Dutch queen underlines commitment to euro

AP News
Posted: Sep 18, 2012 1:55 PM
Dutch queen underlines commitment to euro

AMSTERDAM (AP) — The Netherlands' Queen Beatrix underlined her country's commitment to the euro during her annual address to Parliament about the national budget on Tuesday, and made it clear the Dutch will continue to pursue "austerity" policies in response to Europe's debt crisis.

The popular queen was speaking at the 13th-century Hall of Knights in the Hague after riding from her palace in her horse-drawn carriage past thousands of fans dressed in orange for "Prince's Day" — the most important ceremony of the year for the royal house.

Reading a speech written by Prime Minister Mark Rutte's outgoing conservative government and televised nationally, Beatrix said that European cooperation "which has brought our country so much, is under pressure because of the debt crisis."

She said a "strong and stable currency" is important for all euro member states, but "for the Netherlands, which earns a large portion of its national income in Europe, it's essential."

Prince's Day, which is held on the third Tuesday in September, came at an inconvenient moment this year. National elections were held on Sept. 13, but a new Parliament has yet to be sworn in. Beatrix was addressing a host of lame-duck members of parliament, and discussing a budget that may soon be significantly altered.

The 2013 budget, which raises the retirement age to 67 and trims the amount of debt that can be deducted on interest-only mortgages, is based on a deal struck with a variety of parties after Rutte's government collapsed in April.

Outgoing Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager said further cuts will likely be needed.

"The storm is not yet over," he warned after presenting the budget. "There's a lot of work left to be done to keep this land dry."

In the elections last week, Rutte's VVD Party won the most seats, followed by the center-left Labor party. De Jager's Christian Democrat Party lost seats and he is not likely to repeat in his role.

The country's Economic Planning Bureau forecast the 2013 budget deficit will fall to 2.7 percent under the current plan, but predicted tepid economic growth of 0.75 percent next year.

Rutte's party confirmed Tuesday it will enter negotiations with Labor to form a new centrist government, as had been widely expected since election night. Such a coalition would likely undo at least some of the agreements made in April.

Labor leader Diederik Samsom was caught on camera nodding off during Beatrix's speech and later offered his apologies, blaming a sleep deficit after the recent election campaign.

Both parties are pro-Europe and are expected to stick to European budget rules.

Populist maverick Geert Wilders, who lost badly in the elections on an anti-euro platform, said the queen's speech was "surreal."

"The measures mentioned may be going into the trashcan tomorrow," he said.

Beatrix wore a somber black-and-white dress, which some royalty watchers saw as a reference to her son, Prince Johan Friso, who has been in a coma since being struck by an avalanche in February.

Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and other members of the royal family attended the speech together with the country's elite, all in their best formal attire.