Speech from the Throne 2023
On 19 September 2023 (Prinsjesdag) the government announced its plans for the coming year in the Speech from the Throne. King Willem-Alexander delivered the Speech.
Members of the States General,
It has now been ten years since I delivered my first speech from the throne, here among you. A decade I look back on with gratitude. There have been difficult times, raw with sorrow, such as the downing of flight MH17. At other times, emotional events have gone hand in hand with healing and unity, such as on 1 July of this year, when we commemorated the abolition of slavery. Looking back, I naturally think of the pandemic, which had such a profound impact on everyone’s lives. And of course I think of the war in Ukraine. Such moments and events will always be a part of our history, etched forever in our memories.
In these first ten years I have also been lucky enough to make hundreds of visits throughout the Kingdom, heart-warming experiences in which I met thousands of inspiring people. Those encounters have made an indelible impression on me. Time and again, the Netherlands has shown itself to be a nation of enterprising and inventive people who seek to work together for the common good, in collaboration with their neighbours, village, town, club or region. It is the same deep sense of community I felt during my most recent visit to the Caribbean part of the Kingdom. And it inspires my deep conviction that the social fabric of our nation must be protected. There is an extraordinary unifying force in all the small, ordinary things that people achieve together on a daily basis. Unity is something that develops when people join together. It is not a given, but demands constant attention and effort from us all.
The first thing that someone looking at Dutch society from the outside will see is an attractive country with good public services and a strong economy. A country firmly embedded in strong international structures that provide protection and prosperity. But beyond that rosy picture lies an enduring task: to continue working to ensure equal opportunities, socioeconomic security and future prospects. By no means everyone can count on having a decent home, good health and a safe domestic environment. Not every child gets the same opportunities for a bright future. And not everyone in our country feels they are seen and heard. There is still discrimination and racial exclusion in our society. And with that in mind, reckoning with the Netherlands’ role in the history of slavery will remain a priority throughout the Kingdom after this year of remembrance. So that after acknowledgement and apology, we can work together to foster healing, reconciliation and recovery.
The caretaker status of the government inevitably entails restraint as far as making new proposals is concerned. What is more, the state of the public finances and rising interest charges call for greater financial caution than in recent years. Nevertheless, there are areas where decisive action is required: poverty reduction, redress for the victims of failings in the childcare benefit system, the settlement of claims relating to the earthquake damage in Groningen, the ongoing aftermath of MH17, and support for Ukraine. In addition, the government and parliament have a shared responsibility to continue working on other policy areas that affect us all, such as building sufficient housing and providing good education. You may be assured that the government is ready to do what is in the national interest, naturally in close consultation and coordination with parliament.
To this end, firstly, the government will invest around two billion euros in purchasing-power measures, so as to prevent a rise in poverty. Housing benefit will be increased to maintain the purchasing power of families on the lowest incomes in 2024. Child budget will be increased to combat child poverty. In addition, the Emergency Energy Fund will be extended to provide a safety net for people who can no longer pay their energy bills. Next year the employment tax credit will be increased to ensure that it pays more to work. And extra funds will be made available to tackle poverty in the Caribbean Netherlands.
Equally, the government’s caretaker status must not be allowed to delay the resolution of the childcare benefit failings and the earthquake damage in Groningen. The government will do everything possible to provide redress for the suffering caused to people and families as quickly and effectively as possible. With regard to the childcare benefit issue, parents will be given a greater say and more options, so that they can get on with their lives more swiftly. The residents of the earthquake region may be assured that the recovery agenda – covering damage repairs and reinforcement works, social measures and economic prospects – will be implemented in close consultation with the affected community.
