AMSTERDAM (AP) — King Willem-Alexander delivered a message to the Dutch people from the government Tuesday in a nationally televised address: the welfare state of the 20th century is gone.
In its place will be a "participation society" in which people must save and invest to create their own social safety net with less help from the national government.
The king traveled past waving fans in an ornate horse-drawn carriage to the 13th-century Hall of Knights in The Hague for the monarch's traditional annual address on the day the government presents its budget for the coming year. It was Willem-Alexander's first appearance on the national stage since former Queen Beatrix abdicated in April and he ascended to the throne.
"The shift to a 'participation society' is especially visible in social security and long-term care," the king said, reading out to lawmakers a speech written for him by Prime Minister Mark Rutte's government.
"The classic welfare state of the second half of the 20th century in these areas in particular brought forth arrangements that are unsustainable in their current form."
He said that nowadays, people expect and "want to make their own choices, to arrange their own lives, and take care of each other."
Rutte may provide details later in the day on what the shift to a "participation society" will entail, but it appears part of a long-term effort to rein in the costs of government-funded entitlements. Benefits such as unemployment compensation and subsidies on health care have been regularly pruned for the past decade.
Rutte may be hoping that the pomp and ceremony surrounding the king will provide a diversion from the gloomy reality of new cuts.
Though specifics are not yet available, a review of the government's plans by the country's independent analysis agency Monday showed that the budget deficit will widen in 2014 to 3.3 percent of GDP despite new spending cuts intended to reduce it.
Eurozone rules specify that countries must keep their deficit below 3 percent, and Rutte has been among the most prominent of European leaders, along with Germany's Angela Merkel, in insisting that Southern European countries attempt to meet that target.
After several consecutive years of government spending cuts, the Dutch economy is expected to have shrunk by more than 1 percent in 2013, and the agency is forecasting growth of less than 0.5 percent next year.
"The necessary reforms take time and demand perseverance," the king said. But they will "lay the basis for creating jobs and restoring confidence."
A series of recent polls have shown that confidence in Rutte's government is at record low levels, and that most Dutch people — along with labor unions, employers' associations and many economists — believe the Cabinet's austerity policies are at least partially to blame as the Dutch economy has worsened even as recoveries are underway in neighboring Germany, France and Britain.
Dutch media are also expecting new defense spending cuts, following a 2011 decision to cut 12,000 jobs — one out of every six workers in the military — between 2012 and 2015. However, the government is expected to say Tuesday it has decided once and for all not to abandon the U.S.-led "Joint Strike Fighter" program to develop new military aircraft. The program has suffered cost overruns and created divisions within Rutte's governing coalition.
The debate in parliament that follows the presentation of the budget Tuesday will be crucial for the future of the coalition, as it does not command a majority in the upper house, and it must seek help from opposition parties to have the budget approved.
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