Speech from the Throne 2015
Members of the States General,
The Dutch have always had the ability to set a new course if circumstances require. During the crisis of the past few years that strength has once again come to the fore. And it has produced results. The economy is growing again. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of entrepreneurs, employees and many others in society, the Netherlands is in relatively good socioeconomic shape. The recovery is being driven not only by exports, but also by factors such as growing consumption, rising business investment and a strong upturn in important sectors like construction and the housing market. For the first time in a long while, we are again seeing growth forecasts of over two per cent and public finances heading in the right direction.
But despite all these reasons to face the future with confidence, we cannot afford to sit back. Unemployment is still too high. The number of jobs is increasing, but too many people are still unable to find work.
With its planned changes to the tax system the government aims to boost both job creation and purchasing power. Labour costs are being reduced for employees on or slightly above the minimum wage. This will make it more financially attractive to take on or retain, for example, cleaners, classroom assistants and cashiers. Lower income tax stimulates consumption and hence employment. Coupled with the available scope for wage increases in the private and public sectors, it opens up the possibility of greater purchasing power for all working people. The purchasing power of pensioners and people on benefits will be maintained.
It is important that everyone feels the impact of the recovery, so that people will again dare to face the future with growing optimism. The Netherlands has long been a country with a balanced distribution of income and a large, strong middle class. Generations have grown up confident that they could improve themselves by going into business, studying, working or taking an active role in society in some other way. Now that the economy is picking up and there is qualified scope for a recovery in purchasing power and employment, we can feel renewed confidence that future generations will be better off.
The government is playing its part by safeguarding the quality and accessibility of public services. In the Netherlands people must be able to count on good health care, high-quality, accessible education, proper social security provision and a robust pension system. Together with a well-functioning housing market and labour market, this enables people to shape their own future. This has been the aim of the necessary reforms made in recent years. They came about with broad political support and respond to the need for choice and the desire for autonomy and a tailored approach.
Many measures have just taken effect. The major task now is to implement them effectively and with due care, mindful of unintended and unwanted consequences, especially for the most vulnerable. The government will dedicate itself to this task in the coming years. Where people get into difficulties, changes will be required, as in the case of the personal budget.
Everyone wants to be healthy and independent in their old age. If a time comes when this is no longer possible, people want to know they can rely on good support and care, enabling them to grow old with dignity. €210 million is being made available on a structural basis to improve care in nursing homes and provide scope for more personal attention.
This autumn the government will present a work programme providing further details of the plans for the future pension system. It is important that all working people have the opportunity to build up a good pension. The system can be made more transparent, simpler and more personalised, striking the right balance between choice and risk sharing.
Young parents will be given more scope to combine work and family in a demanding period of their lives. Childcare benefit is being raised. There will be additional places in pre-school childcare that are affordable for all parents. Paternity leave will be increased.
One important outcome of the government’s reform policy is that higher education will receive around 4,000 additional lecturers and several hundred additional researchers with teaching duties. For students this will mean substantially more personal attention, more intensive supervision and a smoother passage into the labour market. This investment in educational quality will be paid for from money freed up through the introduction of the new student loan system.
In November 2015 the government will present the National Science Agenda, which will be devised in close collaboration with top academics and leading businesspeople. The aim is to build on the strengths of the Dutch scientific community and to make choices that will raise the profile of our institutions. This will boost not only the international position of our universities, but also the innovative potential and competitiveness of our industry and other knowledge-intensive sectors.
All these measures, reforms and investments will help promote further economic recovery and maintain the high quality of life in the Netherlands. But the quality of our society also has a non-material side. People are concerned about issues like the coarsening of society and public manners. In the Netherlands, tolerance and individual freedom traditionally go hand-in-hand with a strong sense of solidarity and mutual engagement. These shared values are a great social asset. They give everyone in our Kingdom the freedom to shape their lives, a sense of security and a feeling of belonging. This cherished way of life is also the focus of the joint celebrations of the Kingdom’s bicentenary. Together with the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom, the Netherlands will continue to work towards a bright future.
The government must set an example in propagating these shared values. The integrity of public administration must be beyond reproach. The government sets rules and enforces them to safeguard public order and safety. Instances where the underworld and the legitimate world become entwined will be tackled, and additional funds will be made available for this purpose.
However, values are a matter not just for the government, but for all inhabitants of our country. Anyone who puts their own interests or their own convictions above all else limits the space available to others and puts our collective values and achievements under pressure. It is incumbent on us all to be vigilant and active in upholding standards of civil and respectful public interaction, in keeping with the long Dutch tradition of responsible citizenship. This applies in particular in the light of the verbal or physical aggression encountered by police officers, road workers, ambulance personnel and others who work with heart and soul for the public good.
