will make it pay more to work. Tax on consumption will be raised slightly, providing scope to cut taxation on labour. On balance, households will be better off in the next few years.
The favourable economic situation provides an opportunity to strengthen and modernise our country’s socioeconomic structure. The legislative proposal on a balanced labour market is intended to reduce the risk to employers in offering workers a permanent contract. The government will also tackle false self-employment. Self-employed persons without employees who make a conscious choice to become entrepreneurs will not have barriers put in their way. Because a modern labour market must take account of personal circumstances, leave for partners on the birth of their child will be increased from two days to a maximum of six weeks. Too many people with a work disability are still left on the sidelines. The government will launch a broad offensive to boost their chances of finding regular employment. Work must pay for this group too.
The current pension system is increasingly failing to live up to people’s collective expectations. Rising life expectancy, changes in the labour market and ongoing low interest rates have exposed vulnerabilities. The government aims to work with representatives of employers and employees on a pension system that eliminates these vulnerabilities while retaining strong elements such as collective implementation and risk sharing.
The Netherlands has long enjoyed a good business climate and must keep it that way. This is another reason why, in the years ahead, we will continue to invest in education, innovation, science and an attractive living environment. The government has set aside an extra €2 billion to make up lost ground in the area of infrastructure during its term in office. This will involve tackling congestion bottlenecks, enhancing road safety and strengthening public transport. Using tax measures, we will make our country more attractive to businesses both large and small. Corporation tax will be reduced and dividend tax will be abolished. We aim to reward genuine business activity and to only welcome those companies that contribute to our economy. Action will therefore be taken to combat tax avoidance mechanisms such as shell companies.
The favourable economy also provides scope for investing in the public services and professionals that make up the foundations of a strong country. In doing so we will be mindful of the needs of both nurses and their patients. We will make improvements for both teachers and pupils. We will appoint more police officers and enhance safety on the streets. We will recognise the great importance of the work done by our military personnel at home and abroad. And acknowledge the value of our farmers, market gardeners and fishers who produce our food in what can be difficult circumstances.
The government will put forward targeted measures to establish stronger links between agriculture and nature. In addition, a fund will be created for young farmers who wish to take over their parents’ business.
Extra funding was already made available in the 2017 budget for care for the elderly, so that they can count on being given sufficient time and attention and good quality care, in their own home or in a nursing home. That trend will continue. During this government’s term in office, the extra amount for care for the elderly will rise to some €3 billion a year. Our children and grandchildren too are entitled to good and accessible healthcare. We have to work on this now, as the number of old people is growing while the development of medical techniques and medicines continues to advance. As things stand, more than 25 cents of every euro of public expenditure goes on healthcare. New agreements have therefore been made with hospitals, family doctors, district nurses and mental health services on quality and controlled growth in costs.
In order to be better able to satisfy the great demand for workers in technical fields, pre-vocational secondary education (VMBO) schools with an engineering and technology focus will be given extra money. The government will also invest heavily in early years education, so that the youngest children at risk of educational disadvantage receive more attention. In order to tackle the severe shortage of teachers, funds have been made available to pay higher salaries in primary education, ease the pressure of work and halve tuition fees in the first two years of teacher training. In the years ahead the teacher shortage will continue to demand action from and cooperation between all education stakeholders.
Combating large-scale organised crime requires more attention. The Netherlands is a democracy governed by the rule of law, where criminals don’t get to call the shots. So we will not sit back idly in the face of urban decay, tit-for-tat killings and the drug crime that is now reaching industrial proportions in some parts of our country. More than 1,100 extra police officers will be appointed, the majority of whom will be patrolling our neighbourhoods. The blending of the underworld with legitimate businesses and institutions is a growing problem that undermines society. We will combat this with a special new fund. Extra funding will also be made available for cybersecurity, in order to protect our country’s digital infrastructure.
Both within and beyond our borders, our military personnel perform the vital task of keeping the Netherlands safe. After years of spending cuts, the new policy of higher defence spending will be stepped up in 2019 and beyond. The extra spending will rise to €1.5 billion a year by the end of the government’s term in office. As a result the defence budget will be increased by 17%. This necessary investment will enable the armed forces to better fulfil their constitutional task of defending the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The overheated housing market has become a major problem. In the large cities, especially, affordable housing is scarce and it is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain a starter home. There is great demand for rental properties costing €700 to €1,000 per month. The government is joining forces with municipalities, housing associations and building firms, with the common aim of better utilising the existing housing stock, preventing excesses in the rental market and reversing the house-building shortfall. Our ambition is to build an average of 75,000 new homes a year. Obviously these problems cannot be solved overnight, but it is essential that we turn the tide.
