Dutch King pledges investment in workers, infrastructure; Denounces discrimination
In his Budget Day address on Tuesday, Dutch King Willem-Alexander said that the people of the Netherlands deserved high praise for how they have handled the ongoing coronavirus crisis, and announced that the government will prepare for expected economic turbulence by investing more in job retention, infrastructure, strengthening the pillars of the economy, and a cleaner, more sustainable future. "The Netherlands has shown that it is responsible, united and flexible during the coronavirus crisis," he said.
He also spoke out vehemently against bias against job candidates based on their culture and background. "That is unacceptable. The social debate about this is sometimes chafing, but it can also carry us further in the fight against discrimination, racism and unequal treatment," he said from the throne. "Bridging existing differences starts with the willingness to listen to each other."
While the King used the beginning of his speech to give attention to the trouble caused by the pandemic, he used lengthy passages to lay out an optimistic vision for the country. "Yet many good things are also happening these months. We place more value on the country in which we live. The fabric of our society has once again proved strong. It remains special how the Dutch are there for each other when the need arises," he said.
He said the country must be prepared to make life easier for workers who may need to "make the transition to sectors where there is a shortage of personnel," saying that companies will need to pivot due to changes on the horizon. "We must now brace ourselves for the consequences of the severe economic downturn," he said, citing the likely expected economic contraction, and a possible doubling of unemployment. In his speech, he noted that the international consequences of the pandemic cannot be underestimated, as it will have impact both economically and geopolitically.
With that, he pledged his support for the European Union and the European Single Market, saying they "form the basis of Dutch prosperity, legal certainty and security. It is true that European cooperation is often accompanied by heated discussions, which sometimes exacerbate differences between countries. Yet the similarities and the shared interests always bring the Member States back together." Earlier in the speech, he remorsefully noted the possible complication caused by Brexit.
He also said the government was demonstrating its commitment to art and culture with an economic recovery package worth nearly a half-billion euros, and also 800 million euros for municipalities to support local communities, institutions, and safe-guarding the electoral process.
He also took time out of the short speech to make mention of the murder of Amsterdam attorney Derk Wiersum, who was assassinated in front of his home while serving as a defense attorney for a key prosecution witness in a criminal case involving multiple homicides and murder-for-hire plots. Wiersum was killed almost exactly a year ago, in a case many officials in the Netherlands called an assault on the rule of law.
"On that day it became once again clear how much organized crime undermines society. Extra money will again be available next year for the relentless fight against this, including for a new specialized team in which the knowledge and strength of the judiciary, tax authorities and defense are bundled," he said.
"Finally, the corona virus has made it even clearer how important it is to ensure that the best care remains available for future generations." He said these world-class healthcare systems need protection from breaking under the strain which may be brought about by a second wave of coronavirus-related hospitalizations. "The coronavirus crisis is testing us on everything that is important: health, work, family and friendships," the King continued.
"The task in the parliamentary year that begins today is to continue to see the future beyond this crisis and to continue to work on a perspective for all generations."