Dutch king's speech outlines limited government plans

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Queen Maxima and members of parliament stand for a triple salute to Dutch King Willem-Alexander after he marked the opening of the parliamentary year with a speech outlining the government's budget plans for the year ahead at the Grote Kerk, or Sint-Jacobus Kerk, (Great Church or St. James' Church) in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

THE HAGUE – The Dutch king outlined a pared-back government plan for the coming year on Tuesday in his traditional speech opening the new parliamentary term that came amid drawn-out negotiations to form a new ruling coalition.

With the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte in caretaker mode since a March general election and no simple path to a new administration, no major plans were unveiled in the king's speech that is written by the government.

“Major new long-term choices are for the next Cabinet,” King Willem-Alexander told a joint sitting of both houses of parliament.

Even so, he said the government would invest an extra 7 billion euros ($8.2 billion) for measures to help achieve its planned reduction in emissions including making homes and industry more sustainable and promoting use of electric cars.

He also pledged more funds to tackle housing shortages, for education and to bolster rule of law, warning that organized crime gangs are becoming increasingly violent. He called the murder in July of crime reporter Peter R. de Vries “a new nadir."

For the second straight year, the king's “speech from the throne” was held in a Hague church instead of the historic Knight's Hall due to coronavirus restrictions and there was no horse-drawn carriage ride for members of the royal family through packed streets. As the king and Queen Maxima left the church, a small group of people booed.

Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra presents the budget to parliament later Tuesday. It forecasts the Dutch economy will grow 3.9% this year — bringing it back to pre-pandemic levels by year's end — and by 3.5% in 2022, although both numbers could change depending on how the pandemic develops.

Unemployment is expected to stay around 3.4-3.5% with more job vacancies than unemployed people seeking work.

On foreign policy, the king said that membership of the European Union, NATO and the United Nations remain “cornerstones of Dutch foreign policy,” but he added that the country has choices to make about its relations with China, Russia and the United States.

“Trans-Atlantic cooperation remains the foundation of Dutch security policy, but at the same time we will have to invest more in European security policy,” he said.

Anti-immigration lawmaker Geert Wilders rejected the government plan to pump billions into climate measures and called for fresh elections.