© Hollandse Hoogte

Statement of policy

This is the translated text of the government statement of policy on taking office as delivered to the House of Representatives of the States General by the Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, on 1 November 2017.

Madam President,

On 16 January 1978 my prime ministerial forefather, Dries van Agt, stood before you at the start of his first government’s term, and said the following words to your predecessor and the members of the House of Representatives:

‘The government that presents itself to the House today is the result of the lengthiest formation period that our country has ever seen, for the latter part of which I am directly responsible towards the House.’

As formateur of this new government, I would like to echo those words today. And I see it as my task in this government statement of policy to explain both the process and the outcome of this formation period, which has indeed broken that record set in 1977. In a moment I will touch on the coalition agreement and the character of this government, and make a few observations on the length of time it took us to form it. I will then highlight our main policy plans and the reasoning behind them. But before I do, I would like to offer a few words of thanks.

First, I wish to thank the outgoing members of government from the Labour Party and the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy for their hard work and commitment. In recent years a great deal has been achieved for the Netherlands. We’ve seen a lot of hard work. Everyone has stayed focused on results, right up to the end, and the team spirit was always good. I don’t think any of them would object if I give a special mention to Lodewijk Asscher, who as deputy prime minister played a special role in this regard.

Next I would like to thank the three mediators, or informateurs. They demonstrated wisdom, creativity and – I must admit – enormous patience and determination. Thanks to the diligent efforts of Edith Schippers, Herman Tjeenk Willink and Gerrit Zalm, it was possible to translate the complex election outcome of 15 March into a four-party government and the ambitious policy programme we are discussing today. Working with four parties sometimes seemed like trying to square a circle. But with mediators like these guiding the process we always managed to take the next step forward and work towards the end result. As the outcome makes plain.

The team I present to the House today is a perfectly ordinary Dutch government.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte

Madam President, the team I present to the House today is a perfectly ordinary Dutch government. A parliamentary-majority government like so many in our parliamentary history. It rests on the solid financial foundations of sound government finances and trend-based budgetary policy. And it stands in the long tradition of collaboration between very different parties. A tradition marked precisely 100 years ago by the Pacification of 1917, when the denominational and the secular-liberal parties came together to address several major problems in our society. Our parliamentary history has shown that a willingness to talk and to compromise has brought our country many good things. The new coalition agreement dovetails neatly with that tradition.

I emphasise the tradition of collaboration in part because of two circumstances that do set this government apart. First, it will govern with the smallest possible majority in the House and Senate. And second, not since the Den Uyl government have we had a coalition with members from more than three parties. That says something about the election outcome of 15 March. It says something about the complexity of the political landscape in our country. But at the same time, it also provides this coalition with extra motivation to seek broad support in the years ahead.

It is true that in the years ahead the government will formally be working on the basis of a ‘50% plus one’ majority. But it will do so in the knowledge that democracy and national governance benefit when others get involved and share responsibility. That means the parties in parliament that are not part of the coalition. It means municipalities and provinces. It means employees and employers. But above all it means the people. Government policy is not there for the politicians and the institutions. It is there for teachers and police officers. For parents and volunteers, farmers and artists, elite athletes and students. For people with and without jobs. People with and without disabilities. In short, our politics must be about the Netherlands, and for the Dutch people. All Dutch people. Including and especially those who feel that politics no longer caters to them. For this government, the motto ‘confidence in the future’ is therefore also a mission, because confidence and trust must be earned. With that in mind we will always share our policy plans, and flesh them out in concert with others.

Let me briefly mention the lengthy duration of the formation process. That too can largely be traced to the election result of 15 March, when we were left with a difficult puzzle. At least four parties were needed to reach a majority and, as we saw, that takes time. First, to determine which four parties could reach an understanding. And then to hammer out an agreement that reflects common ambitions for the Netherlands while respecting the key differences between the parties.

To paraphrase Gerrit Zalm, in this formation process care was more important than speed. But we have proved that care and restraint can go hand in hand with resolve and action. Because the end result is by no means a watered-down compromise. Our four parties may not be merging any time soon, but that motto, ‘confidence in the future’, certainly applies to us, too. We’ve come to an agreement. It’s a sound agreement. And we’re keen to get started.

