Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte to the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa

Mr Speaker,

Thank you for inviting me here today. And thank you for the distinct privilege of sharing some thoughts on the special nature and the importance  of the relationship between Canada and the Netherlands. Je suis très honoré d’être accueilli aujourd’hui ici, au cœur de la démocratie canadienne.

To anyone without a sense of history, a quick glance at the world map may suggest that Canada and the Netherlands are far apart and profoundly different. From Ottawa to Amsterdam, it’s three-and-a-half thousand miles. Canada is 240 times larger than the Netherlands. And in the Netherlands, with 400 people per square kilometre, there’s not much space to go around. In Canada, you can drive for hours without seeing another soul. But despite these obvious differences, the Dutch feel a deep connection with the people of Canada – and with good reason. A reason that is embodied by one man who is with us here today: Mr Don White. Don is a veteran of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, who helped liberate the Netherlands from Nazi occupation.

This year, on the 5th of May, I met Don for the first time in the city of Leeuwarden, the capital of Friesland, a province in the northern Netherlands. I was there for our national celebration of Liberation Day, when we commemorate the end of the Second World War and celebrate our freedom. Don was there because he was one of the heroes on the ground, back in 1945, when he was barely twenty years old. Now he is in his mid-nineties and he’s still going strong. Mr White, Don, it’s a great pleasure to see you again today, and in such good health.

This is what Don White wrote to his parents on the 17th of April 1945.
‘We have liberated a number of Dutch towns and you never saw anything like it in all your life. Once the Germans have been driven out and you enter the town, the people come out and put up their flags and royal colours. They crowd around the cars so badly you can hardly move. Your car is just one big bouquet of flowers that has been given you. The girls kiss you and the men shake your hand off. There is a lot so happy they cry.’

Don and his comrades risked their lives so that we could be free. He survived, but more than seven thousand six hundred young Canadian servicemen did not. They made the ultimate sacrifice, and the Netherlands is their final resting place. So yes, we feel deeply connected with Canada, and we are forever grateful to those brave Canadian soldiers who carried the light of freedom to our country in its darkest hour.
This we will never forget.
Thank you, Canada.

As you know, during the Second World War our royal family found refuge in Ottawa. In fact, an aunt of our King, Princess Margriet, was born in Canada on the 19th of January 1943. It was the only time in history that a foreign flag was flown over the Peace Tower. So at a time when the Dutch were denied the right to fly their own national flag at home, the Canadian people did us the honour of raising the red, white and blue over your houses of Parliament. Yet another strong symbol of the special bond between our countries.
This we will never forget.
Thank you, Canada.

After the war, some 150,000 people from the Netherlands came to Canada to build a future for themselves and their children. In doing so, they made a lasting contribution to your country. Today, over a million Canadians have a connection with the Netherlands through the bonds of family. Whenever you come across a name like Eyking, Van Kesteren or Mathysen, you can be sure there’s a Dutch connection.

Ever since 1945, Canada and the Netherlands have stood shoulder to shoulder in so many ways. We both uphold the same values: democracy, freedom and equality. We both stand up for human rights and the international rule of law. And we both believe in the principles of free and fair trade as a source of progress and prosperity for people all over the world.

I think it’s fair to say that Canada and the Netherlands are sturdy pillars supporting the international order that arose from the ruins of the Second World War. Both our countries have actively contributed to the multilateral rules-based system that has brought unprecedented freedom, prosperity and stability to our peoples. We have shaped this system individually, but more than anything we’ve shaped it together. After all, we are founding members of, and partners in, all of the world’s major international organisations. Including the UN, NATO and the World Trade Organization. We have teamed up in important military missions in Afghanistan and Mali, and we are working together to modernise UN peacekeeping.
What’s more, as NATO’s leading country in Latvia, Canada remains actively committed to security and stability in Europe.This shows that the commitment and cohesion of our military alliance is as strong as ever.
So – again – thank you, Canada.

And of course, there’s CETA – the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada. CETA illustrates perfectly that free and fair international trade is not a zero-sum game, but benefits everyone. Back in the 18th century the philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke wrote that ‘Free trade is not based on utility but on justice.’ And he was right. For it was on the principles of free trade that Europe built a prosperous and secure post-war future for many millions of people on a continent in ruins. And today it is the spirit of free international enterprise that makes our societies robust and our countries so attractive to live in. In this respect too, Canada and the Netherlands stand shoulder to shoulder.

