Speech from the Throne 2001

18 september 2001

The Hague, 18 September 2001

Members of the States General,

The horrific attacks that took place one week ago in the United States took the lives of many thousands of innocent people. Our thoughts are with the victims, their families and the American people as a whole, in profound sympathy and solidarity. These assaults on humanity make us realise how fragile our existence truly is. They strengthen our conviction that all forms of terrorism must be combated forcefully. Close international cooperation is more crucial than ever in order to defend the fundamental values of freedom, democracy and justice.

These same values underlie European cooperation. The euro, which will become legal tender in the Netherlands on 1 January 2002, is the tangible result of the will to strengthen Europe politically, economically and socially. The attainment of this milestone is a stimulus to further widen and deepen European integration.

Much has been achieved in our country in recent years, thanks in part to a favourable economic climate. Employment has grown spectacularly. Incomes have risen across the board. There has been large-scale investment in public services and in the strengthening of our economy. Thanks to the efforts of very many people, the Netherlands is now better off in numerous ways. Still, vigilance is called for, all the more now that the global economy has taken a less favourable turn.

Despite slower growth of our national income, next year a total of 8 billion guilders (more than 3.5 billion euros) will be made available for quality improvement, mainly in health care, education and public safety and security. Working in the public sector will be made more attractive.

The 2002 budget surplus is expected to amount to 1 per cent of GDP. This will make it possible to continue steadily reducing the national debt. That is essential in order to maintain the level of public provision as the population ages.

In particular, we need to focus on controlling inflation and increasing participation in the labour force. To this end, the government will introduce a package of measures designed to reduce taxes and social insurance contributions by a total of 3 billion guilders (nearly 1.4 billion euros).

To strengthen our country's competitive position, pay restraint is necessary. This is the joint responsibility of the social partners and government. By succeeding in this, we will be better able to realise our ambitions for the future.

Our society is changing rapidly. This makes heavy demands on the adaptability of both the public and the authorities. Increasingly, an independent-minded public is demanding freedom of choice, quality and customisation. Financial resources alone are not sufficient to meet these demands. It is just as much a question of organisation, to which the public, businesses and other organisations can make important contributions too.

Striking a suitable balance between freedom and responsibility needs a government that provides direction and flexibility, that requires results and renders account, a government that sets standards and enforces them, a government that derives its authority from its ability to get things done.

The quality and organisation of health care must meet ever-higher standards, partly as a result of medical advances and demographic trends. Care tailored to individual needs is of primary importance. In recent years, the government has initiated step-by-step reform of the care system in light of the demand for care and for less regulation. As part of this process, it has made proposals for a universal health insurance scheme. Solidarity, freedom of choice and flexibility are central.

Measures to reduce waiting lists for home care and care for the disabled are beginning to bear fruit. In the care sector in general, however, there are still serious bottlenecks. Next year too, considerable funds will be made available for addressing staff shortages and waiting times.

Progress in the medical sciences often opens up unprecedented possibilities and thereby poses ethical dilemmas. A centre for ethics and health policy will be opened next year to study this sort of issue in depth.

Schools and teachers will have greater freedom and more incentives to improve the quality, variety and accessibility of education. Additional measures will be taken in order better to combat educational disadvantage among young children. The compulsory school age will be lowered to four years.

Problem areas in the labour market underline the need for major investment in vocational education. The government will address this in cooperation with the social partners. To bring our higher education system in line with those elsewhere, we will begin introducing bachelor's and master's degrees next year and we will take further steps to guarantee quality.

Innovation in the museum sector is called for to make our cultural heritage accessible to a large, diverse public. The government has made funds available for a major renovation of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Safety is a pre-eminent public good. First the firework disaster in Enschede, and then the fire on New Year's Eve in Volendam left a deep impression on our society. Measures have been taken to tighten the rules where necessary and to enforce them more effectively. Laxity must not be tolerated. Every individual must accept and shoulder responsibility. Shortcomings in disaster response will be urgently addressed, in close cooperation with all parties concerned.

