The Netherlands’ prosperous image should not obscure underlying problems such as poverty, discrimination and the shortage of affordable housing, King Willem-Alexander said as in his speech to open the parliamentary year on Tuesday.
Despite the cabinet’s resignation in July, ministers were still committed to dealing with pressing issues such as compensating the parents affected by the childcare benefits scandal and the victims of earthquake damage in Groningen.
The king began his 10th speech from the throne by looking back on on his decade as monarch, marked by “intense and raw” events such as the shooting down of flight MH17, the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
Foreign policy, where Mark Rutte’s government is less restrained by its caretaker status, featured prominently in the speech. Russia’s “illegal war of invasion against a sovereign neighbouring country” meant Europe needed to become less dependent on countries such as China and Russia for its energy and resources, the king said.
But the main focus of the speech was the need to generate “perspective” at home through better job opportunities, education, culture and support for the most vulnerable.
The speech in the Koninklijke Schouwburg theatre reflected wider concerns about the rising cost of living, voiced by protesters who booed the royal carriage as it travelled from Noordeinde palace for the ceremonial opening of parliament.
“The first impression of anyone looking at Dutch society from outside is an attractive country with good facilities and a strong economy, embedded in robust international structures that bring wealth and protection,” the king said.
“But this positive image conceals the permanent task of working for equal opportunities, security of existence and perspective. Not everybody can take a decent home, good health and a safe domestic situation for granted.”
Willem-Alexander also cited this year’s apology for the history of slavery as a moment when “emotion went hand in hand with healing and connection”.
“There is still discrimination and racist exclusion in our society,” he said. “Because of that the processing of our history of slavery, especially after this year of commemoration in the whole of the kingdom, will remain high on the agenda.
Uncertainty in the global economy and the loss of the government’s mandate meant “restraint” was unavoidable, but the government was still spending €2 billion on measures to boost spending power “so that poverty does not increase”, the king said.
Benefits to help poorer families would be increased, the emergency fund to help people pay energy bills was being extended for a second winter and the Caribbean nations would receive extra money to help them combat poverty.
On the war in Ukraine, the king said the conflict “touched on our own security and future”, adding that support for Ukraine was “undiminished”. “And that is important, because the longer this war lasts, the more urgent the humanitarian, military and financial support for Ukraine becomes,” he said.
The king said threats to democracy around the world underlined the need to support it at home through measures to combat the “unacceptable” influence of organised crime “in our streets, neighbourhoods and companies”.
“Democracy is much more than casting a vote: it is an attitude,” he said.
Farming and climate
The government would also bring in measures to support vulnerable people through better education, job opportunities and culture – including bringing back public libraries “in as many places as possible”.
Measures to improve job opportunities and reduce discrimination in the labour market had been agreed with employers and unions so that “as many people as people have the chance of a job, both for their personal development and because our country needs them.”
The king also mentioned the continuing need to reduce nitrogen pollution while ensuring “future perspective and clarity for the agriculture sector.” And the government had embarked on an “ambitious climate policy” to mitigate the problems of extreme weather and rising energy prices, with subsidies and other measures “to help citizens and companies make sustainable choices”.
Read the complete speech (in English)
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