King Willem-Alexander opened the Netherlands’ parliamentary year with his traditional speech. He talked about the devastation Hurricane Irma left of the Caribbean islands that form part of the Dutch Kingdom, terrorism around the world, the prosecution of those responsible for the MH17 disaster, and making sure that everyone in the Netherlands benefits from the improving economy, among other things.
“On Prince’s day ( prinsjesdag)all eyes are traditionally oriented on The Hague”, the King started his speech. “But today, our heart and thoughts are first and foremost with the inhabitants of Sint Maarten, Saba and Sint Eustatius, so heavily affected by the devastating power of hurricane Irma. We empathize intensely. It is precisely in these difficult circumstances that interconnection is visible in the Kingdom. Support was promised from many sides and assistance given. The government will do what it takes to remedy this acute need. The Caribbean part of the Kingdom is not alone in responsibility for reconstruction.”
“Looking at the Netherlands, we see many positive developments at the end of this cabinet”, the King said. “Our country is in a better position than at the start of the cabinet in 2012. This is the result of the internationally recovering economy, but also of the adaptability, hard work and resilience of the Dutch population.”
The Dutch economy has been steadily growing since 2014. Economic growth is expected to reach 3.3 percent this year and 2.5 percent next year. Exports, consumption, business investment as well as the surplus on the government budget continues to grow. Unemployment is expected to decline to 4.3 percent next year.
“But no matter how good all the figures and forecasts are, not everyone is benefiting from it. There are still people who struggle to pay the rent every month and get by, or worry about their job security. The government ensured that all groups, including the social minima and the elderly, at least retain their purchasing power in 2018.” The King finds it important to make sure that more people benefit from the Netherlands’ economic prosperity.
“In an open and internationally oriented society like ours, the outside world is always an influential factor”, the King said. And while the international interweaving of the Netherlands is often enriching, increasing international instability also affects people’s lives, directly or indirectly. “Globalization is a fact that we as a country must respond to. Many Dutch people benefit from it. But that does not apply to everyone, and not to all areas.”
“Tensions elsewhere in the world often express themselves in war and violence”, the King said, referring to terrorist attacks in Europe and throughout the world. “Still, we should not let ourselves be ruled by fear. The best answer to terrorism is that we stick to our way of life. The security services involved are very alert and do everything in their power to prevent attacks. Combating radicalization requires both preventative and repressive actions, from paying attention to it at schools to withdrawing Dutch citizenship.”
The King emphasized that the Netherlands continues to work with the European Union, NATO, the United Nations and other international connections, “to ensure our national security and prosperity”. In 2018 the Netherlands is also a member of the UN Security Council. “This membership underscores our continued commitment to stability worldwide, with all the means available to us: diplomacy, development cooperation and the deployment of soldiers.”
“The Dutch men and women who work for peace and security, sometimes far from home, deserve our support and great respect”, the King said. “The Dutch military effort is primarily focused on the wider circle of instability around Europe, as it affects the Netherlands and its allies.” The Dutch government made proposals to continue its military contribution to ongoing missions in Lithuania, Afghanistan, Mali, the anti-ISIS coalition and the fight against piracy next year.
“To address some urgent bottlenecks, there is additional money for security and terrorism”, the King said. More money will go to the intelligence services, so they can recruit more staff. The Koninklijke Marechaussee will be able to strengthen border control. And to better address the increasing digital threats, more money is going to the fight against cyber espionage, cyber sabotage and cyber crime.
“The government feels the lasting and special responsibility to do justice to the innocent victims of flight MH17”, the King said. From next year, the government is setting money aside for prosecuting the perpetrators responsible for downing flight MH17 in July 2014, killing all 298 people on board.
The King also confirmed a number of figures that already leaked from the budget. An extra 435 million euros will go towards nursing home care from next year. And 270 million euros was set aside to increase primary school teachers’ salaries.
“The gas extraction in Groningen has been reduced by more than half in this cabinet period and as of 1 October, production will be reduced further”, the King said. “But more is needed to do justice to the affected Groningen residents. A compensation fund and a new damage protocol are being prepared. The government realizes that the great concerns of the people who live in the earthquake area in Groningen have not just been taken away.”
“On the threshold of the next cabinet period, a new parliamentary year begins today, in which the next cabinet’s program will determine your work”, the King said, addressing the members of the States General. “The Netherlands is a coalition country. Through cooperation, much has been achieved in the period that is behind us and there is much to build on. You have a special responsibility as representatives of the people. You may know that many people wish you wisdom and pray with me for strength and blessings from God for you.”