Government statement of policy on taking office

On 3 July 2024 Prime Minister Dick Schoof delivered the government statement of policy on taking office in the House of Representatives. This statement was delivered in Dutch. Check against delivery.

Mr President,

Just before she embarked on her first marathon, in London in April 2023, one my greatest Dutch sporting heroes, Sifan Hassan, admitted that while training she had often wondered what on earth she was letting herself in for. She was full of nervous tension. But she also said she was fascinated to see how far she could go. ‘I just want to experience the journey that comes with this distance,’ she said. So, for her, this first marathon was a new experience that she was looking forward to.

I stand here today with a similar feeling, and a similar rush of adrenaline, at the start of something very new. Something new not only for me personally, and for various other members of the government, but also for Dutch politics. A government without political party leaders – for the first time in over 50 years – that is setting to work on the basis of a framework coalition agreement. It’s a tense moment, but at the same time we’re keen to finally get started. Put simply, we’re looking forward to it. And as you may remember, Sifan Hassan won that first marathon convincingly. As a marathon runner myself, I plan to draw inspiration from that, in the hope and expectation that we will succeed in doing something good for the Netherlands. And let me be clear from the outset: I mean something good for all Dutch people, and everyone in our Kingdom.

The framework coalition agreement of the Freedom Party (PVV), the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), New Social Contract (NSC) and the Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB) contains all the necessary ingredients for achieving that. Let me mention a few of them here. There will be tax cuts, and a reduction in the health insurance excess, easing the financial burden not only on people in difficult circumstances and working people with middle incomes, but on businesses as well. The agreement sets out very strict policy on asylum and migration that is in keeping with our country’s absorption capacity and meets the needs of our economy. It contains the necessary proposals for agricultural and nature policy, which will give farmers and fishers renewed autonomy and fresh prospects, while ensuring food security for us all. It invests in areas that are important both to ordinary people and to our business climate – areas like security, housing, infrastructure and the energy transition. It also ensures more say for the public, while strengthening the rule of law, in part by introducing a new electoral system and making it possible for Acts of Parliament to be subject to constitutional review.

In this way, the framework coalition agreement seeks to reflect the outcome of the election of 22 November 2023. On that day, speaking through the ballot box, the people of the Netherlands gave clear instructions to the country’s politicians. They said: listen to us. Listen to our concerns. About asylum and migration. About the severe housing shortage. About the price of groceries, energy and rent. Listen – and do something about it. The government presenting itself to the House today takes those instructions very seriously.

The greatest of these concerns is asylum and migration. Whichever way you look at it, that is issue number one. Many people share the conviction that year upon year of migration, for work, study or asylum, is putting too much pressure on our country. And not only on the availability and affordability of our public services. But also on the social cohesion and sense of community in our neighbourhoods, villages and cities.

And this concern is a real one. Imagine living in Ter Apel or Budel. Or being a student with no chance of finding a room to rent. Or being surrounded by buildings that house labour migrants in the most appalling conditions. We must therefore take these concerns very seriously. Because the asylum and migration figures are high, and so is the pressure this puts on our society. Any solution, and any strategy, must begin with recognising this reality. Not least to ensure continued public support for the reception of genuine refugees. The strict policy on asylum and migration contained in the framework coalition agreement thus sends a clear message to people: we hear you. We hear you and we are taking action.

Many of these concerns stem from the very human need for connection, reassurance and security. Yes, there is polarisation in society. But the idea that Dutch people these days spend all their time in angry opposition to each other is not accurate. People do not despise each other. The overwhelming majority do their best every day to make something of their lives and to help others too. But they do want their concerns to be heard by the government. Basic concerns, such as how to make ends meet every month. But also more visceral worries relating to international tensions and threats, which already confront us and continue to mount. Just look at the war in Ukraine and the danger posed by Russia. People are asking themselves: how will all this affect our lives, here? How will it affect my children’s future? And it’s only logicial that they should look to the government for answers.

