Speech from the Throne 2011

20 september 2011

The Hague, 20 September 2011

Members of the States General,

Our country is going through difficult economic times. In the past couple of years, however, mass unemployment and a sharp rise in bankruptcies have been avoided despite the ongoing crisis. Our economy and labour market have shown resilience. This should give us confidence for the future. But confidence alone is not enough.  

The Netherlands is fundamentally in a good position, but the slump in world trade means that economic growth will be lower than expected next year. The debt crisis in Europe could also affect our economy. Our heavy dependence on foreign trade makes us especially vulnerable. Understandably, these international developments - and the speed with which they are unfolding - often generate feelings of uncertainty.

With a view to safeguarding our prosperity for the future, the government envisages an approach based on two closely related aims: restoring the public finances to health and strengthening economic growth potential. The relationship between them will be the basis for every proposal presented to you this parliamentary year.

The debt crises in some European countries show that large, long-term deficits pose a threat to prosperity. This is why control over public finances and a low national debt are essential. The year ahead will therefore be a time of far-reaching measures to cut spending, which will affect everyone in the Netherlands. The government is only too aware, however, that a sound budget must go hand in hand with reforms that will bolster the Dutch economy's growth potential.

Employing this vision, the government seeks to tackle the problems of today and create the opportunities of tomorrow. It will do so in the firm belief that the Netherlands' strength lies in its 16 million inhabitants. This country needs a small but strong government that gives people and businesses more breathing space. The government will therefore submit proposals to reduce the number of government rules and simplify procedures, thereby stimulating creativity and innovation. Reducing paperwork will give public servants more opportunity to get on with developing their professional skills.

By fostering individual development, government can help promote social cohesion. The government's policy on immigration and integration aims to strengthen people's interaction and engagement with society. This means that immigrants are expected to support themselves financially and to pay heed to the laws of this country and the values that bind our society together.

No one will remain unaffected by our country's €18 billion package of cuts. In the coming year, virtually everyone's purchasing power will decline. Many services will be reduced. The government's guiding principle is that no one benefits from dependency. Its policy is therefore intended to encourage financial independence and social participation. At the same time, the government will as far as possible spare those who, either through sickness or some other impediment, are genuinely unable to provide for themselves.

In deciding where to make cuts, the government has looked first at itself. There are already fewer ministries and the number of civil servants and government buildings will be considerably reduced over the next few years. The same trend can be seen in the provinces and municipalities. Proposals have also been made to reduce the number of administrators at all levels. Central government will transfer certain tasks to the municipalities where practicable and advantageous. Examples include youth care and sheltered employment schemes. This will make it possible to respond better to individual needs and to save money at the same time.

The small but strong government we envisage is a vital part of strengthening the Netherlands' economic growth potential. After all, a society that encourages people and businesses to move forward and fulfil their potential does not need a government that creates obstacles, but one that removes them. Thus, the government is working actively to bring the business and academic communities together in ten top sectors that are well positioned to take on the world market. These include water and energy, and our high-value food and agricultural sectors. In this way we can bolster our economy while at the same time helping to solve complex issues like climate change and resource scarcity.

A well-functioning internal European market and a stable euro are essential to achieving the economic objectives set out in the government's policy. What is more, people need to be able to count on their savings and pensions holding their value. That is why the government has had to invest so heavily in recent years in ensuring the stability of Dutch banks and insurance firms. The government is now asking this sector to make its own contribution in the form of a bank tax as from 2012.

It goes without saying that our future economic growth depends greatly on our capacity to keep learning. Good education is fundamental to our country's competitiveness and gives people the opportunity to develop their talents. That is why the government wants to improve the quality of education. In primary and secondary schools, teachers and pupils will be encouraged to continue developing their skills and achieve higher performance levels. To this end, teacher training requirements will be made stricter and pupils will be assessed according to national standards. To make it possible to reward strong performance, the results teachers and schools achieve must be clear and transparent. Above all, teachers should be able to concentrate on teaching classes in their particular subject areas. The government will make proposals for how to achieve this.