As Russia’s brutal violence against the people of Ukraine in its illegal war of aggression against a neighbouring sovereign nation has shown, achievements that for decades seemed assured can no longer be taken for granted. On Europe’s eastern border, a battle for the fundamental values of democracy and the rule of law is raging. A battle that directly impacts our own security and our own future. Many people in the Netherlands feel – and are showing – solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Public support for efforts to assist Ukraine remains as great as ever. And this is important, because the longer this war goes on, the more pressing Ukraine’s need for humanitarian, military and financial support will become. The Dutch government will continue, working closely with its EU and NATO allies, to do all it can to bring an end to Russia’s aggression and ensure that the Ukrainians can once again live in peace and freedom. The Netherlands is home to the International Criminal Court, and therefore feels a special responsibility when it comes to preparing for the prosecution of war crimes. Given the importance of a strong NATO and a robust defence apparatus, the government will continue its planned additional investment in the armed forces. We would like to express our support for, and our gratitude to, all our military personnel who are working around the world to foster peace and security.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the European Union has shown that unity and geopolitical influence are extensions of each other. In a world of increasing threats and power politics, enhanced international cooperation is essential, both within the EU and with like-minded partners such as the United States. The Netherlands supports the principle of ‘open strategic autonomy’. Europe must reduce its dependence on Russia, China and other countries, be it for energy, raw materials or medicines. This is as much a security issue as it is an economic issue.
In the area of international trade policy, too, the government will work to enhance economic resilience and reduce undesirable strategic dependencies. Our development cooperation activities will focus on the root causes of poverty, terrorism, irregular migration and climate change. This will not only help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, but also contribute to global stability and prosperity.
All over the world, democracy, freedom and the rule of law are under pressure. And not only far from our shores, but also on our own continent. It is therefore all the more important that we cherish, protect and strengthen our own democratic state under the rule of law. It is unacceptable that organised crime is undermining our society and infiltrating our streets, neighbourhoods and businesses. Any threat to journalists, lawyers, politicians or other guardians of democracy, from whatever quarter, is equally unacceptable. A constant focus on security is therefore required, including stricter supervision of people in our prisons.
Maintaining democracy is not a task for the government alone. It demands something of us all. Democracy is much more than casting one’s vote. It is an attitude. It is being willing to listen to others, consider other viewpoints and weigh interests carefully. The hardening of different views into unbridgeable divides will inevitably erode public trust in our democratic institutions, damaging the fabric that binds us together as a society. And it is precisely in ordinary, day-to-day life – in our schools, companies, churches and mosques, sports clubs and families – that differences are overcome, creating mutual trust and common prospects for the future.
Culture is a good example of the way in which the government seeks to encourage such processes from the bottom up. Culture confronts, inspires and builds bridges. From festival sites to concert halls, and from museums to music schools. The government will therefore continue promoting public engagement with culture, for example through the Culture Pass for young people. It also aims wherever possible to bring back public libraries where people can go to read, study and meet up with others.
Equal opportunities, socioeconomic security and future prospects form the core of the ambition this government set about to realise – in close cooperation with municipalities, provinces and water authorities. The provision of public services is usually the context in which people first come into contact with the government. And it is here – when people visit the town hall or a government website – that trust must develop. It is therefore crucial to involve implementing agencies in policymaking at an earlier stage, give the professionals in the field room to manoeuvre, and focus more closely on the feasibility and effects of legislation.
In many policy areas, the work continues unabated, despite the government’s caretaker status. Important choices need to be made concerning migration and civic integration and their effects on our society, on issues such as migration for work or study. Where asylum is concerned, sufficient reception places are needed for the coming period. What is more, negotiations on the Common European Asylum System are still ongoing, as are the EU talks on how to make the influx of migrants more manageable.
In order to foster socioeconomic security with equal opportunities, it is essential to provide good education. The government’s education policy focuses strongly on language and arithmetic and greater appreciation for secondary vocational education, where the skilled tradespeople of the future are trained. The basic grant has now been reintroduced. The most vulnerable school pupils are being given extra support, with extra activities outside the classroom and a free healthy meal at school. The government will continue working to tackle the teacher shortage, including by promoting regional collaboration between schools, teacher-training programmes and municipalities. The government supports young researchers and teachers, and is stimulating both academic and practical research at universities and institutions of higher professional education.
The digital transition and artificial intelligence are creating new opportunities and risks in areas such as work, healthcare, education and the economy. The government will take steps to ensure that everyone is able to participate safely and confidently in the digital society, for example by helping people develop their digital skills.
Increasingly extreme weather conditions and high energy prices underline the importance of ambitious climate policy that enjoys broad public support. During its term of office, the government has set a change in motion, introducing grant schemes for insulation, solar panels and heat pumps, and other measures to encourage people and businesses to make sustainable choices. With regard to the business sector in particular, we are working to rapidly increase electrical grid capacity and encourage the transition to more flexible and staggered energy consumption.
