Speech from the Throne 2007

18 september 2007

The Hague, 18 September 2007

Members of the States General,

Our country has many grounds for hope and confidence. The economic prospects are good. Entrepreneurs and consumers are optimistic. Young people are able to find jobs quickly.
There are also hopeful developments in fields other than the economy. More and more people are willing to make an effort to help each other and improve our living environment.
Now in particular we have opportunities to take measures that will make our country stronger. We must take full advantage of these opportunities.
Our country has major tasks ahead. We know that the average age of our population is rising. Businesses and public services like health care and education are facing labour shortages. This raises the question of how we will safeguard our prosperity and well-being in the future.
The growth of our economy will also have to take place in a more sustainable manner.
Too many people feel unsafe. Preventing and combating terrorism, crime and violence continue to demand much of our attention.
Dutch society is changing rapidly, and our population is becoming more diverse. People sometimes feel uncertain; they are looking for something to hold on to and a sense of security. These feelings can have a profound impact on people's lives. Therefore additional efforts are needed to increase social cohesion in our country and reinforce tolerance and mutual respect.
Change can be a source of strength. In the past, renewal has brought progress to the Netherlands. Our capacity to change and innovate is what gives us the dynamism that is indispensable if we are to engage successfully with the challenges of the future.
With its budget for 2008, the Government is making a contribution to meeting these challenges.

The budget for next year shows a surplus. The Government expects that this will be the case in the years after 2008 as well. In this way we are saving for the future.
To foster a cleaner and more efficient economy, the Government is raising taxes on consumption and on environmentally harmful activities. The Government plans to use the revenues from these taxes to decrease the tax burden on employment. This will help more people find work. All these measures in conjunction mean that many people's purchasing power will not rise in 2008. People with lower incomes are being spared as much as possible. A greater contribution is being asked from those with higher incomes. The Government expects that over the next several years taken together, its policies will not increase the tax burden on business or the public, and that purchasing power will rise.

The budget for 2008 includes additional expenditure of almost €3 billion. These spending increases are based on the policy programme that the Government drew up for the coming four years. This policy rests on six pillars, for each of which specific objectives, programmes and projects are laid out in the policy programme. The Government will flesh out the measures called for in the policy programme each year, beginning with the budget that it is submitting today.

The first pillar is an active international role. The Netherlands seeks to continue playing a meaningful and constructive role in the world and in Europe.
In regions where the Netherlands takes part in peace operations, our armed forces are fulfilling an important responsibility. The Government will submit additional proposals about our contribution to the international mission in Afghanistan. Dutch troops are carrying out their difficult tasks with courage and perseverance. All of us share the pain of those who have lost a loved one serving in a mission.
Military means are not enough to give people in conflict areas a better future. The Government's policy combines defence with diplomacy and development cooperation.
There are many places in the world where human rights are not respected. The Netherlands will use its membership of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations to promote protection of human rights.
Our country will continue its efforts in the battle against poverty. The Government is working with businesses, civil society organisations and the public to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Additional funds will be allotted to promote the use of sustainable energy in developing countries.

The Government welcomes the amendments to the European Treaties on which the European Council reached agreement several months ago in Brussels. These amendments will make the European Union stronger, more democratic and more transparent. National parliaments will be given a greater role. The amended treaties are expected to be signed this year by the member states; the Government will then present them to the two Houses of the States General for ratification.

The second pillar of Government policy is an enterprising and innovative economy. The growth of our economy is not an automatic process. Knowledge, innovation and entrepreneurship are the building blocks of an ambitious future. Entrepreneurs in small and big businesses are the ones who create employment and growth. The Government will make it easier to set up and build businesses by further reducing administrative burdens. Starting and growing enterprises can be supported with loans. Innovative agricultural and horticultural entrepreneurs can expect guarantee facilities. The Government will introduce proposals to make all these schemes more accessible.
Innovation is a key precondition for maintaining our prosperity. For this reason, three innovation programmes will be launched in 2008 in areas that are very important for society: energy, water and care.
To keep the Netherlands attractive for international firms and pioneering research, the Government will make it easier for talented people abroad to come to work or study in our country.
The best researchers at the universities will have priority in the distribution of research funds.

An enterprising country needs good transport connections. Ten projects will be completed in 2008 aimed at reducing the amount of congestion on the roads. In the coming year the Government will begin preparations to tax car use more and car ownership less. This autumn it will present a plan to encourage the use of public transport. New experiments will be conducted with free public transport.

