In a democracy, citizens elect their own representatives. Therefore, it is important that they know and understand the way the national government works, and the choices it makes. The Dutch government involves the public in politics and society. Traditionally, on the third Tuesday of September, the Netherlands celebrates the official start of the new parliamentary year. On this day, which goes by the name of Prinsjesdag (Prince’s Day), the Dutch national government presents it’s plans for the new year to the public.
Prinsjesdag takes place in the city of The Hague. At one o’clock in the afternoon, the reigning monarch, accompanied by other members of the Royal House, leaves Noordeinde Palace to go to the Binnenhof (Inner Court). The Binnenhof is a 13th century complex of buildings in the city centre. For centuries, starting from 1584, it has been the centre of national politics: it is the meeting place of both houses of the States General of the Netherlands, as well as the Ministry of General Affairs and the office of the Prime Minister of the Netherlands.
At the Binnenhof, the monarch is escorted to the Ridderzaal (Hall of Knights), where he addresses a joint session of the Dutch Senate and House of Representatives with the Troonrede (Speech from the Throne). The speech is written jointly by the Ministers and Secretaries of State, and outlines the government’s most important plans for the coming year. The Troonrede is broadcasted live on national television, and is usually watched by approximately a million Dutch citizens.
Following the Troonrede, the Minister of Finance delivers to the President of the House of Representatives a briefcase, containing two important documents: the Miljoenennota (budget memorandum) and the Rijksbegroting (national budget). In these documents, the economic and financial situation of the State is outlined, and the amounts of money involved in the plans set out in the Troonrede are announced. In the days following Prinsjesdag, the Miljoennenota and Rijksbegroting are discussed in a general political debate, attended by all the ministers, state secretaries and members of parliament. Both the delivery of the briefcase and the general political debate can be watched on national television, and several radio stations give attention to it as well.
After the general political debate, the general financial debates are held, in which the House of Representatives discusses the Rijksbegroting with the Minister of Finance. If the majority wishes, the plans in the budget may be adjusted. If both the House of Representatives and the Senate agree on the composition of the budget, the implementation phase starts, and the government starts taking the plans to action.
Where Prinsjesdag is organized at the start of the parliamentary year in order to present the plans of the government to the citizens of the Netherlands, at the end of the parliamentary year a moment is reserved to reflect on the actual execution of the plans. This moment is referred to as Verantwoordingsdag (Accountability Day). The government then completes the circle by evaluating on the implementation of the plans, and if necessary, changing the policy or adjusting the Rijksbegroting of the following year. Several times throughout the parliamentary year, documents concerning the financial state of the government are published online on www.rijksbegroting.nl, openly accessible to the public.