Our bilateral economic relations are already excellent. The Netherlands is the second-largest investor in Canada. And conversely, there are more than a hundred Canadian companies active in our country, providing thousands and thousands of jobs. In the last ten years, total trade flows from the Netherlands to Canada have almost tripled. Since the provisional application of CETA we have seen a remarkable upswing in the trade figures between Canada and the EU member states. And I’m happy to say that the rise in trade figures between Canada and the Netherlands is among the highest of all EU countries. We can only expect more positive effects of CETA in the years to come, as ratification progresses and businesses become more familiar with its benefits.

Let me emphasise that CETA is not only about earning more euros and Canadian dollars. It’s also about protecting consumer interests, advancing sustainable production and promoting equitable labour relations and gender equality. You could say that CETA sets a positive and modern example of the way forward for free trade and constructive multilateralism. Because when trade is free and fair, we can all be winners. Or, in the spirit of Edmund Burke: free trade and a just society relate to each other like cause and effect. It’s important that we keep broadcasting this message, especially at a time like this.

For many years, the transatlantic voice rang out loud and clear, because both sides of the Atlantic were singing from the same hymn sheet. Today we’re seeing debates on trade barriers and import tariffs that are putting trade relations under pressure. Having said that, I think it’s a positive sign that Canada, the United States and Mexico have negotiated a revised trade agreement. The European Union and the US are also making progress on their bilateral trade agenda. This shows that we all realise how much we need each other. And that transatlantic cooperation is as crucial for jobs and prosperity as it is for security in our countries. And in all fairness, we can’t blame the US for urging other NATO members to step up their efforts and pick up their share of the bill.

In Europe we now face the great unknown of Brexit. Let me be totally honest: I still think it’s a terrible idea. And I can imagine that many of you feel the same, if only because 40 per cent of Canada-EU trade passes through the United Kingdom. The negotiations are proving complex, because, as it turns out, it’s not so easy to unbreak the eggs that made the omelette. Nevertheless, the people of the United Kingdom have spoken. We have to respect that, and deal with the consequences.

We in the Netherlands are going to miss a key partner in the EU. A partner that thinks like we do on many issues. We also know that Brexit will cost us dearly. Of all the economies of mainland Europe, the Dutch is the most interwoven with the British. The UK is our third-biggest bilateral trade partner. So yes, we will miss our British friends in Brussels.

But let’s not overreact. I believe that, after Brexit, two things will be essential. Firstly, we need to keep working with the United Kingdom as friends and allies wherever we can. Economically, politically, culturally and in matters of security and defence. Bilaterally, and in the UN, NATO and all other corners of the international arena. Because the United Kingdom remains a key partner for the Netherlands, for Europe and of course for Canada.

Secondly, I believe that we must keep investing in the transatlantic relationship, and that Canada and the Netherlands have a special role to play – especially after Brexit. After all we both have a special relationship with the United Kingdom. And together with Canada, I’m sure we will succeed in building new and even stronger bridges between both sides of the Atlantic. This is something that Prime Minister Trudeau and I discussed earlier today. Because with all the geopolitical shifts and global challenges we face, working together is now as crucial to the future of our children as it was for our grandparents after the Second World war. It’s up to us to make it happen.

Even back in 1945, Don White observed in a letter to his parents that it seemed as if everybody in the Netherlands spoke English and French. I suspect those words may have been a bit too kind, but he was definitely right about one thing. Canada and the Netherlands do speak the same universal, multilateral, transatlantic language. That’s something we should cherish and build on. In the past we worked together to build a better world order. And it’s true: after so many years, the system we built is now showing some cracks. It’s true that globalisation and the multilateral system don’t benefit all countries and all people equally. So now we should work together to reform and improve that system, and make it fit for purpose in the 21st century.

Mr Speaker,

Next year will mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the start of Western Europe’s liberation from Nazi tyranny. I promise you, it will not pass unnoticed. The anniversary celebrations will reflect everything that Canada and the Netherlands stand for: freedom, peace and equality.

Last year in Leeuwarden, Don White said on Dutch national television: ‘I did not come back, I came back home.’ I think these few words sum up the firm bond of history and the sense of kinship that unites us. A bond that holds both a promise and a responsibility for the future. A bond that was forged in the courage and commitment of veterans like Don White and all his comrades who paid the highest price for our freedom.
This we will not forget.

Thank you, Canada.