This government wants to be there for everyone who contributes to our society, and for all generations.

Prime Ministeer Mark Rutte

At the heart of our coalition agreement are the things that unite these four parties and motivate them to work together. The big issues we all want to address. A sustainable Netherlands for future generations. Making work pay. Strengthening Dutch identity so we can make our mark abroad. Above all, we share the conviction that it’s time to show those people with an ordinary salary and an ordinary home – whether bought or rented – that the sacrifices they had to make to get us through the crisis years were not for nothing. They deserve to feel the benefits now. And to be clear: I mean that word ‘ordinary’ to be inclusive: it doesn’t matter where your roots are, where you live, what you believe or how you live your life. This government wants to be there for everyone who contributes to our society, and for all generations. In this coalition agreement, the long and short term and the left and right are interconnected, transcending policy areas and budget chapters. That internal coherence is essential.

In this coalition agreement, the long and short term and the left and right are interconnected, transcending policy areas and budget chapters. That internal coherence is essential.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte

Of course, the agreement contains a range of specific measures which – let’s be frank – sometimes appeal to one party more than another. In that respect too, this is a regular Dutch government. We have found ways to compromise. With plans for now and for the longer term. Big and small. Plus and minus. But always moving in a clear direction. This government wants to make an already strong country even better for everyone.

And that requires more than simply boosting purchasing power. More than billion-euro investments and major reforms. It’s also reflected in all the plans that will directly affect people’s lives in a positive way. Plans to support volunteers in the police and fire services, to help prevent acrimonious divorces, to combat functional illiteracy, and to tackle problematic household debt. Plans to extend partner leave upon the birth of a child, and for 20,000 extra places for supported employment. In short, it’s no accident that we made clear in the introduction that we champion differences and seek to overcome divisions. And that it’s important that people feel the effects of progress and improvement in their daily lives over the next few years. This coalition agreement is for all Dutch people and for every section of society.

And that, Madam President, brings me to the second part of my statement. What are the government’s key policy plans? Let me start by noting that the new government is taking office at a time of economic prosperity in our country. Our growth figures are good, our public finances are in order, and unemployment is falling. So we are starting from a position of strength, which is great. But anyone who looks ahead will see that it’s not all plain sailing. That there is no reason whatsoever to rest on our laurels and start heedlessly spending money. Too many people are not feeling the benefits of our economic progress. And too many people are worried about their future and that of their children. In reality, the work of building a country is never completed. Even a strong country like ours.

The government therefore plans to get to work on four separate fronts.

  • First, we will invest in services that are important to everyone. Extra money and staff will be made available for care for older people, education, defence, security and infrastructure.
  • Second, a central principle of the coalition agreement is the need to reform the tax system, the pension system and the labour market so that they meet today’s needs and circumstances.
  • Third, the coalition partners share a strong awareness that we need an ambitious climate policy. It’s not a matter of left or right, secular-liberal or denominational. It’s a matter of doing what needs to be done.
  • And fourth, we believe that by projecting a distinct Dutch identity we can continue to make our mark in Europe and the world beyond. International responsibility and realism must go hand in hand. That means recognising, for example, that the migration issue can be managed only at EU level. And that’s why extra development funding is needed to tackle the poverty and violence that are the root causes of migration and refugee flows.

Madam President, I don’t think it would be useful or even possible to mention here every plan and measure contained in the coalition agreement. It would be an unfair test of your stamina, and that of everyone else here, including me. But I would like to make one or two explanatory remarks.

To start with, I’d like to emphasise that the extra funding for public services will be linked to important social goals. We are not simply going to boost spending. We also want to achieve things with it.

To make the Netherlands more secure and resilient we will strengthen our armed forces, and we will make money available for more neighbourhood police officers and detectives, and for tackling cybercrime and combating terrorism. It will soon be possible to hold jihadist returnees in provisional detention for longer periods. We will step up the fight against human trafficking and forced prostitution. There will be extra capacity and new legislation to tackle organised crime committed by motorcycle gangs and others. And we will take both preventive and reactive measures to strengthen the rule of law. For example, we will experiment with faster legal proceedings via community courts, we will increase the focus on mediation, but we will introduce tougher penalties for hate speech. Naturally, the new government fully supports the international decision to have those suspected of downing flight MH17 tried in the Netherlands. All the necessary preparations to that end are being made.

