Speech on the presentation of the 2019 Budget Memorandum

Speech to the Dutch parliament by the Minister of Finance, Wopke Hoekstra, on his presentation of the budget, 18 September 2018.

Madam President,

It’s an honour and a pleasure to present to you this government’s first budget. It is a budget full of plans for the future. But first I’d like to take you back to the past. To October 1911.

At that time Europeans were gripped by a fascination with the poles of the earth. And the explorer Roald Amundsen wanted to reach somewhere nobody had managed before: the South Pole.

It was a journey whose aim was as heroic as it was ambitious. A journey fraught with danger and uncertainty. A journey, in other words, for which only the ultimate preparation would suffice.

So Amundsen selected, as one of his team, a skiing champion who could also make his own skis. He spent months with the Inuit people to learn about travel, rest and dress in polar regions. He took large quantities of food with him, distributing it over many different locations along his route.

He opted to take huskies to pull his sledges rather than ponies. Because he knew that ponies do not eat meat. But dogs do. And, if need be, dogs will eat dog.

He divided his fuel in tins and soldered them shut. So that he could cook wherever he stopped.

And he took no fewer than four thermometers, so that if one were to break, he would still have two spares.

Around the same time, Robert Scott joined the race to the South Pole. He was a famous naval officer, and the favourite in many people’s eyes. But his preparations differed from Amundsen’s.

He had to travel on foot, because he and his team couldn’t ski. He had no idea how the Inuit lived. He opted to take ponies to pull his sledges, which meant he needed a lot of extra food. He divided his food supplies between two large depots, which he marked poorly. He stored his fuel in tins with cork stoppers from which the fuel could escape. And, Madam President, he took one thermometer with him which he angrily stamped into the Antarctic snow when it broke.

Amundsen reached the South Pole 34 days before Scott. He and his team returned home in good health, and became world famous. Scott lost not only the race but, on his way back from the Pole, his life.

Madam President,
Let me return to the Netherlands of 2018. Back to a country where, economically speaking, many things are going well. Where the budget is in the black for the fourth time in succession. A budget surplus four years in a row – that hasn’t happened for sixty years.

It is also a Netherlands whose economy is again showing strong growth. And where unemployment is down to its lowest level in 15 years.

Until recently such a low unemployment rate would have seemed almost impossible. Four years ago, there were over 700,000 people who wanted to work, but could not find a job: that’s more than the population of Rotterdam.

Families where a father or mother did not set off for work in the morning, but set about writing yet another job application. Alone, at home, without colleagues, without anyone to talk to. Being unemployed means more than simply a low income. If you lose your job, you often lose some of your spirit, too.

Fortunately, the economic tide has turned. Is that thanks to the government’s policies? Of course, prudent policy, timely reforms and political stability contribute to economic success. But in other respects, if we’re honest as politicians, a degree of modesty is called for.

Today’s economic success is mainly due to:

  • rock-solid economic foundations;
  • international economic growth;
  • the enterprising spirit of many Dutch businesses;
  • and the daily efforts of millions of hardworking Dutch people.

Madam President,
It is against this background that today I present to you a budget to make the Netherlands stronger, safer and more prosperous. A budget that prepares us for the future. That prepares us for the expected, and the unexpected.

By investing in education, we can make the teaching profession more attractive.

By investing in infrastructure, we can build new roads and rail tracks.

By investing in security, we can train an extra 1,100 police officers.

By investing in defence, we can modernise the striking power of our armed forces.

And by investing in employment and an attractive business climate for SMEs and large companies, we can ensure, in the longer term too, that enough jobs are created in our country.

By cutting corporation tax, abolishing dividend tax, cutting income tax, and investing in scientific research.

It’s also a budget that provides scope to end natural gas extraction as soon as possible, for the safety of the people in the Groningen region.

A budget in which the government ensures that all sections of the population feel the impact of our economic growth in their pockets.

Because, Madam President, 96% of Dutch people will be better off in 2019.

And we can achieve all this while at the same time continuing to put the public finances in order. Because next year the government expects a surplus of 1,0 % of gross domestic product. So alongside all our investment the government can also make repayments on the national debt, which will hence drop below 50%.

Ten years ago, before the crisis hit, the debt was just over 43% of gross domestic product. So we still have some way to go, but we are making strides in the right direction.

So that, if the need arises, the government will be able to cope with new setbacks. So that it has not just one, but two thermometers to hand, and in due course hopefully three or four.

Madam President,
Our economy may now be prospering, but the House knows as well as I do that our economy

  • must ride on the waves of the global economy;
  • is sensitive to geopolitical instability; and
  • is one of the first to feel the impact of trade conflicts.

What’s more, close to home Brexit poses a threat to our exports, our jobs and our wallets. In other words, prosperity today is no guarantee of good times tomorrow.
The task facing the government is therefore

  • to invest in society
  • and to increase people’s purchasing power
  • and to exercise restraint,

just as Amundsen incorporated safety margins into every aspect of his mission.

Because while the debt may be falling, let’s disabuse ourselves of the notion that we should loosen the financial reins. The government debt still exceeds €400 billion. It costs each of us in the Netherlands almost a euro a day in interest alone.

So now is the time to strengthen our foundations and set aside reserves to enable us to face the future with confidence. The government takes Amundsen’s hundred-year-old lesson seriously. In this way it is working to build a stronger country, which belongs to us all, and is there for us all. For now and for the future.

Madam President,
One final thing – in light of its great success last year, we’re issuing a new edition of the Blauwe Boekje, a booklet that tells the story of the Dutch economy and public finances in figures. A pocket edition has again been produced, so you can take it with you wherever you go.

Madam President,
I now present to you the 2019 Budget Memorandum and the Blauwe Boekje.
Thank you.