King Willem-Alexander gives his first King’s Speech for the Budget
He highlighted the bright spots in the crisis, but asked people to be patient with the government’s reforms to strengthen the economy. "For five years the Netherlands has suffered with the economic crisis," said the king, adding, "but there are tentative signs of that the end of the global crisis is in sight."
He also said that the Netherlands faces specific difficulties "including government and household debt and the financial position of banks." All this will require reforms that take "time and perseverance."
The king’s speech offers a perspective on what the government of Mark Rutte has in mind for the Netherlands: a country where citizens make their own way and only the really needy have to rely on government support. He said that the welfare state is no longer tenable and that people are more assertive and independent than before.
"When combined with the need to reduce the government deficit, this leads to the classic welfare state slowly but surely turning into a participative society. One where every able person is asked to take responsibility for his or her own life and environment."
The king also spoke of a "compact and powerful government, which gives space and opportunities where possible and protection when needed." This idea was frequently encapsulated as “community participation."
The kings also spoke of the need to bring government finances into order. "Mutual involvement within our country is traditionally strong. To ensure that this remains the case, we must recognise that public schemes and facilities need to be adapted." These adaptations include transferring youth and long-term care and social security to municipalities.
Crucial to this is maintaining a prudent level of debt. According to the king, each year the Dutch now pay 11 billion euros in interest on public debt. The government’s 6 billion euro austerity package is designed to reduce that burden of debt.
Photo courtesy of Het Koninklijkhuis
According to the king, domestic reform does not mean less attention should be paid to developments abroad. "Our open economy has brought us a lot, but it also makes our country more vulnerable in times of economic crisis and stagnation."
Therefore, he said that the Netherlands should play a more active role in the European Union, while a solid foundation for the euro is considered crucial.
Nonetheless, he stressed that the Netherland also wishes to maintain some distance from Brussels: the European Union, he said, is mainly for trade and security.
"A priority for the government is discussing the tasks of the European Union. Some things can be better managed in individual countries, such as taxes, social security, pensions, health care and education."
The king opened the speech with a personal touch that is not usual in King’s Speeches, saying how happy he had been with his inauguration on April 30 and thanking his mother for her 33 years of "duty, warmth and deeply felt commitment to the Kingdom and all its inhabitants."
He said that the feelings of connectedness he and his family have experienced after the death of Prince Friso offered great support.