In education, the focus shouldn’t be on the system, but on goals and results. Good education develops talent, reduces learning disadvantage and makes the Netherlands stronger. That’s why we’re opting for more freedom of education rather than less. For better terms and conditions of employment and a reduced workload in primary education. For better early years education. For easier access to higher education. And for public investment in basic and applied research.

There is no doubt that, with regard to nursing home care for older people, more money is needed for extra staff, for more personal attention and for a greater focus on the position of unpaid carers. By concluding new agreements with doctors and manufacturers of medicines, we will ensure that as much care as possible can be provided with the available money. The maximum compulsory excess will not be increased during this government’s term of office and we will reduce co-payments for taxis, home help and wheelchairs. In this way we can ensure the best possible care remains affordable and accessible to all.

We’re also investing in roads and public transport. Good mobility is the pulsing artery of our economy, and it’s indispensable in our daily lives. Smart technology is making our country’s transport system cleaner and more integrated. The government plans to make targeted investments to improve the nexus between bicycle, public transport and car use.

Secondly, this government is going to make reforms. Much of our tax system, our labour market and our pension system was shaped in an era when people had a job for life, life expectancy was much lower than it is now and the digital economy did not exist. The housing market risks becoming inaccessible to first-time buyers and people earning anything less than an above-average income, particularly in the cities. Periodic maintenance and modernisation are required in order to provide certainty and opportunities in a new economy.

What we want is for more people to have more to spend and to benefit from the favourable economic development. We want it to be easier to hire staff, especially for small businesses. By making permanent work less permanent and flexible work less flexible we will make the labour market fairer and more accessible. We want to stop false self-employment, but at the same time encourage entrepreneurship. Together with the social partners, we want to work towards a pension system that ties in better with the various stages of people’s lives and their personal preferences. We want to provide more rental housing that is accessible to the large group of people with middle incomes. It is not acceptable that living in the city should only be within the reach of people who qualify for social housing or else can afford to buy an expensive home.

The debate on these major reforms tends to focus on just one aspect, like VAT or the accelerated reduction in mortgage interest relief, while ignoring the lower taxes for families on the other side of the scale. Lower income tax rates and the reduction of the notional rental value for owner-occupiers are examples of this. So yes, there are pluses and minuses. But the tax reforms are a cohesive package resulting in an overall tax reduction of more than five billion euros.

The same goes for policy on our business climate. It’s good to debate the abolition of dividend tax, but we shouldn’t forget the measures to counteract tax avoidance schemes involving shell companies. We’re going to make the Netherlands more attractive to companies that really have something to offer our economy and labour market. And less attractive to companies that are only interested in clever accounting schemes. We mustn’t lose sight of these synergies.

My third point, Madam President, is that the Netherlands will become a sustainable country. That is a huge ambition. We are setting a high standard for ourselves. Along with 194 other countries, the Netherlands signed the Paris climate agreement and now it must act upon it. We are aiming for a 49% reduction in CO2 emissions in this country by 2030, compared with 1990 levels. And in Europe we will strive to raise the EU target to 55%.

Why is this our ambition? Because this government believes it is our responsibility to take the lead, for the sake of the generations to come. Dutch companies are already operating in the top flight of sustainable entrepreneurship. Municipalities and provinces are working hard on this issue. And we’re seeing more and more electric cars parked outside homes, and more and more solar panels installed on roofs.

What we need in the next few years is long-term thinking combined with short-term action. We’re well aware that great climate ambitions can only be achieved by concerted efforts. So the government wants to bring together all grassroots initiatives and our new goals in a national climate and energy agreement, an administrative agreement with subnational authorities, and a new Climate Act in which we will lay down our ambitions. By 2030, our coal-fired power plants will be closed, gas extraction in Groningen and gas consumption as a whole will be reduced considerably, and our country will be less dependent on fossil fuels from the Middle East and Russia.

