Difficult times are coming, warned King Willem-Alexander during his Speech from the Throne. "Corona affects us all. From Terschelling to Aruba."
THE HAGUE - During an exceptional Speech from the Throne, King Willem-Alexander prepared the Netherlands for difficult economic and social times. “We now have to brace ourselves for a severe economic downturn. It will also have a long-term effect.
Every year the Speech from the Throne is mainly about the economy, but unlike usual, the word "purchasing power" was never mentioned in the speech this year. The outlook for the last budget of the Rutte III cabinet is even more uncertain than in other years.
That difficult times are coming was also evident from some gloomy statistics that the king listed. “All figures and estimates are unprecedented in peacetime. With a historic contraction of more than 5 percent in 2020. With a historic turnaround from a budget surplus to a deficit of 7 percent. And with unemployment doubling in one year.”
The corona crisis was already omnipresent on Prinsjesdag (opening parliament year). For the first time in over a hundred years, the king did not address the Senate and the House of Representatives in the Ridderzaal (Knight Hall). He did this this year in the Grote Kerk in The Hague. It is larger, so that a better distance can be kept there. The king was not driven to church by carriage but by car and spectators were kept at a distance behind white screens.
The cabinet wants to invest in the coming year anyway
In addition to the economic consequences, the social impact of the pandemic cannot be underestimated, the king outlined. “Corona affects us all. From Terschelling to Aruba. Young and old. It’s tougher on people with a disability than it is for others.” He praised the support that the Dutch have offered each other since the spring and the resilience of entrepreneurs and teachers.
Specific attention was paid to young generations. The king warned that it is important to keep an eye for the long term. "We owe that to the young people, who in recent months have had to sacrifice not only their lives now, but also their future prospects." Young people miss their freedom, they see key moments “just passing by” and the future feels extra uncertain due to the corona crisis.
The second half of the Speech from the Throne traditionally dealt with the intentions per ministry. Despite the economic hardship, the cabinet wants to invest in the coming year. The cabinet wants to highlight planned investments in infrastructure and housing. Ministers Hoekstra (finance) and Wiebes (economic affairs) recently presented their investment fund, from which expenditure on the knowledge economy, innovation and (digital) infrastructure will be made.
LOOKING BEYOND THE CRISIS
Several paragraphs of the Speech from the Throne were devoted to the state of the rule of law. Almost a year ago, lawyer Derk Wiersum was shot on the street. The murder has brought the subject of subversion to the cabinet's radar. The king also pointed out that confidence in the government itself has been hit hard by acting towards earthquake victims in Groningen and towards parents in the childcare allowance affair.
According to the king, discrimination is "a real threat to the quality of the rule of law". “That is unacceptable. The social debate about this is sometimes chafing, but it can also take us further in the fight against discrimination, racism, and inequality. Bridging existing differences starts with the willingness to listen to each other.”
Inevitably, the king ended his Speech from the Throne again with the corona crisis. He instructed parliament to look beyond the crisis and "work on perspective for all generations". “It is precisely in the connection between generations that everyone, young and old, can make a contribution in his or her own place to overcome this difficult period. Our most important assurance is that the Netherlands continues to show resilience economically, socially and mentally.”
Photo credit: Associated Press