Dutch government unveils budget overshadowed by virus

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Resplendent in orange suit, tie and shoes and a black hat with gold bow and protected by a homemade "corona bumper" decorated with a model carriage, Johan Vlemmix, center, stands in front of Royal Palace Noordeinde, in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Vlemmix drove three hours to get to The Hague, as he has done every budget day for more than 20 years, to watch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima appear on the palace balcony, rear. The balcony appearance of the king and queen has been cancelled due to COVID-19 related measures. "It's surreal," he said. "You see the red carpet has been rolled out, the king has arrived and there's nobody here. I've never experienced this. (AP Photo/Mike Corder)

THE HAGUE – The Dutch government plans to invest in protecting jobs and businesses during the coronavirus crisis but warned Tuesday as it laid out its spending plans for the coming year that the Netherlands must brace for the harsh economic impact of the pandemic.

Public health precautions meant the pageantry that normally accompanies the traditional state opening of parliament and budget presentation was dialed back significantly to ensure lawmakers adhered to the government’s social distancing guidelines.

There was no horse-drawn carriage ride through The Hague by King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima and no joint meeting of the two houses of the Dutch parliament, known as the States General of the Netherlands, in the historic Knights Hall.

Instead, lawmakers gathered to hear the king's speech in a church near the parliament building.

Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra said as he introduced his budget plan that the Netherlands had slumped since reporting a 23rd consecutive quarter of economic growth in February into “the greatest economic contraction since World War II.”

“To a large extent, the hit has yet to come,” the minister warned. "Unemployment will rise next year; more companies will go bankrupt, and public finances will have a hard time.”

Hoekstra's ministry expects to spend an extra 45.9 billion euros ($54.5 billion) this year and in 2021 to protect businesses and jobs. During the same period, it expects to miss out on an estimated 16.6 billion euros in income such as taxes because of the coronavirus crisis.

Instead of having a budget surplus like last year, the government anticipates a deficit of 7.2% — 56 billion euros — this year and a deficit of 5.5% or 45 billion euros in 2021, the Finance Ministry said.