Dutch king unveils billions in aid amid soaring inflation

Sep 19, 2022, 3:52 PM | Updated: Sep 20, 2022, 4:06 pm
Dutch King Willem-Alexander marked the opening of the parliamentary year with a speech outlining th...

Dutch King Willem-Alexander marked the opening of the parliamentary year with a speech outlining the government's budget plans for the year ahead at the Royal Theatre in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

(AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch King Willem-Alexander unveiled plans Tuesday from the Dutch government to help households squeezed by rising costs, in his annual address to the nation.

Inflation, energy prices and the war in Ukraine were just some of the “uncertainties” the country is facing, the monarch said in his annual speech, made every year on the third Tuesday in September. The speech is immediately followed by the release of the budget for the upcoming year.

Boos could be heard from the crowd as the royal family — just back from the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in London — traveled from their palace in The Hague to the National Theater by horse-drawn carriage in a pomp-filled ceremony.

“People are feeling increasingly uncertain about both the immediate and the longer-term future,” the king said, speaking to a joint sitting of both houses of parliament. He pledged an 18 billion euro ($17.9 billion) aid package to help low- and middle-income households.

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. As recently as last week, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was resistant to the idea of a cap, saying any help would have to wait until the new year.

The measure sets a price ceiling for gas and electricity based on average use from January 2022. The government expects the limit to save households an average of 190 euros ($189) per month.

Around 10,000 people turned out to watch the procession, which took place for the first time since 2019 after two years of pandemic restrictions. Elementary schools in The Hague were closed so children could participate in the festivities.

“I just want to see the horses,” 3-year-old Emma told The Associated Press while waiting behind barricades along the route.

For the first time, Princess Amelia accompanied her parents. She turned 18 this year and is now expected to pick up a number of royal duties.

Not everyone was happy with the day. Protesters held signs saying “Not my king” and “Rutte must go.” One man carrying an upside-down Dutch flag, a symbol of anti-government protests, described his struggle with soaring gas bills and supermarket prices.

The police reported five people were arrested and they confiscated six tractors. Farmers, upset about environmental regulations restricting their operations, have been protesting over the past year by driving their tractors into The Hague. Last week, the city announced that no large vehicles would be allowed on the streets as a security measure.

Echoing the king’s sober sentiment, Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag told reporters, “It is not a festive time for many Dutch people” when she presented the official budget. The package includes an increase in the minimum wage, a reduction in income tax levels and an expansion of child and health care subsidies.

The new budget includes 3.9 billion euros ($3.9 billion) for Ukraine, in both military and humanitarian aid. Last month, the Dutch sent 90 soldiers to provide basic training for Ukrainian military personnel.

The government has also allotted one billion euros ($1 billion) to build housing for refugees. Hundreds of asylum-seekers have been sleeping outside of an asylum reception center in squalid conditions because there aren’t enough beds.

Bold hats could be seen around the city as part of the annual “hoedjesparade,” a tradition where women wear striking headgear to the event.

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AP

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Dutch king unveils billions in aid amid soaring inflation