Crime is still a major social problem. Offenders will be apprehended and tried faster. To this end, the government will increase the capacity of the police and the criminal justice system. Measures will be taken to improve the treatment of prisoners and assist their rehabilitation after their return to the community in order to counter recidivism. This applies in particular to young people who commit violent crimes.

Preventive youth policy and youth care will be improved so that young people with problems can be offered appropriate help in time. Cities will receive extra financial support for additional efforts to improve public safety in problem neighbourhoods.

Growing prosperity and mobility go hand in hand. Substantial investment in accessibility remains necessary. The quality of the living environment will be a major consideration. The government will soon put forward a Bill to introduce a kilometre levy while lowering drivers' fixed costs. Additional funds will be allocated to make roads and level crossings safer. Safety on and around public transport will be enhanced by appointing supervisors and installing additional lights and cameras. Problems with rail travel will be dealt with in phases. The international transport hubs of Schiphol and Rotterdam will remain indispensable to the social and economic future of our country. The government will take a decision regarding Maasvlakte II this year.

Our livestock farmers are going through difficult times. The outbreak of foot and mouth disease hit many businesspeople and their families very hard. They and a number of public services worked hard to combat that disease under difficult circumstances.

In the years ahead, agriculture should become more sustainable in character, in the Netherlands and throughout Europe. The aim is better quality and greater diversity. Enormous efforts will have to be made in the interests of our environment, animal welfare and food safety. The agricultural sector must work alongside Dutch and European institutions to achieve these goals. Consumers can also help bring about the changes necessary.

The transition to sustainable energy consumption and responsible use of fossil fuels goes hand in hand with a fundamental transformation that demands a great deal from all parties. Environmental problems must not be left for other countries and generations to solve. It is to be hoped that the international convention on biological diversity will enter into force as soon as possible.

The government is preparing a national strategy for the UN conference on sustainable development. The consensus reached this summer in Bonn is a breakthrough in international climate policy. Ratification of the Kyoto Protocol in 2002 is of vital importance to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases worldwide.

In our country, we are placing growing importance on the quality of spatial planning. To make the best possible use of scarce space, the government has decided to focus on intensive, multiple use of spaces and, where necessary, land redevelopment. You will receive the final version of the policy document towards the end of the year, along with a Bill on spatial planning.

Conservation and sound nature management are of increasing importance. For this reason, the national ecological network will receive additional support.

A sufficient supply of housing for all income groups and types of household is a necessity. The government will shortly put forward proposals aimed at stepping up the construction of new dwellings. A Bill designed to increase individuals' involvement in their living situation will be submitted to you next year.

Voluntary work and informal care are of inestimable value to our society. The government will make additional funds available to support activities in this field. Sport and exercise help to improve people's health and reduce sickness absence.

Illness is still too often followed by prolonged inactivity. The number of people claiming invalidity benefit should be reduced, for both social and economic reasons. More opportunities should be created and exploited to allow people to remain at work or re-enter employment, in keeping with their capacities. The government will put forward proposals to amend existing legislation once it has received the Social and Economic Council's report on the Donner Committee's recommendations.

More and more people, both women and men, now combine paid work with family responsibilities. The Work and Care Act, which will enter into force next year, will increase the scope for doing so, for example by introducing paid short-term carer's leave and paid adoption leave. Childcare capacity will also be increased.

In recent years the social and economic position of ethnic minorities in our country has improved, although much progress remains to be made. New immigrants receive substantial assistance in their compulsory integration. The government provides a wide range of programmes to facilitate the integration of those who have lived in the Netherlands for some time. Participation in these programmes is essential in order to play a role in our society. Private-sector initiatives making it possible to combine work and integration programmes are proving very valuable.

The new Aliens Act entered into force earlier this year. It has simplified the procedure so that aliens receive a clear indication, sooner than before, as to whether they can be admitted to the Netherlands. Unaccompanied under-age asylum seekers will be told more quickly whether their stay in a reception centre will lead to integration or a return to their country of origin. Aliens who are not permitted to remain will have to leave this country without delay.

