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Prinsjesdag: Dutch politics and hats?
2020-09-10 | By Molly Quell
Where else in the world could you celebrate a new budget with a carriage ride, fancy horses and lots and lots of hats? On the third Tuesday in September, tens of thousands of visitors turn out in The Hague for the yearly presentation of the country’s budget and the opening of the country’s parliament during the annual Prinsjesdag (Prince’s Day) festivities.
Article 65 of the Dutch Constitution requires that “A statement of the policy to be pursued by the Government shall be given by or on behalf of the King before a joint session of the two Houses of the States General.” It also stipulates the day this must take place and requires that the official budget be presented.
Though the text specifies a king, it is the Dutch monarch, regardless of gender, who gives the troonrede, or speech from the throne. Generally, the speech is written by the Prime Minister together with the monarch. Following the speech, which takes place at the Ridderzaal in the Binnenhof complex, Parliament is officially opened and the Minister of Finance then presents the budget to the lower house.
The presentation of the annual budget and a speech of the monarch have taken place in the Netherlands since 1814. In 1848, as the Dutch moved power away from the monarchy, government ministers began writing the content of the speech. And in 1888, this also became the official opening day of parliament.
A year earlier, the constitution was updated to reflect that the event should take place on the third Tuesday in September. Before it had been held on a Monday in October, but Christian parties objected to the need to travel on a Sunday, and the October date left too little time to settle budget issues before it went into effect on 1 January.
In 1904, the monarch switched from giving the speech in the lower house, Tweede Kamer, building to the Ridderzaal but the event didn’t get the name Prinsjesdag until 1930.
Officially the Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy. These days, the monarch has no real political power but mainly serves as a symbolic head of state.
The Dutch have a bicameral legislation. The Tweede Kamer, has 150 seats and members are directly elected every four years. The upper house, or Eerste Kamer, has 75 seats and is elected by the members of the provincial parliaments. Together they make up the Staten-Generaal, or States General.
The government is usually made up of a coalition of different parties, with the Prime Minister coming from the party who won the most seats in the election. Mark Rutte, from the liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD, is the current Prime Minister. The next national election is scheduled for March 2021.
The day itself
In the morning, the budget is finalised, wrapped in an orange bow and placed in the official suitcase. The suitcase tradition began in 1947 when then Minister of Finance, Piet Lieftinck, presented the budget in a brown leather bag labelled derde dinsdag in september or Third Tuesday in September.
He got the idea from the British, who traditionally carried their budget documents in a red suitcase to present them to Parliament. These days, the budget is no longer presented on paper, but in an electronic format. Although it is officially a secret until the day of, information about the budget usually links to the media in the weeks leading up to the event.
At one o’clock in the afternoon, the monarch’s procession departs the Noordeinde Palace, with the monarch traditionally riding in the Golden Coach. Decorative panels on the Golden Coach depict slaves which have led for a call for the carriage to be retired into a museum. That carriage, however, is currently undergoing restoration so for the past few years the monarch has been using another carriage, known as the Glass Coach.
The carriage is pulled by horses which undergo serious testing to make sure they are up for the task. On the Monday before, on the beach in Scheveningen, the horses are exposed to loud bangs, screaming babies and smoke bombs to make sure they are up for the task. In years past, large crowds gathered on the beach to watch the exercises.
Until the monarch arrives, a salute is fired every minute on the Malieveld. The trip takes about fifteen minutes, detouring along a route that was first traveled in 1925. The procession arrives at the Ridderzaal, the oldest building in the Binnenhof complex, where the attendees are sitting according to a strict seating chart.
After the speech, the monarch returns to the Noordeinde Palace for the balkonscène, or balcony scene, with Queen Máxima, Prince Constantijn and Princess Laurentien who all wave to the crowds.
Prince’s Day was first filmed in 1931. The microphone was next to the Queen’s seat.
There are usually not enough Dutch horses up to the task of carriage pulling, so the Dutch frequently borrow some from the Belgian military.
What’s with all the hats?
Dutch politician and former Olympic swimmer Erica Terpstra turned up to her very first Prinsjesdag wearing a fashionable black beret and found she was quite in the minority. Only the queen and a member of the diplomatic corps had on headgear. Afterwards, she urged the other 21 female members of parliament to wear a hat to the occasion and from then the hoedjesparade (or parade of hats) was born.
Until recently, it was considered a faux pas to wear a hat larger than the queen’s but that rule has fallen by the wayside. These days, the women wear not just elaborate hats, but some wear entire outfits with a political message. Member of Parliament Carla Dik-Faber wore an outfit in support of sustainable fishing in 2016, complete with a hat made of fish scales. But it’s Marianne Thieme of the animal rights party who is most famous for her outfits, including a elebration of women’s suffrage, an outfit calling out gender disparities and a military outfit with an ammunition belt made of carrots to call for a more sustainable use of the earth.
In 2020, Prinsjesdag takes place on 15 September. This year, for the first time since the tradition began, the public will not be invited to participate in the event. “It’s a wonderful and festive day but it simply attracts too big a crowd,” said The Hague mayor Jan van Zanen. The traditional drive from the Noordeinde Palace to the Binnenhof will not take place and the event itself is moved to the larger Grote Kerk to allow for social distancing. The guest list has also been shortened; no spouses or diplomats will be allowed.
Fortunately, if you’re interested in the event, you can watch it all on television.
Read more about living in The Netherlands and learn about Dutch lifestyle and culture here.
About the author
Molly Quell is an American journalist based in Delft. She is The Hague correspondent for Courthouse News Service and a contributing editor at Dutch News. When she’s not working, you can find her enjoying a beer and hanging out with her dog. You can follow her on Twitter at @mollyquell.