Digital Wittenburg conference Speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok

Your Excellency,

Distinguished participants,

There’s a spot in the centre of Ankara where you can enjoy a beautiful view of the city – from a distance.

This may sound like a paradox, but it is not.

I’m referring to the painting View of Ankara, which the Dutch Rijksmuseum lent in 2018 to the Rahmi M. Koç Museum.

It’s the oldest known painting of the city.

The painting is striking because it offers a unique insight into the vibrant life of the city, and particularly into the different stages of Angora wool production.

At the same time, it’s striking because it gives a glimpse of the special relationship between our two countries.

Angora wool once played a key role in trade between Turkey and the Netherlands.

The Rijksmuseum initially lent the painting for six months.

But it’s been so popular that the loan has been extended twice, most recently until September 2022.

Just as our relationship and friendship have been renewed time and again.

In good times and bad.  

As we are renewing them today.

In 2008 our predecessors met at an idyllic Dutch castle in the leafy woods of Wassenaar.

Today the setting for our meeting is less romantic, to say the least …

Our conference is taking place from private homes or empty offices... …without the real-life personal contact we need so much.

But we are still meeting. Because we want to.

Even when we’ve got our hands full fighting a pandemic.

And even, or perhaps even more, when we disagree...

…when you are so closely connected, frictions can arise.

Today we are discussing matters of mutual interest, such as innovation, security and regional stability.

We face some tough dilemmas, and it’s important to find ways to work together.

At the same time, we must continue our dialogue on human rights and the rule of law…

…and our cooperation on our common defence through NATO.

We may have our differences, but I believe our partnership is strong enough that we can discuss them.

Our alliance goes back a long way – officially 408 years, unofficially even longer.

But it’s still relevant today.

Only by working together can we meet the challenges of the 21st century: controlling migration flows, containing Assad or combating ISIS…

…and only by working together can we capitalise on our opportunities.

We’ve seen this for ourselves: not only how much we need each other, but also what we can do for each other.

How we share ownership of problems, but also of solutions.


In the field of counterterrorism, for example.

Turkey is located in a volatile region…

…a region where circumstances could pose a threat to the security of both our nations.

We can only tackle this problem as partners:

By working together in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS…

By having our police forces work together…

…and by giving due attention to the fight against terrorism as part of NATO 2030.  


We also need each other to tackle migration challenges.

I highly respect Turkey’s enormous, indispensable efforts to control migration flows…

…and the Turkish coast guard’s tireless efforts to rescue migrants from the sea, regardless of the political dynamics.

No other country in the world shelters as many refugees as Turkey.

Refugees in your country have free access to high-quality healthcare. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian children attend Turkish primary and secondary schools. And most refugees have a home.

These are impressive achievements, which are helping to prevent a ‘lost generation’ of Syrian refugees.

All of this is done in close cooperation with the EU, which provides financial and technical support.


Besides being joint problem owners and solvers, our countries can also join forces as magnets of opportunity.

Take for example the innovation projects we’ve set up together to make our transport greener and improve our living spaces.  

Yet joining forces also means sustaining our close trade relations. According to Turkish data, over 3,000 companies with Dutch roots are active in Turkey.

And trade between our countries continues to grow. In 2019, our total trade volume was 8.4 billion US dollars.

The Netherlands is also the number one investor in Turkey.

In fact, Dutch companies have invested around 25 billion US dollars in your country since 2002.

Yet above all, our close relationship is about people.

There are 420,000 Dutch nationals with Turkish roots, and their contribution to Dutch society is invaluable. Among other things, their entrepreneurial spirit is exemplary…

…and there are millions of Dutch tourists who are looking forward to enjoying the view of Ankara again, as well as the bustling city of Istanbul and your pristine beaches…

…and looking forward, first and foremost, to enjoying the hospitality of Turkey’s people.

Distinguished participants,

I’ve told you why the painting View of Ankara is so special.

But I’ve saved the most important reason for last:

It’s given us an opportunity to get to know each other better.

The museum loan has resulted in a play, a documentary and even a jigsaw puzzle!

What’s more, Dutch and Turkish museums have started to work together more closely …

… and students have learned about the many details of the painting.

So by viewing Ankara together, we have deepened our relationship.

That’s the message I have for you today.

Although we’re meeting at a distance, we have an opportunity today to look each other in the eye and see each other more clearly …

… so we can work together and learn from each other.

Bir elin nesi var, iki elin sesi var, as you say so beautifully in Turkish.

Or, less poetically, but equally true: two heads are better than one.

Thank you.