Speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok at the Van Wittel/Vanvitelli Dialogue on 14 December

Ladies and gentlemen,

It’s a pleasure to be here today.

In person. And that’s important. Because it gives us the opportunity to catch up and have meaningful conversations… face to face.

It’s been a difficult time for everyone. A time in which we’ve faced many hardships. Italy in particular. A time in which social contact is a bare necessity, but keeping our distance is too.

I want to tell you something that I’ve said before. Most recently, in a Dutch newspaper. I’m going to say it again, because I mean it wholeheartedly: I appreciate our good relationship very much.

It’s a relationship that goes back many years… One that is built on trust… and is expressed in many ways:

In the Treaty of Rome that we signed together…

In the Schengen Agreement and the euro, where we were pioneers…

In the G20, where we work together and think alike….

And in this respect, I would like to thank you for inviting me to join as a guest member during the Italian Presidency. The Netherlands has built up a track record as a constructive participant in previous G20 Presidencies. And we stand ready to contribute to the discussions during your Presidency and to put our shared values into practice.

Our relationship is an expression of combined power…

…in NATO...

…in the UN…

… as non-permanent members of the Security Council in 2017-2018, where we shared a seat.  

Our combined power is also in our economic ties. Italy is no stranger to Dutch business. You’re our sixth largest trading partner. Before the crisis, our trade relationship was worth over 30 billion euros.

This power is built on shared values like democracy and the rule of law. And these shared values are rooted in the shared history of our people: 

The Dutch painters and artists who travelled to Italy and were inspired by your beautiful country. The Italian migrants who have been coming to the Netherlands for centuries. The numerous students from Italy who are now attending Dutch universities. The Dutch and Italian tourists who explore our countries and cultures every year. The many architects and designers that work and cooperate intensively in both our countries.

This shared history of people is also reflected in shared words.

One of them is ‘polder’.

It’s a word we use and pronounce in exactly the same way.

Professor Mauro Bonazzi,  who works for Utrecht University, recently described this Dutch word in an Italian article: ‘land that has been taken out of the sea and made cultivable thanks to the cooperation between people’.

In the Netherlands we also use it as a verb: ‘to polder’.

It explains our way of working together. And while ‘to polder’ is a Dutch expression, it is essentially what the Netherlands and Italy do too: Pursuing a common goal through collaboration. Sometimes with different interests --- but always through constructive discussion.

You could say that the ‘polder approach’ is also a shared value: it’s about finding ways to work together, even when your perspectives are different…

It’s a shared value that dates back to the Italian Renaissance and the Dutch Golden Age… but also more recently, to the Golden Trio, Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard… and to the EU today….

Because history has taught us that it’s better to talk than to fight.

Dutch-Italian cooperation serves as a springboard for mutual success. For the Italian football clubs, for example. And for the Dutch players who kick-started their international careers there. The same goes for all the young talent playing at Italian clubs today.  

Cooperation doesn’t mean that our points of view aren’t sometimes diametrically opposed. Like during the Ajax-Atalanta match last week…

Not a match that we would like to remember! Although I would like to congratulate you with the outstanding performances in Europe.

No matter our differences, our shared outlook for the future remains the same. This is also the case in the crisis we are facing. A crisis that has hit hard, particularly in Italy during the first wave, when it caused great suffering and economic hardship.  My thoughts are with the victims and their families. I sincerely hope that we will be able to get this difficult second wave under control. 

We need to work together to make sure we emerge stronger from this crisis.  When it comes to plotting the way forward, we do disagree on certain matters, as we’ve seen this year. But I’m glad our relationship allows for these differences. And that in the end, we always find a way to work out our differences… by taking the ‘polder’ approach. By talking to each other and keeping our common goal in mind we can build a more effective EU. And by working on national recovery plans we can modernise our economies and help our countries realise their full economic potential in a sustainable way.

We share such a forward-looking view on many other issues. Let me briefly discuss three that are closely related to the crisis we are in. Climate, migration and strategic autonomy.