Students in higher education will have to pay more themselves. The revenue generated will be used to invest in more intensive and higher-quality programmes of study. It is also consulting with universities and institutions of higher professional education on concentrating courses of study, encouraging excellence in research and aligning better with the labour market. This last objective is equally important in secondary vocational education, where more emphasis on professional expertise is needed.
Good education is essential for a strong society. The government is aware that it has a core task in this area. The same applies to public safety and security, health care and social security. Structural improvements are required in all these areas.

Security and public safety are among society's basic needs. A national police force is needed to tackle crime more effectively. The government is focusing on crimes that have a particularly severe impact on the victims and on society at large. These include child abuse, robberies of shops and muggings. Organised crime will also be tackled more aggressively, with an emphasis on human trafficking, drug crime and money laundering. The position of victims will also be improved. It will be possible, for example, to seize a suspect's assets at an early stage with a view to eventual damages.
Solidarity between the young and the elderly and between the healthy and the sick are at the heart of the Dutch healthcare system. The government wants to see this continue, and will be spending more than €15 billion extra on health care during this term in office, despite the enormous budget cuts it needs to make elsewhere. Such a rise in spending is not sustainable in the longer term, however. Unless the government takes measures, healthcare premiums will become unaffordable and an unacceptably large portion of scarce public funds will go to the healthcare sector. The government believes it is necessary to make the healthcare system more future proof and has therefore concluded an agreement with the country's hospitals, medical specialists and insurance providers on payments per procedure and on reducing the rise in healthcare spending. In addition, insurers and hospitals will be free to negotiate on a larger proportion of healthcare services.

As regards care of the elderly, the government is investing in more far-reaching quality improvements. The rights of residents of care institutions will be laid down in a new act. Central to this legislation are the residents' wishes concerning living with dignity. Claims under the personal budget scheme have reached such levels that the government believes it would be irresponsible to proceed with the scheme in its current form. People assessed as eligible for residence at a care institution will still be able to manage their own care. A good level of care will of course still be available for those who do not fall into this category.

Measures are also needed to maintain good basic social security and old age pension provision. The government wants to pursue a labour market policy whose guiding principle is 'work before benefits'. Given that people now live longer on average, it is logical that we should now work longer, too. The government hopes to debate the bill on raising the state pension age with you during this parliamentary year. It will also continue to be necessary to work with the social partners to promote the cohesion between the state pension and supplementary pension arrangements.

The government will give municipalities more scope to get people into regular employment and to use reintegration budgets more effectively. For this reason the current schemes covering the Work and Employment Support (Young Disabled Persons) Act, sheltered employment and the Work and Social Assistance Act will be merged into a new 'Employment Capacity' scheme. Nothing will change for those young people who are declared completely and permanently incapable of working. This applies also to the most severely disabled individuals currently working in sheltered employment.

To preserve public support for our social welfare system, the government will introduce stricter penalties for those guilty of benefit fraud. The same applies to companies that do not comply with the law on working conditions.
The government is very conscious of the open nature of the Dutch economy. Countries and individuals are growing increasingly interwoven and global power is shifting. This requires that we take an active stance in the world. Our country has enormous economic interests worldwide. The government wants to place greater emphasis on those interests throughout Dutch foreign policy. It is promoting economic diplomacy, for example, and in the context of development cooperation it is keeping a closer eye on opportunities that may exist for Dutch businesses. The Netherlands will continue to honour its international commitments where development cooperation is concerned.

Promoting democratic values, human rights and peace and stability in the world is a major foreign policy objective. The Dutch men and women who are working in Afghanistan and elsewhere to this end deserve our full support and appreciation.

Members of the States General,

The current economic situation demands that we take measures. The package of cuts the government is presenting to you is therefore extensive. These proposals will affect everyone's purchasing power. The growing economic and social uncertainty will test our resilience. Yet there is also cause for optimism. Our country is, and will remain, in a comparatively strong position. The measures presented here are aimed at safeguarding our prosperity. The government calls on everyone to play their part at this difficult time. To help build a stronger society and a stronger economy in the best traditions of our nation. In this task we feel a close bond with the other countries in our Kingdom, and with the Caribbean islands that since last year have been a part of the Dutch polity.

Members of the States General, a special responsibility rests on your shoulders. The government looks forward to an open and vigorous exchange of views and to working with you on solutions that enjoy broad levels of support. 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.