The same is true of climate policy. Just as we must not saddle future generations with an unsustainable national debt, nor must we hand down an environmental debt. The reality is that climate policy affects every aspect of how we live and work. At the same time, ambitious climate policy presents opportunities for the Netherlands’ innovative capacity. This summer, representatives of industry, the energy, logistics and agricultural sectors, and environmental organisations presented a proposal for the main elements of a Dutch climate agreement. In elaborating this agreement, the guiding principle will be that the transition to cleaner energy sources and production methods must be achievable and affordable for everyone in our country. We can only make this enormous change if we do so together. Parliament’s initiative with regard to the Climate Act shows that this is possible.
The urgency of the energy transition has only grown since the decision was made to completely phase out the extraction of natural gas in Groningen as soon as possible. By making this decision the government has sought to address the interests of those in the region affected by earthquakes. Naturally, this will not solve all the problems at a stroke. The government will therefore also take further concrete steps to compensate the damage caused and strengthen the regional economy.
There are many goals that central government, provinces, municipalities and water authorities can only achieve by working together. The energy transition, the safety of our streets, ensuring thriving and liveable rural areas, not to mention tackling domestic violence and child abuse: all these areas require cooperative governance. The role of the subnational authorities will become larger and more central. The rise in the municipalities and provinces funds will help them continue performing all their tasks effectively.
Members of the States General, post-war history has shown that it is not possible to build a strong Netherlands without looking beyond our own borders. Rooting our nation in the structures of the international order lays the basis for longstanding prosperity and security. Taking this principle as our guide, the Netherlands is an active member of NATO, the UN, the EU and bodies such as the World Trade Organization.
The multilateral world order built after the Second World War is under pressure. The threats to the international legal order and global free trade are legion, both in the countries surrounding Europe and further afield. The Netherlands has a direct interest in contributing to a stable international environment. The Dutch military personnel who are working in the most difficult conditions to fulfil this aim have our unconditional support.
Until the end of this year, the Kingdom of the Netherlands is a member of the United Nations Security Council. In this capacity we are pressing for the modernisation of the UN organisation and its missions, and for more attention to be paid to conflict prevention. Dutch development cooperation policy employs a tried-and-tested combination of aid and trade instruments. Extra funding and attention will be devoted to refugee aid, reception in the region, education in developing countries and support for countries’ efforts to achieve their climate objectives.
Our closest partners are those in the European Union, with whom we work to ensure security, stability and prosperity for all the people of the member states. Membership of the EU makes our country stronger in a world where power relations are shifting and old alliances can no longer be taken for granted. It is in the Netherlands’ interest that Europe continue standing up collectively for global free trade and against the threat of import tariffs and other trade barriers.
For the European Union, 2019 will be a busy year, with the appointment of a new European Commission and a Brexit outcome that is still uncertain. The Dutch government will continue promoting a positive agenda for a better EU which concentrates on the essentials and sticks to its agreements. Together we need to deepen the single market and strengthen the single currency. Together we must stand up for the rule of law. And only together can we effectively deal with the migration issue and the turmoil on Europe’s external borders.
In the Caribbean part of the Kingdom, the reconstruction of St Maarten, St Eustatius and Saba is a high priority after two devastating hurricanes in 2017. In the next few years, over €600 million will be made available for this purpose. The Netherlands is working with the governments of Curaçao and Aruba on concrete improvements. For example, we are trying to interest more Dutch companies in investing in Curaçao, and we are supporting improvements to youth services in Aruba. The joint coastguard service has a crucial role in managing migration flows and in law enforcement. On Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba, the government is taking specific measures to tackle poverty. In these Caribbean parts of the Netherlands, employers’ social security contributions will be reduced by 5%, which in turn will allow the minimum wage and benefits to be raised by 5%. In addition, €30 million will be made available for poverty reduction, infrastructure and economic development. In this way we will continue working to shape a Kingdom in which we all stand by one another.
Members of the States General,
One hundred years ago the Netherlands held its first elections following the introduction of universal male suffrage and the system of proportional representation. Traditional political alliances began to lose ground, and the fault lines between societal pillars became sharper than ever. On both the left and the right, new, often small parliamentary parties emerged. The confessional government of Charles Ruijs de Beerenbrouck, which took office in September 1918 towards the end of the First World War, won precisely half the seats in the House of Representatives. Nevertheless, it managed to push through essential improvements, such as the eight-hour working day and women’s right to vote. Next year, therefore, we will be celebrating the centenary of universal suffrage in the Netherlands.
Every moment in time is unique. But perhaps this one parallel with the present is worth drawing. The government realises that in putting its coalition agreement into practice, it cannot rely on comfortable majorities. But in the Netherlands we have a long tradition of working together, step by step, to make our strong country even stronger. The government wants to continue that tradition, together with you and with everyone in our country.
In our democratic system, you bear a special responsibility in this regard, as members of the States General. 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.