The threat of radicalisation and terrorist attacks in Europe is putting pressure on society. It not only jeopardises public safety and security, but also fuels mutual distrust and imperils social cohesion. We must prevent conflicts abroad from having a polarising effect on our own society. It is crucial that we arm ourselves against this threat. The government will therefore earmark extra funds on a structural basis to strengthen the operational capability of the security services, the collection and analysis of intelligence, and prevention policy.
The terrorist threat is not an isolated problem but a direct consequence of the rise of jihadist groups in Syria, Iraq and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. In addition, the arc of instability around Europe has grown in the past year with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Other conflict hotspots also pose a threat to the international legal order, for example in Mali, Yemen and Afghanistan. These developments affect our security and freedom both directly and indirectly.
The most acute situation involves the large numbers of people trying to claim asylum in Europe, often travelling in unsafe and overcrowded boats. The heart-rending images of this exodus, which reach us daily from places such as Kos and Calais, expose a broad range of problems and human suffering that cannot be solved quickly or easily. These problems are rooted in military conflicts, political instability, human rights violations, poverty and a lack of future prospects and opportunities.
The flow of refugees is growing, and demands an active response. The current situation is generating tensions within Europe. Difficult choices need to be made so as to restrict the flow of new arrivals and distribute them among the member states more effectively. A comprehensive approach is required, which takes account of all the relevant factors. It should include international conflict management, reception in the region, combating people smuggling, a strict but fair asylum procedure in every country, effective policy on return, and giving those unable to return opportunities to integrate. This is the only way to properly address both the humanitarian aspect of the crisis and the need for public support in the Netherlands and the rest of Europe.
In its foreign policy, the government firmly believes in opting for international cooperation and a comprehensive approach, including at EU, NATO and UN level. Military and legal action must go hand in hand with capacity building, efforts to strengthen the rule of law, diplomacy in the region, emergency aid and trade promotion.
Where NATO is concerned, the member states want to ensure that the Alliance is able to respond more quickly to threats from any quarter. This will require adjustments, both to political decision-making and to military capabilities. From 2016 the government will make extra funds available for the armed forces on a structural basis, rising from €220 million next year to €345 million in subsequent years. This money will be used in part to further improve the armed forces’ operational deployability. In addition, extra funding will be made available on a structural basis for Dutch participation in military missions. The manner in which Dutch military personnel are working to promote peace and security is impressive and worthy of the highest admiration.
Security and migration are two key international issues that will also define the Netherlands’ EU Presidency in the first half of 2016. As President the Netherlands aims to build bridges by taking a pragmatic stance. Only by acting in concert can we safeguard our collective security, defend our shared values and foster the prosperity and wellbeing of Europe’s people. For the Netherlands, key focus areas will be promoting economic growth and generating as many new full-time jobs as possible. To achieve that we need an innovative Europe, with a well-functioning single market and open trade relations with the rest of the world. Other matters requiring attention during our Presidency will be Greece’s situation and the British referendum on EU membership. The government’s priority remains ensuring that Europe functions more effectively and concentrates on the essentials.
One major forum in which the EU will need to present a united front is the UN Climate Conference in Paris, in December this year. Together with the other EU member states, the Netherlands will press for a considerable reduction in harmful emissions compared with 1990 levels. Dutch multinationals are already an example for the rest of the world when it comes to sustainable business practices, knowledge and expertise. The government will make it more attractive, from a tax perspective, for businesses to invest in environmentally friendly technologies.
Combating climate change and creating a sustainable economy are major, overarching themes. The consequences for future generations are very direct and very concrete. This is especially true for the Netherlands, much of which lies below sea level. Flood prevention is therefore a high priority. Dykes and dune areas will be reinforced in many locations over the next few years, often by means of the most innovative techniques available. The renovation of the Barrier Dam, for example, combines flood defences with nature development and the generation of energy. Projects like these help bolster the excellent international reputation and position of our water sector, while contributing to our future energy supply.
Earlier this year, the decision was taken to reduce the amount of natural gas extracted in Groningen, in view of the earthquakes that have taken place there. Together with local residents, the National Coordinator for Groningen is drawing up a plan for reinforcing houses in the area. The reduced supply of gas will make the Dutch Energy Agreement on the development of new forms of energy even more crucial. In December 2015 the government will present a report setting out a strategic vision for the Netherlands’ energy supply.
Members of the States General,
The Netherlands is a stable and attractive country to live in. To ensure it stays that way we must all play our part and continue to invest in society. In an unstable international context and a society in flux, new issues are constantly arising. For the government the priorities in the coming period will be contributing to international stability, furthering the economic recovery, fostering growth in employment, and ensuring that the reforms now under way are implemented effectively. This will enable the Netherlands to remain a country that offers all its people opportunities and gives them confidence in the future. The government will work with you to this end. 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.