On 16 September 2014, the King delivered the Speech from the Throne. The speech sets out the government plans for the coming year.
Members of the States General,
In the summer of 2014 freedom and security once again proved vulnerable – even in this part of the world, even in the Netherlands. On 17 July the 298 passengers and crew of flight MH17 – including 196 of our compatriots – met with a terrible fate. So this year the state opening of Parliament, traditionally a festive occasion, is tinged with mourning. The Ukraine air disaster affected many directly, including members of your joint session, and shocked us all deeply. Throughout the country, people were visibly united in silence and grief. That concern and solidarity are a source of solace to all those who are coping with an immense personal loss.
The MH17 air disaster and the situations in Ukraine and the Middle East make plain how in today’s world everything is interconnected. We live in an open and outward-looking country that is actively part of the global community, bound to it by personal, economic, political and cultural ties. That brings us many benefits, but also poses real risks and makes us vulnerable. Conflicts thousands of miles away excite emotions and provoke responses here at home. In itself this is not new, but in an age in which everyone, smartphone in hand, has the world at their fingertips, the social impact is greater and more rapidly apparent.
The situations in northern Iraq, Syria and Gaza have generated tensions in the Netherlands, as well as feelings of powerlessness and insecurity. The hate that tears communities apart elsewhere in the world must not be allowed to spill over into our streets. Geopolitical trends also have a direct economic impact on our society. The losses suffered by the Dutch business sector as a result of the reciprocal economic sanctions between the European Union and Russia are a recent example. All this puts a strain on the resilience of our society and economy. A fixed course and clear choices are needed to weather these difficult times. The government is grateful that there is political and public support for these efforts, and it will work to maintain that support.
The government is a firm advocate of fundamental rights and freedoms, and steps in when breaches occur. Inciting hatred, threatening violence or discriminating against population groups will not be tolerated under any circumstances. Everyone in the Netherlands must feel safe and protected. Everyone must feel free to openly express their beliefs, convictions and sexual orientation. Combating extremism and intolerance is a core task of government. Society itself has an important part to play. Parents, schools, sports clubs and other actors are all needed in efforts to prevent radicalisation. The Netherlands is resilient in this respect, building on a long tradition of freedom and unity.
Protecting the rule of law in the Netherlands is not just a domestic matter. An active foreign policy, geared to promoting peace and security in countries and regions where they are under threat, is both essential and in our interests. We can only carry out this task in close cooperation with our international partners in the European Union, NATO and the United Nations. The Netherlands has long been conscious of its responsibilities in this sphere. It is no accident that promoting the international legal order is enshrined in our Constitution. We give substance and shape to this task by making personnel and resources available for missions like those in Mali and the anti-piracy operations off the African coast. All Dutch military personnel deployed on such missions deserve great respect.
In view of the increasing tensions in the world and the responsibilities that ensue, the government will increase defense spending. In a break with past trends, the budget will be increased by one hundred million euros a year on a structural basis. The government will also make extra funding available on a one-off basis for international emergency aid and the reception of refugees in the region. In this way the Netherlands is supporting the many displaced persons who are being driven from their homes because of who they are or what they believe. New threats such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa require an international approach and emergency aid on the spot to prevent them from spreading further.
At home, the government is working to ensure a lasting economic recovery, with a focus on jobs and growth. This requires healthy public finances, a balanced distribution of income, a sustainable welfare and pension system, well-functioning labour and housing markets, a future-oriented education system, and affordable, accessible health care. In this connection, the government also seeks to work with the Caribbean parts of the kingdom, to promote the sustainable development of society in those regions too.
Many in this country regard access to good health care as the hallmark of a well-functioning society. The Netherlands has one of the best and most accessible healthcare systems in the world. It is in all our interests to preserve it. Proper care is an essential basic service. The fact is, however, that the cost of care is outpacing economic growth. So agreements have been made with all the parties involved in health care with a view to raising cost awareness, combating wastage and tackling fraud. In this way savings can be made without quality suffering. This year, for the first time in many years, the cost increase will be lower than predicted. An increase of €16 billion had been forecast between 2013 and 2017. Thanks to the new policy, the increase will in fact amount to €6 billion.
From 1 January 2015 certain services relating to home care, youth care and the work disabled will devolve to municipal authorities. Organizing these services close to home will reduce bureaucracy and allow them to be better tailored to individual needs and preferences. The aim is to establish a flexible system of high-quality and accessible services that tie in with people’s requirements. In this way, too, we can make society more resilient.
In 2015 government authorities and businesses will be taking steps to help as many of the work disabled as possible to find regular jobs. Home care and youth care services will continue to be available, but in a modified form and under different conditions. This will be a difficult adjustment for those concerned and may create uncertainty. Every effort will therefore be made to ensure the smooth introduction of these changes in the years ahead. Thanks to the provision of an allowance for household help, many home help staff will be able to retain their jobs, so their clients will continue to see a familiar face. Although an operation on this scale invariably entails teething problems, the government will do its utmost to minimise their impact, working with the municipal authorities and the people and organisations that provide and make use of such services. To this end, an extra €400 million has been made available for 2015. The energy and decisiveness with which this ambitious enterprise is being prepared is praiseworthy and confidence-inspiring.
