Speech from the Throne 2000

Members of the States-General,

As we enter the 21st century our country is enjoying a period of economic prosperity. From this advantageous position we are working towards continued prosperity and wellbeing for the future. A strong and cohesive society able to respond to the challenges that confront us requires substantial investment in the economic and social structure of the country.

Because of the favourable budgetary situation, the government has an extra seven and a half billion guilders to spend next year on education and research, health care, public safety and habitability, nature and environment, infrastructure and other areas of government responsibility. This is twice as much as foreseen in the coalition agreement.

The changing make-up of our population, individualisation, technological and economic development, and internationalisation will all have a far-reaching impact on the Netherlands in the decades to come.

Public services are rightly required to meet the highest standards of quality and availability. The government should take into account the increasing demand for freedom of choice in our society, while guaranteeing access to these services.

On 1 January 2001 a fairer and more robust tax regime, designed to meet today's requirements, will be introduced. The new system will mean considerable reductions in tax and social insurance contributions. It will make work financially more rewarding, increase the Netherlands' competitiveness and promote sustainable development. In doing so, it will provide a solid foundation for our future prosperity.

For the first time in decades the national debt is falling. The State Pension Savings Fund is being built up to ensure that old-age pensions will keep pace with incomes in the future. In our ageing society, this will also help preserve solidarity between generations.

The Dutch economy has become stronger in recent years. Employment growth has been favourable. However, too many people are still unable to find paid employment, despite an increase in the number of job vacancies. A further increase in participation in the labour market is necessary for both economic and social reasons.

The government wishes to encourage people to engage in paid employment and is making it financially more attractive to work. Job-seekers receive personal guidance to prepare them for the labour market. Efforts will also be made to enable older people to continue to work for longer.

In the public sector, particularly in education and health care, the rapidly growing shortage of manpower is making itself felt. The government has a special responsibility in these areas. To safeguard the continued provision of public services, it must take resolute action to tackle bottlenecks in the labour market.

The government will maintain its efforts to reduce the burden on the system of invalidity benefits. Too many people are still, unfortunately, unable to work through sickness or disability. The reformed, client-friendly system for providing benefits and employment services attaches primary importance to prevention and reintegration.

Many men and women are seeking a better balance between work and private life. Greater freedom of choice makes it easier for people both to be economically independent and to care for their families. The government will introduce tax incentives to make paid parental leave more attractive. Provisions for childcare and after-school care will be expanded in the near future.

People can also play a meaningful role in society outside the workplace. Those who engage in voluntary work fulfil an indispensable task. Their unselfish efforts make a great contribution to the wellbeing of others.

Today's society makes ever greater demands on people's knowledge and skills. The education system should give everyone the best possible opportunities to develop and use their talents to the full. Following closely on agreements made earlier this year within the European Union, the government will increase spending on education, research and technological innovation.

The basis for acquiring knowledge and skills is laid in the first years of school. To ensure that children do not fall behind at an early age, the government is collaborating extensively with schools and local authorities to develop educational and language programmes. A smooth transition to secondary and further education for as many pupils as possible is necessary to respond to increasing demand on the labour market.

Since the quality of a society depends on both deepening and actually applying scientific knowledge, the government is investing considerable resources in research and innovation. More funds are being allocated to speed up the introduction of computers in schools and their connection to the Kennisnet, the education ministry's knowledge network.

Computers and the Internet are having a dramatic impact on society. Technological development is moving forward at high speed. Many older people live in a world that, in their youth, belonged only to the realms of science fiction. Special attention will be devoted to those who are not yet reaping the benefits of the new information and communication technologies. The government, too, will make better use of these new innovations.

In a society in which material wealth is growing, it is crucial to preserve more intangible values. Culture and the arts make an indispensable contribution to the quality of our lives. It is essential that they should be accessible to as many people as possible.

Increasing prosperity imposes a heavy burden on the environment. Global climate change is making agreements and measures necessary at national and international level to radically restrict the emission of greenhouse gases and energy consumption. Science and technology offer new prospects for the use of alternative sources of energy and for sustainable development. The government supports these initiatives.

In recent years, serious environmental problems have arisen as a result of intensive livestock farming. The agricultural sector must be reformed through the introduction of sustainable farming practices. Support will be given to farmers who introduce the necessary changes in time.

More people need more space in which to live, work, move around and relax. Creating the right spatial conditions for a high-calibre economy and a good living environment means making choices which extend further than the allocation of scarce space.

Nature and the countryside around us help create a pleasant living environment. It is our lasting responsibility to protect and develop them.

Water quality, and catchment capacity - in the light of the water level in the major rivers and land subsidence in the west of the country - require a great deal of attention. The answer to these problems lies in good water management.

Accessibility is proving more and more to be a prerequisite for economic expansion and social emancipation. Rapidly increasing mobility makes it necessary for us to reconcile widely divergent interests and needs. A balance was successfully achieved in the recent agreements on the accessibility of the Randstad conurbation. In the near future the government will be presenting measures to improve accessibility in other parts of the country.

Our towns and cities must remain vital and habitable and provide a living environment in which people can feel at home. The government has concluded agreements with the major cities to effect further improvements in this regard in the near future.

The firework disaster in Enschede came as a profound shock to us all. A major effort is being made to repair the damage and lay the groundwork for reconstruction. This tragedy has reminded us once again how important a safe living environment is to all of us. And this means more than just sound legislation.