Whatever we can do quickly we will do quickly. For instance, making the tax system greener. Shifting from taxation on work and savings to taxation on consumption. Introducing a CO2 tax for the energy sectors. And implementing a new road-pricing system as soon as possible: a price per kilometre for heavy goods vehicles, the income from which will be put back into the transport sector in the form of a lower motor vehicle tax and other measures. There will be more opportunities for offshore wind power, and fewer new homes will be connected to the mains gas network.

The reinstatement of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality emphasises how important this sector is to our country, as the world’s second-largest exporter of agricultural products. It’s a sector based on traditional family businesses, but at the same time it’s high-tech and extremely innovative. Our farmers, fishers and food industry can play an important role in producing a sustainable food supply for the growing global population. Wageningen University and Research Centre is renowned the world over. There is enormous potential here that the Netherlands can harness, while keeping in mind the interests of nature, the environment and animal welfare. That’s what this government’s policy is focused on.

In short: if there’s a problem with water, everyone looks to the Netherlands. If solutions are needed to the challenge of how to produce enough food in the world by 2050, everyone looks to the Netherlands. And now we also want everyone to start looking to the Netherlands for climate solutions.

Lastly, Madam President, this government is convinced that if a country takes pride in itself and stands up for its core values, it will be in a stronger position to operate in the international arena. This distinct Dutch identity is not a uniform concept. It’s a society where what counts is not your religion or background, but your future. Tolerance, equality and freedom of religion are core values of our country. We want young people to know more about our history. The national anthem, Rembrandt’s Night Watch and our parliament are all foundations of a shared identity that should be a more explicit part of people’s lives. We will introduce an optional period of community service to give young people an opportunity to experience how good it is to do something for other people. And cultural policy in general will focus not only on innovation and accessibility, but also on preserving our heritage, both material and immaterial.

On a related matter, the government wants to accelerate the integration of newcomers who are allowed to stay here. The rule will be that they learn Dutch from day one, and we will provide more opportunities for newcomers to take part in our society from the outset, for instance by doing voluntary work. People whose application for asylum has been denied must return to their country of origin more quickly. Our policy is aimed at reception in the region where possible. To that end, the government wants to conclude more agreements with safe third countries, if possible at EU level.

The arc of instability around Europe and all the developments we’re seeing in Asia, the United States and elsewhere in the international arena have a direct effect on our country. So our work doesn’t stop at the border. In the years ahead we will invest in strengthening diplomacy, defence and development cooperation. The Netherlands will remain the reliable ally it is known to be, in the European Union, in NATO and in the United Nations. National and international interests are not opposites; they are extensions of each other. With that in mind we will shoulder our responsibility next year as a member of the UN Security Council.

Madam President,

The Dutch are a down-to-earth people, and you often hear the saying, ‘It might take a while, but it’s worth it in the end.’ In this case, what’s taken a while is a coalition agreement full of plans, both large and small, that will allow us to make a strong country even better for everyone. And here with me today I have a new team of people who can’t wait to get started on carrying out those plans. To us the coalition agreement is the beginning, not the end. There is room for discussion on the specifics. In fact, we will need that external input. The door of the Trêves Hall, where we meet, will not be bolted shut.

We will now get to work, with total conviction, with confidence in the future and with understanding for all those people who think seeing is believing. Because that is how the down-to-earth Dutch think, and rightly so. It’s not enough just to read or be told that our country’s doing well; we want to feel it in our daily lives. That’s what matters.

And Madam President, if you’ll allow me to finish on a personal note: this is the third time that I stand here with a new team, and once again it’s a very special moment. A positive moment, one of fresh spirit and new energy. And I know full well: there will undoubtedly be criticism. The debates in this House and in the Senate will at times be tough and fierce. And so they should, for this is where we fight for our ideas. That is the crux of democracy.

But it would mean so much to me if over the coming period we could all show that we understand the urgency of our time. That we understand that what is needed is not just a fight, but solutions too. That we, as politicians, can show the Netherlands that differences are there to be cherished and divisions are there to be overcome. So that people feel once again that politics is there for them. I personally will put my heart and soul into achieving that, together with my colleagues, and together with you.

Thank you.