Next year will see elections to municipal councils and the House of Representatives. The government believes it essential for as many voters as possible to exercise their right to vote. A vibrant democracy benefits from the active participation of its citizens. From 1 January, the consultative referendum will afford new scope for such participation. Public involvement will be further facilitated by modernising government communications and access to information. To this end, new policies and amendments to the Constitution are now in preparation.

With the help of the International Monetary Fund, the Netherlands Antilles are now working towards sustainable socioeconomic recovery. The Netherlands is making an active contribution. In Aruba, balanced development of government finances continues to call for attention.

We look back with pleasure on the wedding of Prince Constantijn and Laurentien Brinkhorst earlier this year and anticipate the wedding of Prince Willem-Alexander and Máxima Zorreguieta on 2 February 2002 with joy. Together they are assiduously preparing for their future.

It is essential that decisions taken at European level are subject to democratic scrutiny and that people can identify with Europe and feel at home there.

The government attaches great importance to the early ratification of the Treaty of Nice. This is essential for the accession of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe to the European Union. Enlargement will benefit both the stability and security of Europe and the well-being of its people.

Continued economic integration is required to turn the European Union into one of the most competitive, dynamic regions in the world. We are working in concert on issues that truly matter to people: peace and security, jobs and social justice, food safety, a healthy living environment, the fight against crime and terrorism. In all these fields, Europe can and must be a strong partner in the global community.

Increasing globalisation is bringing greater prosperity to many people throughout the world. At the same time, large groups of people, especially in the poorest countries and notably in Africa, are still excluded from this trend. Financial assistance to developing countries is necessary - but is not enough - to effect a more equitable distribution of wealth. Coordinated efforts are required in all policy areas, in particular poverty reduction, health care and the promotion of world trade.

International development cooperation is under pressure. The response should be to reform and strengthen the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation. All countries should invest in development cooperation and honour agreements. Companies can contribute through socially responsible business practices. The government will continue to stand up for those who cannot fully share in the opportunities globalisation offers.

Over 1,500 Dutch military personnel are currently taking part in international crisis management operations, often in difficult circumstances. Earlier this year, our blue helmets did valuable work to foster peace and stability in Ethiopia and Eritrea. At present, a company of Dutch troops is involved in a joint peace operation in a multi-ethnic Macedonia.

Continuing work is under way to increase the readiness, flexibility and rapid deployability of the armed forces. The Netherlands is helping to strengthen crisis management capacity within the joint framework of NATO and the European Union. A Europe that is politically more powerful and bears more direct responsibility for peace and security will be more able to prevent and resolve conflicts in the world.

Violations of human rights must not go unpunished. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Court, which is expected to be established in The Hague by next year, are of major importance to the international legal order.

The government is deeply concerned about the ongoing spiral of violence in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The two sides will not draw closer together without the intensive involvement of the international community. The Netherlands is making every effort, together with our European partners and the United States, to bring about a resumption of the peace process in the Middle East.

The aims of our cooperation with Indonesia are stability and socioeconomic recovery. The government is making a significant contribution to the international community's efforts for the reconstruction of the Moluccas. The Netherlands is happy to support the further development of good governance and the rule of law in the archipelago.

The tragic events in the United States have impressed upon us all the necessity of close international cooperation in defence of the fundamental values of freedom, democracy and justice.

Members of the States General,

The social, economic and financial foundations of our country have been consolidated over the last few years. A great many people have helped to bring this about. The self-reliance of large numbers of people has increased. Investments in the quality of our society are producing tangible results. Much remains to be done, however.

The pace of change is fast, demanding a prompt, appropriate response, at national, European and international level. This requires great adaptability and strenuous efforts on the part of individuals, government and the private sector alike, especially now that the economic prospects are somewhat less favourable than before. First and foremost, we must strike a responsible balance between economic dynamism and social justice, and between individual development and mutual responsibility.

With the commitment and the contributions of all we can build with success towards our common future. In this connection government and Parliament have a special task to fulfil.

I sincerely hope that you will discharge your responsible duties with dedication and commitment, in the confidence that many people join me in wishing you wisdom and in praying that you will be blessed.