King calls for stronger society, more European independence; Some unrest at Hague speech

THE HAGUE - King Willem-Alexander called for a stronger Dutch society and a Europe less dependent on forces like Russia and China in his eleventh Prinsjesdag speech from the throne. The third Tuesday in September is the traditional date of the address, which precedes the Cabinet's publication of its budget proposal for the following year. There was some unrest near the site of the speech, the Koninklijke Schouwburg in The Hague, with people heckling the royal carriages as they passed, and some others waiving critical signs, and upside-down Dutch flags. 


Willem-Alexander started his speech by looking back at his decade in power, speaking about the coronavirus pandemic, the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 disaster, the war in Ukraine, and this year’s commemoration of the abolition of slavery. During a ceremony regarding the latter, he apologized for the Netherlands' role in the atrocities. It’s been a challenging decade, he said. “In addition, there were hundreds of heart-warming visits and thousands of inspiring encounters. Those made an unforgettable impression on me,” he said. 


"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," he stated. "But beyond that rosy picture lies an enduring task: to continue working to ensure equal opportunities, socioeconomic security and future prospects. 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.” 


He added that the entire Kingdom of the Netherlands must continue to prioritize coming to grips with the country's dark historical ties to slavery, even beyond this anniversary year. "So that after acknowledgement and apology, we can work together to foster healing, reconciliation and recovery." 


The Cabinet of the Netherlands has been in a caretaker status for over two months now, with the fourth Cabinet of Prime Minister Mark Rutte collapsing when coalition parties could not agree on an effective policy to handle the influx of people seeking asylum in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, there are still clear, concrete issues that need to be addressed. 


To this, Willem-Alexander explained that "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 to this, the Cabinet must continue to press ahead with plans to make sure more homes are constructed to address lingering housing shortages, and to also make sure that education is accessible and of a high quality. 


He went on to elaborate aspects of the caretaker Cabinet's two billion euro plan to address poverty with measures meant to improve purchasing power. "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," he said. 


The king also discussed "Russia's brutal violence against the people of Ukraine," stating the Dutch government's pledge to continue to support Ukraine, the European Union, and NATO allies. But with that comes an added need to make sure that the European Union is strong, independent, and fights against "increasing threats and power politics" by maintaining relationships with "like-minded partners, such as the United States," the king continued. 

"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." 


He also turned his attention to "increasingly extreme weather conditions," which makes a robust climate policy necessary, particularly when also faced with high energy prices. This spurred the government to offer grants to people and businesses to make facilities more sustainable. "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." 


Additionally, he also discussed healthcare plans and agreements with workers, which "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." This includes better cooperation at a regional level between various care providers, and the development of more residential homes for elderly people, including nursing homes. 


There will also be reforms in youth care, the king said. Young people are increasingly struggling with mental health problems, and that requires attention. 


“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,” the king said. "Working together with you, the government will do all it can to find solutions to the problems facing our nation," he said to the parliamentarians in attendance. 

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