The best response to uncertainty is trust. A government that offers trust and receives it in return. By standing side by side with people, instead of in opposition to them. Unfortunately, all too often in the past, antagonism has resulted from government decisions that were basically well-intentioned. Take the serious failings in the childcare benefits system. Take the situation in Groningen. And as a consequence, a lot of public trust has been lost. That trust can be won back only by a government that truly listens. It won’t happen overnight. It will be a gradual, step-by-step process that involves engaging with society. The government considers that to be perhaps the most crucial task for the coming period.

Restoring trust starts with making policy that is actually feasible in practice. Working together with public service providers and implementing agencies. Together with provinces, municipalities and water authorities. Together with companies, trade unions and civil society organisations. And of course, first and foremost, together with you.

Another key ingredient, however, is the courage to make choices. To chart a course. That too is something this government believes in. Naturally, the Netherlands is a coalition country and we have to compromise. And often this results in sensible policy. But sometimes, when there’s too much talking and too much discussion, real solutions fail to materialise. The issue of asylum and migration is a good example. The debate on the future of agriculture and the natural environment is another. Or take the debate that has been going on for years about improving our governance culture and strengthening the rule of law. So much has been said already, and so little has actually changed. In all these areas, we need to move from inertia to action, change and improvement. Even if that means making difficult choices.

The House has already considered the substance of the framework coalition agreement – in the debate of Wednesday 22 May. It has also discussed the first task that awaits us as the country’s new government: elaborating the framework agreement into a detailed government programme. Tomorrow, we will set to work on that task, taking the most practical approach possible. The House can expect the government to offer specifics relating to the key topics set out in the framework agreement, giving insight into our objectives, approach, schedule and resources. Naturally we will also take account of factors such as public support and feasibility. We aim to ensure that the government programme can be considered during the Parliamentary Debate on the Speech from the Throne.

It would serve little purpose to run through the entire framework agreement again here today. Instead, I would like to take this opportunity to consider the substance and process of this endeavour. What kind of government will this be? How do we view our task in the light of the framework coalition agreement? And what will we do to shape and develop those efforts further?

But before I get to that, a few words of thanks. First, to the ministers and state secretaries of the previous government, who have worked tirelessly up to the very last moment in the interest of the Netherlands. I think that everyone will agree with me that the leader of that government deserves a special honourable mention. Over a period of almost 14 years, Mark Rutte has been the face of four Dutch governments. With his talent for uniting people, his ability to find solutions where others could not, and his incisive political insight, he has gained great authority that extends from the Netherlands to the wider world. He would be the first to admit that by no means everything went perfectly during his tenure. But let me emphasise today that it is hard to overstate his enormous service to our country. I’m sure I speak for many people when I say that the Netherlands owes Mark Rutte a debt of enormous gratitude. As he takes up his role at NATO, I wish him every success, not least with a view to our national security.

I would also like to thank the individuals who explored the options, and then mediated the talks, concerning the formation of the new coalition – the verkenners and informateurs – and especially Richard van Zwol, who agreed to accept the role of formateur and oversee the conclusion of the process. Together, they ensured that on 16 May the four parties – the PVV, VVD, NSC and BBB – were able to conclude a framework coalition agreement, enabling the formation of this new government. And they were supported by a fantastic group of staff and an excellent team from the House – as I can personally attest. I thank them all for their exhaustive efforts, whether out in the spotlight or behind the scenes.

I would also like to personally thank Caroline van der Plas, Dilan Yeşilgöz, Pieter Omtzigt and Geert Wilders. I thank them for the confidence and trust they have placed in me by asking me to take on the role of prime minister. And I would like to mention Mr Wilders in particular. Following a convincing election victory, the leader of the largest parlimentary party did everything he could to make a successful partnership possible. I am only too aware – having witnessed them for myself – of the restrictions he has faced in his private life over many years in order to get to this point. I have great respect for his fortitude. For Mr Wilders too, today must be a true milestone.