It has been clear from the outset that any policy on nitrogen emissions and nature must be accompanied by future prospects and clarity for the agricultural sector. Not least for young farmers who want to help build a sustainable future. Next year the government will make funds available to support such farmers when they take over a business. The organic farming sector will also receive extra support. The government will continue working to resolve the nitrogen emissions issue, in the knowledge that if we do not, the problem will only get worse, with all the attendant consequences for the natural world, not to mention the construction of new housing and roads. It is therefore encouraging that the provinces have now presented their area plans for reducing nitrogen emissions, and that several hundred major-emitters in the vicinity of vulnerable nature areas are considering participating in a buy-out scheme.
In regard to public housing and spatial planning, the government is coordinating a joint effort, together with local authorities, construction firms and housing associations, to build more affordable housing. Construction agreements will be concluded in every region, extra locations will be designated and financial support will be provided. The government is also working to improve tenant protection by regulating the mid-range segment of the rental market. This is very important for all those police officers, teachers, nurses and other professionals on salaries in the modal range. After all, a good, affordable home – whether owned or rented – is a basic condition for socioeconomic security.
The government is drafting a new spatial planning policy document, which centres on the future use of space in our country. It will address the balance between agriculture, fisheries and nature, scope for a sustainable energy supply, the circular economy, new urban development and vibrant rural areas. In the Netherlands, spatial planning issues are always linked to water and mobility. Subjects that will continue to require urgent attention in the coming period include the need for clarity on the future of Schiphol Airport, maintenance of our infrastructure and improvements to our water quality.
With regard to the labour market, an extensive package of measures has been developed together with employers’ organisations and trade unions, and this is currently being implemented. It is important that as many people as possible have the opportunity to find employment, not only for their own personal development, but also because our country needs everyone’s participation. Creating more permanent jobs, combating discrimination and improving the working conditions of labour migrants will provide greater security for vulnerable workers. Given the changing nature of the labour market, it is important for working people to be able to continue developing throughout their careers. The government is supporting this objective by means of the National Growth Fund and schemes such as learning and development programmes for small and medium-sized enterprises. The Future Pensions Act, which entered into force on 1 July 2023, represents a major step towards a more future-proof pension system. Pension providers and employers’ and employees’ organisations are working hard on the transition to the new system.
Every day, the foundations of our prosperity are laid anew by innovative Dutch companies, from family businesses to multinational enterprises, and from small farms to Brainport Eindhoven. Wealth must be earned before it can be distributed. It is businesses that provide the financial wherewithal to tackle major societal issues. The government will continue striving to provide the most attractive possible business and investment climate, with due regard for the problems facing businesses, such as the tight labour market. In addition, the government will continue working to strengthen our innovative capacity and develop predictable and stable tax policy. Together with the autonomous countries of Aruba, Curaçao and St Maarten, the government will work to foster a future-proof economy and high-quality governance.
The recently concluded healthcare agreements have laid the foundations for ensuring good, accessible and affordable healthcare for generations to come, improving the alignment of curative care with long-term care. Special attention will be paid to enhancing regional cooperation between general practitioners, home-based nursing care providers, hospitals, municipalities and other parties. For the elderly, the government is working to develop more independent residential accommodation and good close-to-home care. It is impossible to overstate the value of informal carers, and therefore they must be supported, for example through improved cooperation and knowledge transfer between them and professional carers. The National Preventive Health Pact aims to help promote healthier lifestyles. One of its key goals is a smoke-free generation by 2040.
The government will also continue working with relevant parties on reforms to the youth care system, so that vulnerable children and families get the help they need more quickly. More and more children are suffering from mental health issues, such as depression and loneliness. The government is therefore working with young people to develop ways of tackling these problems, making it easier to talk about mental health and paying attention to the pressure to perform that students encounter at school and university. A generation of young people who grow up healthy and happy will provide a strong foundation for tomorrow’s society.
Members of the States General,
In the months ahead, the Netherlands will once again determine its future course. It is the important task of everyone who bears political or administrative responsibility to offer people hope and guidance in a time of great change. In this way, we can continue weaving the social fabric of our country. Working together with you, the government will do all it can to find solutions to the problems facing our nation. 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.