Our society cannot function without standards and rules. The government has a direct responsibility to lay down rules and to oversee their implementation and enforcement. But individuals, companies and civil society organisations must also be aware of and accept their own responsibility in this sphere.

The government is making a concerted effort to improve public safety. Special attention will be devoted over the coming year to road safety and to preventing street violence, juvenile crime, environmental offences and serious crime. The campaign against cross-border crime, including people smuggling, calls for intensive European cooperation.

The latest technology, including DNA testing, can be used in investigating crime. In all cases, a careful balance will be struck between effective investigation and the protection of privacy.

The judiciary is making great efforts to improve both the quality and the speed of the administration of justice. The government trusts that the proposals for modernisation of the judicial system will be dealt with without delay.

Changes are also being made to the final stage of the criminal justice process. The government will put forward proposals for a sentencing system that is both more straightforward and easier to apply.

It is the government's aim to introduce the new Aliens Act in the first half of 2001. The main objective of the new Act is to shorten asylum procedures. Like its predecessor, it is based on a policy of restrictive but fair admission. European agreements on a common migration and asylum policy should be developed further shortly.

As the first step in the integration process, familiarity with the language and culture of the Netherlands is especially important to immigrants. Participation in integration programmes has therefore been made compulsory. A command of Dutch is essential for everyone who wishes to live and work here. The government is working with all those involved to ensure that sufficient integration courses are available. All this calls for an open, active attitude on the part of newcomers to the Netherlands. Our society as a whole should be prepared genuinely to accept them. Mutual respect should be the guiding principle at all times.

In recent years demand for care services has risen more rapidly than capacity. The result is waiting lists that are still too long. To reduce them, the government is making substantial sums available this year and next.

Technological advances are making it possible to raise the standard of medical and nursing care ever higher. The increase in the number of elderly people is driving up the need for care. Organisational and funding changes are required if our health care system is to keep pace with the times. The government is therefore preparing reforms of the care insurance system.

The deciphering of the human genome is a fascinating example of the far-reaching advances that are making possible further improvements in food production and medicine alike. However, these advances pose ethical dilemmas. Should we use human embryos for scientific research if this will help to cure life-threatening diseases? For what purposes do we believe that genetic modification is justified? Government and parliament will debate these and other weighty issues in depth.

Our Constitution enshrines enduring values. It is also a living document which responds to essential changes in our society. The government attaches importance to incorporating a number of matters in the Constitution, notably the corrective referendum.

Municipal and provincial democracy will be strengthened. Before the end of the year, the government will put forward proposals designed to improve the division of responsibilities and raise the profile of local government.

The government of the Netherlands Antilles is implementing an emergency programme aimed at lasting financial, economic and social recovery. In doing so, it can count on the active cooperation of the Netherlands. The prospects for a bright future for young people in the Antilles must improve.

The economic trends in Aruba are favourable. However, attention still needs to be paid to controlling government expenditure and to the quality of public administration.

The rest of Europe can no longer be seen as "abroad". Europe is where our future and our opportunities lie. Significant steps have been taken in the dynamic process of European cooperation. The launch of Economic and Monetary Union means that 2001 will be the last year when we use the guilder as our currency. From 2002, over 300 million Europeans will pay all their bills with the same currency, the euro, and so become more directly involved with Europe.

The European Union's goal is to become one of the world's most dynamic and competitive regions, with the help of lasting economic growth, continued high employment and strong social cohesion. The EU is also giving greater substance to its political responsibilities in Europe and in the world at large. Europe's contribution to crisis management and peace operations should be stepped up.

European enlargement to include countries in Central and Eastern Europe is a historic mission. It offers economic opportunities for both the applicant countries and the present member states, and will anchor democracy and stability throughout our continent. Thorough preparation for membership of the Union lays heavy demands on the countries wishing to accede. The Netherlands is helping to support them in these efforts.

The prospect of a larger Union makes amendments to the treaties necessary. It is essential to preserve unity, improve decisiveness and enhance democratic legitimacy. The Netherlands is endeavouring to limit as far as possible the number of subjects on which decisions require unanimity. The new Union Treaty should offer greater scope for closer cooperation between member states.

The main concerns of our foreign policy are human dignity and wellbeing, and peace and security. Most of the extra resources being made available for development cooperation will be deployed through multilateral channels. Good policy and good governance are indispensable if we are to combat poverty effectively. Developing countries must be able to benefit from globalisation and worldwide technological progress. They should also be able to look forward to full participation in the world trade system.

The international community should reflect on how it can assume a greater responsibility for preventing and ending the conflicts that are ravaging the continent of Africa in particular. The United Nations has a central role to play here. The ideals on which the world order is based were reaffirmed at the Millennium Summit earlier this month.

On the eve of the twenty-fifth anniversary of independence, the new government in Suriname is facing grave financial, economic and social problems. It intends to tackle them vigorously and also to strengthen democracy and the rule of law. The Netherlands views Suriname's desire for closer cooperation in a positive light. The nature of this cooperation will be determined by the Surinamese government's programme.

An effective NATO and strong transatlantic ties are essential to our security policy. By deploying highly trained and motivated troops and modern equipment, the Dutch armed forces make a very valuable contribution to peace operations. The armed forces also provide humanitarian aid and assist with reconstruction. The work of all those who contribute to this effort is greatly appreciated.

Members of the States-General,

These prosperous times afford us a chance to shape the future: a future that holds out prospects for all and in which social cohesion will be a prime concern. Our task now is to strengthen and preserve the foundations of our society. Government and parliament alike have a special responsibility to contribute to this process.

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.