And now let me say a few words about the character of the team presenting itself to the House and the country today. Because, what exactly is an extra-parliamentary government? Both during the coalition talks and in the run-up to this presentation today, we have heard many views on that subject. And from that I conclude that it is difficult to offer a clear, unambiguous definition. From the government’s point of view, the term ‘extra-parliamentary’ means that the ties between the government and the parliamentary parties will be looser than is customary in our country. The government will thus operate at a somewhat greater remove from parliament, which means, conversely, that the House will be able to exercise parliamentary scrutiny more effectively. The coalition agreement has not been hammered out to the finest detail. This means less coalition-based pressure and more scope for shifting majorities, creating more breathing space in the relations between the House and the government. And if you were to ask me what exactly the process will entail, I’d say I believe that is something we will have to discover and work out together as we go along.

As noted in the final report issued by informateur Kim Putters, an extra-parliamentary government means that its composition is different too. The political leaders of the parliamentary parties that support this coalition will remain in the House as MPs. And some members of the government have been sought out primarily on account of their knowledge and experience, not solely because they are publicly affiliated to a specific political party. I myself am an example of that, but I’m not the only one. In the government’s section here in the House, I’m surrounded by a broad-based team with a huge amount of expertise and experience in society, and without exception they are deeply committed to the Netherlands. So this is not a black-and-white picture of political and apolitical members of government, but a balanced team.

Mr President, I agree with everyone who, over the past few months, has concluded that the election result must above all be considered a call by voters for political leaders to do some things differently. The framework coalition agreement, ‘Hope, courage and pride’, is the result, and it provides the framework within which the government will operate. It is an agreement that marks a clear change of course in a number of areas. I already mentioned policy on migration, agriculture and nature, and the proposals for better governance and a stronger democracy. It is an agreement that rests on a foundation of healthy public finances and financial solidity. It will not have escaped anyone’s attention that the framework agreement itself contains a number of quite detailed proposals in these areas. That says something about the importance the four parties that concluded the agreement attach to these issues. And let me put it plainly: the government is bound by that. For us too, these are key priorities.

On many other subjects, the framework coalition agreement leaves room for sensible proposals from both the House and the government. Most of those other subjects are by no means less urgent. The fact that the framework coalition agreement devotes fewer words to them says nothing about the importance the government attaches to them. I’d like to illustrate this with reference to the oft-heard term ‘socioeconomic security’. A concept that begins with income and spending power, as it does in the framework agreement. Take for instance the principle that work should pay, one of our main focus areas for the coming years. But socioeconomic security means so much more than that. It is inconceivable without physical security, a basic need for every person and every country, and unquestionably one of the core tasks of government. You won’t be surprised to hear me express this opinion. But socioeconomic security also means accessible, high-quality care and education for all. It means a decent and affordable roof over your head. Housing is a basic need, and for all too many people – and certainly for too many young people – renting or owning a home of their own has become an unattainable goal. We must turn the tide where this problem is concerned. Socioeconomic security means a labour market that works for people, with sufficient certainty for employers and scope for those who want to be self-employed. It means targeted measures to combat poverty. But it also requires policy that ensures that individuals and businesses can truly achieve the energy transition, not least in financial terms.

In other words there is a wide range of important and diverse issues for us to work together on – as House and government, engaging closely with society. I hope that is how it will be, and to be honest I’m rather counting on it, given that so many parties – from left to right – made socioeconomic security a key theme of their election campaigns. What’s more, history teaches us that this government, too, will very likely be faced with unexpected events that no one can predict right now. And in that case, too, we will have to find broadly supported solutions, together and in consultation. That is my appeal to you today, and in return I pledge that the government will extend its hand to all parties in this House.

Mr President, fleshing out the framework coalition agreement involves three important parameters: the international context, the financial framework and the rule of law. In the past few weeks there have been concerns and criticism regarding that last one. For me that is all the more reason to be perfectly clear again today. As you know, I personally have devoted much of my working life to the protection of our democratic state under the rule of law. And of course the entire government is fully committed to the relevant agreements that the four parties made at an early stage in this process. This means that for us democracy under the rule of law is a given, and the democratic freedoms and fundamental rights laid down in our Constitution are its primary anchors. We believe in that and we will safeguard it. Anything else I could say about this now would only detract from the absolute clarity I want to give everyone today. I’m simply asking you and everyone in the country today: judge us by what we do. Judge us by our deeds.