A sustainable living environment is the third pillar of Government policy.
The Government is setting the goal of ensuring that by 2020 Dutch energy management will be among the cleanest and most efficient in Europe. It is presenting a programme today with specific measures to attain this goal. Central elements of this programme include energy conservation, application of innovative energy technology and further development of wind and solar power.
A sustainable Netherlands is also a Netherlands with beautiful nature areas, a thriving countryside and a people that coexists harmoniously with water. To improve the landscape, the Government will impose restrictions on building in open spaces. Together with the provinces and municipalities, it will adopt a national strategy in the coming year for how the Netherlands can respond to rising sea levels resulting from climate change.

The fourth pillar of Government policy is social cohesion. Every person counts and every person is needed.
The Government has made agreements with employers' organisations and trade unions to help 200,000 long-term unemployed people find work at businesses. In this connection it will put forward proposals to ensure that arrangements for training, temporary work and the termination of employment form a coherent whole. The Government is also supporting labour market participation by reducing the burden of tax and contributions and introducing a requirement for young people under 27 to work or undergo training.
Placements in a non-profit or voluntary organisation will be introduced for pupils in secondary education.
People who devote their energies to helping others and want to play an active role in their communities are to be supported by investments in voluntary and informal carers' organisations.
The Government wants to ensure the affordability and quality of care for all. This requires measures to promote efficiency. The Government proposes to abolish the no-claims bonus in 2008. It will be replaced by a general excess. In addition, the Government will pay special attention to the quality of care, especially in nursing and care homes. The basic health insurance package will be expanded next year. A healthy lifestyle is very important. The Government will therefore offer financial incentives for sport and sports associations.

Social cohesion takes shape in large measure in families, schools and neighbourhoods. The Government plans to work with municipalities to encourage the establishment of Youth and Family Centres. They will be open to all parents facing parenting problems. The Government plans to give more support to low-income families and larger families by introducing a means-tested child allowance in addition to child benefit in 2008.
Schools are the springboards to success in life. In the years ahead, education must be improved and teaching as an occupation made more attractive. In consultation with education professionals, measures will be taken to improve the teaching of language skills and arithmetic.
The government is seeking agreements with housing associations and municipalities on extra investments in forty neighbourhoods facing many problems. The aim is not just to make them more attractive, but to give the people who live there more opportunities to participate fully in society.
The quality of civic integration can and must be raised. In addition, more people need to be reached. To this end, the government has presented a comprehensive integration plan.

Safety and respect are the fifth pillar of policy. They are a precondition for trust between people.
The Government has made agreements with the regional police forces on increasing community safety and combating youth crime and violence.
A great deal of aggression stems from alcohol abuse. The Government will take action to counter excessive drinking among young people. In addition, campuses will be set up for young people who will go off the rails unless they receive firm supervision.
There will be greater focus on fighting internet crime and fraud in 2008.
Next year, the phased modernisation of the prison service will begin. By introducing an individually tailored approach, the Government will seek to prevent people offending repeatedly.

The sixth pillar is an effective public sector that serves and is an ally of the public. The Government is engaged in an overhaul of the civil service, the programme for which it will present to you shortly. The Government has made agreements with the municipal and provincial authorities on an effective division of tasks in providing services. The ten biggest obstacles identified by the public will be tackled first in 2008. Soon, for example, fewer activities will require a permit and waiting times will be cut, partly by means of better use of the internet.
To provide a basis for new relations between the government, semi-public institutions and the public, the government will submit a bill by which the 'social enterprise' will be recognised in law as a distinct form of organisation.
Art and culture will be brought within reach of a wide audience. The new programme fund for cultural participation will support this development.

The Government's policy is based on these six pillars. Together they offer a prospect of growth, sustainability, respect and solidarity, enabling us in the future to continue to respond to changes and preserve and strengthen what we hold dear.

Within the Kingdom, too, a process of change is taking place. Political relations within the Kingdom are to be revised. The agreed changes will be laid down next year in proposals for Kingdom legislation. It is gratifying that all the island territories of the Netherlands Antilles have joined in this process.

However important Government policy may be, a society is made up of citizens. The Government wants to work with everyone in the Netherlands to build a country in which everyone can feel safe and at home and have a sense of common bonds. Mutual respect between people and respect for the Dutch legal order are essential preconditions. Our Constitution is founded on equality for all persons before the law, freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of expression.
These rights demand responsibility and tolerance from us all. Our strength lies in working together and living together.

Members of the States General,

You represent our country's vast and rich diversity. You bear a heavy responsibility. The Government looks forward to a good working relationship with you. In discharging your duties, you may draw succour from the knowledge that many are wishing you wisdom and join me in praying for strength and God's blessing upon you.