While climate and the pandemic are different issues, they need to be tackled together.

We need investments to get out of the crisis, to make our environment greener, and our economy more resilient. And we must carry out reforms that will make these investments sustainable.

I’d like to compliment you on your commitment to a green transition in your recovery plans, and for setting green priorities in the G20 context. I wish you every success with the G20 Presidency and the COP26 co-presidency. You can count on our full support.


Our shared outlook also concerns migration. Uncontrolled, irregular migration is undesirable for everyone. For Italy, which is dealing with an unpredictable primary influx of migrants. But also for the Netherlands, where we receive an influx of 500 asylum seekers a week. But most important, for the migrants themselves, who risk their lives making the perilous journey to Europe.

In negotiating the migration pact, we must consider these priorities and concerns… and stick to our previous commitments. Together, we must strive to prevent irregular migration, promote the return of irregular migrants, and cooperate with countries of origin and transit.

The Commission’s new proposals provide structural solutions, including mutually beneficial partnerships with our partners in Africa. In our discussions on these proposals, legal migration will no doubt be an import element.

Here too, we must consider different interests. Those of the host country and the migrants. But also the interests of the countries of origin, that can’t afford to lose essential expertise. So we must identify the sectors that will experience future labour shortages. We must select and prepare migrants for a productive temporary stay in Europe. And we must ensure that they can eventually use their skills to benefit their home countries.

Strategic autonomy

Besides climate and migration, we also share a similar outlook on EU strategic autonomy. COVID-19 has proven to be a great accelerator of structural geopolitical shifts. So we need to make haste with our efforts to empower the EU. 

Of course, the EU is already an economic powerhouse. Yet, it is increasingly vulnerable. We cannot take anything for granted… our democracies, open economies or even our security… We must take our future into our own hands. By converting our economic power into political influence. By taking more responsibility for our own security. And by strengthening our democracies.

We also need to tackle crisis management operations in our own backyard. Preferably with partners, but on our own if necessary. And we must be alert to threats outside the traditional scope of defence. For example, the dangers of unilateral economic dependence… deployed as a weapon by increasingly powerful states that are opposed to our open and free economy and democracy.

This is about market access for our products. New technologies like 5G. But also energy and raw materials. Nord Stream, rare metals… Our access to the North Pole and space.

We must continue to strive for an open and free economy and society. For example, by finding a solution for the stalemate in the World Trade Organization. But we mustn’t be naïve… A number of states are using our openness and freedom against us. Intervention might be necessary when our core interests are threatened. The EU must maintain a strong industrial base going forward.

This is why we support initiatives like the European Raw Materials Alliance. Another good example of an EU-coordinated approach is the 5G Cybersecurity Toolbox, which is aimed at supply chain diversity and includes restrictions on high-risk suppliers of 5G technology.

Ladies and gentlemen, cari amici,

Let me close with this.

I’ve come here today for our annual bilateral dialogue with a mission to find common ground on important issues, like migration and a green recovery. This dialogue is a great opportunity to strengthen our relationship and explore further cooperation. I look back warmly at last year’s first edition.

This special dialogue is named after Van Wittel and after Vanvitelli.

One and same person.

What binds us are people…. art… words... our shared values….

This year there was a beautiful exhibition at the Rijksmuseum featuring Bernini and Caravaggio, who inspired many Dutch painters and artists, from the Caravaggists in Utrecht to perhaps the Netherlands’ most famous painter, Rembrandt.

Like the paintings of Caravaggio and Rembrandt, our relationship has the quality of vivacità: liveliness and fidelity to nature. And of unpolished realism: what you see is what you get.

Contrast is an integral part of realism. Whether in the football arena or the arena of debate. When I think of contrast, I think of vivid, true-to-life colours --- like Italian Azzurro and Dutch Orange, both vibrant colours that contrast and complement each other.

Like a rising orange sun in a bright blue sky.

It might sound poetic, but this is how I see our relationship:

True-to-life. Honest. With contrasts and common goals.

A relationship I have faith in and wish to build on.

Thank you.