The Dutch government will maintain heavy spending in an effort to counter the effects of the coronavirus pandemic despite its finances worsening rapidly, the 2021 budget states.
“In these insecure times, the government chooses not to cut spending, but to invest, in job security, social safety nets and a stronger economy”, King Willem-Alexander said on Tuesday in his annual speech outlining the governement’s new budget.
COVID-19 not only dominated the budget but also stripped the king’s speech from any of its traditional pomp.
The government’s deficit is set to balloon to 7% of gross domestic product this year and 4% in 2021, while national debt is expected to hit 60% of GDP next year, as support for workers and companies struck by the pandemic is extended well into 2021.
After years of austerity, the Dutch government had realised a surplus of almost 2% last year and had brought down its debt to 49% of GDP.
But confidence in the economy has eroded quickly in recent months, and a national poll published on Thursday showed more than half the respondents expected the economic downturn to worsen in the coming year.
A third of workers in the Netherlands said COVID-19 had already negatively impacted their job.
To avoid crowds gathering, the royal family skipped their horsedrawn carriage tour through The Hague, which normally attracts thousands of cheering and flag-waving fans, for the first time in 46 years.
Instead, the king and his wife Queen Maxima arrived by car at the Saint James Church in The Hague as the speech was moved away from the smaller parliamentary buildings for the first time in over a century.
Ministers and politicians listened to the king in silence, shunning the collective three cheers which traditionally end the ceremony to avoid any possible spread of the virus.