By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS (Worthy News) – Dutch King Willem-Alexander unveiled government plans to limit social unrest as souring prices threatened to push a million people of the Netherlands’ 17.7 million population into deep poverty.
His annual Prinsjesdag (Prince’s Day) speech to both chambers of Parliament focused on supporting households squeezed by inflation, energy prices, and the war in Ukraine. Willem-Alexander acknowledged growing discontent among the citizens of what was seen as a wealthy seafaring nation.
He spoke after boos were heard from the crowd as the royal family traveled from their palace in The Hague to the Royal Theater by horse-drawn carriage in a pomp-filled ceremony.
Among the protestors were farmers fearing losing their jobs under the government’s controversial nitrogen measures. Some even committed suicide in recent months, investigators said.
“People are feeling increasingly uncertain about both the immediate and the longer-term future,” the king admitted.
Willem Alexander presented an 18 billion euro ($17.9 billion) aid package to help low- and middle-income households.
ENERGY PRICE CAP
Notably missing from the budget was an energy price cap that politicians and energy companies reached an agreement on Monday, although the king alluded to the plan in his speech.
The price cap would come in addition to government plans to spend around 16 billion euros ($16 billion) in 2023 to compensate for rising energy and food costs.
Last week, Liberal-leaning Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was resistant to the idea of a cap, saying any help would have to wait until the new year.
Yet, after lengthy talks, it was agreed that these expenditures, including a 10 percent increase of the minimum wage and higher income-related subsidies for health care and rent, will be mainly covered by hiking wealth and corporate taxes.
The king’s speech was delivered at the Royal Theater in The Hague this year, rather than the traditional Knights Hall of Parliament, which is currently being restored.
It came as an opinion poll by research bureau I & O published on Monday found Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government has fallen to a record low approval rating.
Nearly 80 percent of 2,684 people questioned said they disapprove of his handling of the energy crisis, among other issues.
Dutch inflation hit 12 percent in August, mainly due to a 151 percent year-on-year leap in natural gas and electricity prices, according to Statistics Netherlands.
The Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB), the government’s leading policy analysis agency, warned that up to a million people are at risk of slipping into poverty due to surging prices.
King Willem-Alexander said a “painful” cost of living crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine hit the Netherlands. But he said the government’s “unprecedented” package of measures is aimed at restoring purchasing power.
Commentators noted the relatively simple dress of the usually high-end fashion-oriented Queen Maxima and the couple’s eldest daughter, Amalia, the crown princess, who accompanied them for the first time to the yearly ceremony.
The King and Queen had faced criticism over their perceived flamboyant lifestyles while many suffered economic difficulties, including during the coronavirus pandemic.
His speech is made every year on the third Tuesday in September. The remarks are immediately followed by the budget release for the upcoming year.