As election looms, Dutch government loosens restraint

AP News
Posted: Sep 20, 2016 9:27 AM
As election looms, Dutch government loosens restraint

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Netherlands has emerged stronger from the global economic malaise, but still faces a series of challenges from extremist violence, the refugee crisis and Britain's exit from the European Union, the Dutch king said Tuesday in a speech unveiling the government's budget plans for next year.

In a speech written by the coalition government, the king said the economy is forecast to grow 1.7 percent in 2017 while the budget deficit is set to shrink to 0.5 percent of the country's annual GDP.

"Over the past few years the Netherlands has got back on firmer ground," the monarch said. "The financial and economic crisis is behind us."

With more money to spend after years of budgetary restraint in response to the debt crisis that swept through Europe, the government — a two-party coalition of the center-right Liberal Party and center-left Labor — pledged to pump hundreds of millions of euros into tackling poverty among children and their parents.

The government is also planning to further beef up spending on defense and national security — an extra 450 million euros ($503 million) a year has been earmarked from 2017 on security.

"This will give the people who work day in, day out to ensure our safety — from neighborhood police officers to special counterterrorism units, from public prosecutors to prison officers — more scope to carry out their tasks," the king said.

The spending increases come ahead of national elections in March when Prime Minister Mark Rutte will be seeking a third term in office. Opposition lawmakers, including representatives from the Socialist Party and the nationalist Freedom Party, attacked the speech as they laid out their stalls ahead of the election.

Geert Wilders, the anti-Islam populist leader of the Freedom Party that leads many opinion polls, condemned the king's speech as "a fairy tale."

Willem-Alexander was speaking to a joint sitting of both houses of the Dutch parliament in the historic Knights' Hall on a day rich in pageantry and tradition.

Amid tight security, the king and his Argentine wife, Queen Maxima, were driven in an ornate, horse-drawn carriage to Parliament from a royal palace in the heart of The Hague, passing through streets lined with cheering crowds.