By MOLLY QUELL – Associated Press
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands unveiled the Dutch government’s plans to help households hit by rising costs in his annual address to the nation on Tuesday.
Inflation, energy prices and the war in Ukraine were just some of the “uncertainties” facing the country, the monarch said in his annual speech, delivered every year on the third Tuesday of September. The speech is immediately followed by the promulgation of the budget for the coming year.
Whistles could be heard from the crowd as the royal family – fresh from Queen Elizabeth II’s state funeral in London – traveled from their palace in The Hague to the National Theater in a horse-drawn carriage in full pageantry.
“People are feeling more and more uncertain about both the near and long-term future,” the king told a joint sitting of both houses of parliament. He promised an aid package of 18 billion euros ($17.9 million) to help low- and middle-income families.
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Notably missing from the budget is the cap on energy prices that politicians and energy companies agreed on Monday, although the king mentioned the plan in his speech. As recently as last week, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte expressed opposition to the idea of a cap, saying any relief would have to wait until the new year.
The measure sets a price ceiling for gas and electricity based on average usage from January 2022. The government expects the cap to save households an average of €190 ($189) a month.
About 10,000 people came to watch the procession, which took place for the first time since 2019 after two years of pandemic restrictions. Primary schools in The Hague were closed so children could take part in the celebrations.
“I just want to see the horses,” 3-year-old Emma told The Associated Press as she waited behind barricades along the route.
Princess Amelia accompanied her parents for the first time. She turned 18 this year and is now expected to take on a number of royal duties.
Not everyone was satisfied with the day spent. Protesters held placards reading “Not my king” and “Rute must go.” One man with an upside-down Dutch flag, a symbol of anti-government protests, described his struggles with soaring gas bills and supermarket prices.
The police said that five people were detained and six tractors were confiscated. Farmers, upset about environmental regulations restricting their activities, have protested for the past year by driving their tractors in The Hague. Last week, the city announced that as a safety measure, large vehicles will not be allowed on the street.
Echoing the king’s sober mood, Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag told reporters: “This is not a festive time for many Dutch people” as she presented the official budget. The package includes raising the minimum wage, lowering the income tax rate and expanding child and health benefits.
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 for basic training of the Ukrainian military.
The government also allocated one billion euros ($1 billion) to build housing for refugees. Hundreds of asylum seekers have been sleeping outside the reception center in squalid conditions because there are not enough beds.
Bold hats could be seen across the city as part of the annual ‘hoedjesparade’, a tradition where women wear brightly colored headgear.
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