In the international context, the Netherlands is and will remain a reliable EU partner and NATO ally – in the profound realisation that these two organisations are the cornerstone of our security and our prosperity. For me personally it’s crystal clear that protecting the things we hold dear – our freedoms and our entire way of life – must be an absolute top priority in international security policy. And yes, defence is a crucial element of that. But a resilient society also requires strategic autonomy in other areas, such as energy, food security and raw materials. We should not be naive in that respect. Just a few hours by plane from here, a terrible war is raging in which, to the Russians, human lives count for nothing. Our country, too, is faced with foreign hacking activities and other attempts at espionage, infiltration and foreign influence. Russia, China, the Middle East – instability looms over Europe from all directions. And the reality is that we must prepare ourselves for scenarios that were once unthinkable. For that reason alone, a strong and prosperous Netherlands cannot operate in isolation. And nor will we. Ukraine can continue to rely on the Netherlands’ support: financial, military and political. We will meet the 2% NATO target and enshrine it in law. And the Dutch government will comply with all international treaties we have signed, both within the EU and in other contexts. That is simply the right thing to do.

What we won’t do anymore is add stricter requirements to national legislation on top of international agreements, for instance when it comes to nature and climate policy. So we won’t interpret EU rules more strictly than other countries. We don’t always have to strive to be top of the class. And we can’t afford to either, with such a large population, so much enterprise and such an outstanding agriculture and fisheries sector in such a relatively small country.

What we will do is start a dialogue in Europe, in areas where international agreements have a disproportionate effect on our country or form an obstacle to reasonable solutions. The framework coalition agreement refers to this option in the sections on migration and agriculture in particular. I know that many of you, and many people outside this room, would put that in the ‘impossible, can’t be done’ category. And I’ve been around long enough to know that calling international agreements into question and having conversations about opt-outs does not automatically lead to success. At the same time, we must realise that EU member states do indeed have room to decide for themselves how they want to go about achieving certain goals. So it’s certainly possible to have that conversation. What’s more, I grew up in a family where hard work and perseverance were the norm. ‘You’ll never know unless you try,’ I was told. So, will the government give you a cast-iron guarantee today that we will get everything we want in Brussels? No, but we do make the cast-iron promise that we will fight for the Netherlands’ interests. And that we will find and use any room for manoeuvre that exists.

I’d like to say the following about the final parameter, the financial framework. The most important thing is that we opt for financial solidity, in the best Dutch tradition. In other words, the central government budget deficit will not exceed the agreed limit of 3%. And if at some point it looks likely to exceed that limit, we will take action accordingly. Not because Europe tells us to, but to avoid saddling our children and grandchildren with excessive debt. We will not mortgage their future.

Unfortunately the fact is that this government will have to tighten the purse strings more than its predecessors. There are serious concerns ahead, for both the short and longer term. The possibilities are not boundless anymore. And yet we want to ensure that people have more money in their pockets, and reduce the burden on businesses. That inevitably means having to make choices. After all, in the central government budget, any extra allocations have to be made up for somewhere else. For instance the VAT increases, the cutbacks on development aid, the discontinuation of the voluntary community service scheme, and the rigorous cutbacks in the civil service organisation. There is a financial reality, and we must face it. The government cannot and will not shirk that responsibility.

And therein, to conclude, Mr President, lies the answer to the question I’ve been asked the most over the past few weeks: ‘Why did you say yes when the four parties asked you to become prime minister?’ It is not something I ever aspired to – and to be in this position is a strange twist of fate. In all honesty, of course it’s difficult to turn down such an honour – after all, I’m only human. But my deepest motivation is the public interest, which I have put my heart and soul into for the past forty years. To be given responsibility for that is the most wonderful thing ever. I could never have imagined that I would be standing here. But now that I am, I cannot conceive of a more important job I could do.

In all the conversations I’ve had with the other members of the government, I sensed the same drive to accept this responsibility. To achieve something good for the Netherlands. Given the election result of 22 November. Given the framework coalition agreement. And given the scope we have to turn good and sensible ideas into policy, working in close consultation with the members of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and civil society organisations, and engaging closely with society.