The Dutch economy is proving to be resilient. The fact that we are now in the midst of a cautious recovery after several years of economic contraction and rising unemployment gives grounds for optimism. In 2015 the budget deficit is expected to decrease to 2.2% of GDP. As a result, no new cuts will be required and planned financial measures affecting the public will be reduced to the tune of €1 billion.
In 2015 the government will make full use of the discretionary budget for public-sector pay adjustments. After having been frozen for a number of years, the wages of teachers, police officers, soldiers and other public-sector personnel will once again be able to increase, in line with wage trends in the private sector.
Compared with many other nations our country’s economy remains strong. The Netherlands’ world-leading position in sectors like agriculture and food, logistics, the creative industry and water gives firm grounds for optimism. At the same time, our country’s economic recovery is fragile and depends on economic trends in the rest of the world, particularly in important partner countries in the European Union.
The government’s biggest concern remains the high rate of unemployment, which directly affects many people and their families. Tackling this issue is the number one priority. Individuals who lose their job, or whose jobs are on the line, will be given as many resources as possible to help them continue working or find a new job.
Together with the education sector, trade unions and businesses, the government will continue to actively foster training schemes, job mobility assistance and more training and employment pathways specifically for young people. As an extra measure that should pay off in the short term, the government will increase the scope for working on a temporary basis or taking promising technical training courses without loss of unemployment benefit. This ‘bridging benefit’ will reduce the risks for employers when taking on staff and increase job opportunities for the long-term unemployed. In addition, entitlement to childcare benefit on termination of employment will be doubled to six months. This will give people a longer period to focus all their energies on finding a new job. The low VAT rate for the construction sector will be extended to 1 July 2015, to boost employment in that sector.
Encouraging and making use of young talent is crucial for future economic growth. In recent years the government has taken extensive measures to enhance the quality of education and teaching staff, and to better align vocational education with the labour market. The reform of student finance and the introduction of the new student loan system will in time free up €1 billion to improve the higher education system. That money will be used to finance more contact hours, closer supervision of students and the promotion of excellence. The student travel card will continue to be available, and will now be extended to all pupils in secondary vocational education. In line with agreements made in the education sector, the government will also invest more in primary, secondary and vocational education. Developing professional skills will be a central concern, and there will be a clear focus on teachers themselves. The introduction of a modern ‘master-apprentice’ system in secondary vocational education is also envisaged.
To strengthen innovative capacity in our country, the government will be setting up a ‘Future Fund’ to provide innovative small and medium-sized enterprises with credit. The revenue generated by the fund will be earmarked for expenditure on basic and applied research. Delta technology is one innovative sector in which the Netherlands, with its long history of flood protection, is an international leader. The Delta Programme plans presented at the same time as the 2015 budget will make our country safer and give the Dutch water sector a strong boost.
Tackling the unnecessary rules and regulations that hamper enterprises and individuals remains an important aim of government policy. The Environment and Planning Act, designed to simplify and speed up the procedures relating to the construction of homes, offices and infrastructure, will be considered by parliament in the coming year.
In the longer term, the government will reform the tax system. The aim is twofold: to make the system much simpler and to boost employment. The latter goal can be achieved by reducing the tax burden on labour. In this way the government seeks to increase employment opportunities for those at the bottom of the labour market, and to ensure that everyone who finds a job is truly better off as a result. There will also be a greater incentive for small enterprises to take on staff.
The Netherlands is an export country and many foreign businesses are based here. To a great extent, growth and jobs at home are generated abroad. The government therefore aims to make the investment climate even more attractive, and to actively support businesses in the export sector. The ambitious programme of trade missions will be vigorously continued. Export credits will be targeted more at emerging economies and businesses will have easier access to them.
At European level, the government will continue to press for a stronger internal market, and to urge member states to exercise budgetary restraint and take measures to strengthen their economic structure. These are essential conditions for a strong European economy. Opportunities for economic growth exist in areas such as the digital market, the energy market and the ongoing negotiations on free trade agreements with the United States and other countries.
European cooperation must focus on those areas where concerted action genuinely adds value. That principle also lies at the heart of the strategic agenda for the next five years, which provides the basis for the new European Commission’s work programme. It incorporates major cross-border themes such as the internal market, energy and climate policy, and tackling organized crime, including cyber crime. A fair European labor market requires equal pay for equal work within each member state. The government is committed to this goal, and will step up efforts to tackle sham employment arrangements.
Members of the States General,
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the first state opening of the Dutch Parliament. In those two centuries, our country has always shown itself to be resilient and united at times of trial – and this summer was no exception. The government will continue to work tirelessly to promote a vigorous, robust society, economic recovery and more jobs. The reforms that have been initiated lay the foundation for our country’s future. The Netherlands is working to achieve these goals in a turbulent, uncertain international environment, and in the realisation that freedom, security and prosperity are closely intertwined. The same will apply to your work in the new Parliamentary year. 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.