Speech Wopke Hoekstra, Minister of Foreign Affairs at the EU HoMs, 12 September 2022

Speech by Minister Wopke Hoekstra at the EU Heads of Missions, 12 September 2022. The spoken word applies.

Your Excellencies,

Let me begin by thanking you, ambassador Sequensova for organising this lunch.

This is a wonderful tradition, and I value the opportunity to speak with all of you about our shared European future.

The last time we saw each other as a group was in early February.

The world was a different place then.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine changed everything.

Putin has brought war to our continent, and our geopolitical challenges have become abundantly clear.

Two weeks ago I was in Prague for the Gymnich to discuss this.

Ambassador Sequensova, it was – as always – a pleasure to spend some time in your beautiful capital.

The ties between our two countries go back hundreds of years.

The Czech Jan Amos Komenský, or Comenius, lived and worked in Amsterdam for a large part of his life in the 17th century.

After his death he was buried in Naarden – close to where I live – where his grave is still visited by thousands of people every year.

It’s no coincidence that President Havel started his first speech in office by quoting Comenius.

And it was Havel who inspired the well-chosen motto of your European Presidency:

‘Europe as a task: rethink, rebuild, repower’.

That phrase comes from a speech he delivered in 1996.

In his speech, Havel outlined some ideas with which I wholeheartedly agree.

He told his audience that ‘freedom and responsibility are two sides of a coin and […] freedom is thinkable only when it is based on a sense of responsibility’.

And that ‘the task of Europe today is to rediscover its conscience and its sense of responsibility … also with regard to the world as a whole.’

Your Excellencies,

Almost thirty years later we can conclude that this task is still as urgent as ever.  

Chancellor Scholz also reached this conclusion in his speech at Charles University in Prague recently.

Scholz told us that ‘Europe is being challenged today as never before’ and that we must ‘create a sovereign Europe that can hold its own in a multipolar world.’

I agree.

As I said recently in an address at Leiden University: I’m concerned that the anchors of our international order are coming loose, and that the world is tilting out of balance.

Russia’s brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine has turned the world we thought we lived in upside down.

Our continent borders on an imperial power.

Putin challenges us to accept his annexation.

That is something we will never do.

This terrible war forces us to face a new reality.

For too long, we’ve allowed ourselves to be dependent.

For energy, medical supplies, and raw materials for our critical industries.

This needs to change.

I’m looking forward to engaging with you on this, as well as on the other urgent questions of our time.

But first, please allow me to outline several Dutch priorities for Europe.

The three pillars of our European policy remain unchanged.

First, we strongly believe the EU is, and must remain, a community of values, with strong foundations in the rule of law.

Second, we attach high importance to greater economic convergence.

Third, we are convinced the EU must become a geopolitical power, in order to better safeguard our autonomy and security. 

We already held these positions before the 24th of February, but our conviction of their importance has deepened significantly since then.

The world is becoming a more dangerous place.

We need a strong European Union to protect our safety, security, and prosperity.

We believe that these three pillars are crucial to achieving this goal.

Starting with the community of values.

Our Union is built on the rule of law.

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is clear on this: ‘the peoples of Europe … are resolved to share a peaceful future based on common values.’

We can only realise this peaceful future if we remain true to these common values.

Respect for democracy, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law are the foundations of EU membership.

We must do what we can to strengthen the legitimacy of the institutions that uphold them.

To involve as many people as we can in the process of European cooperation.

That idea underpins the citizens’ panels, and the dialogue we held last year.

To involve people, and narrow the gap between the Europe of politicians, and the Europe of the people.

This is also needed in the area of economic convergence, the second pillar of our European policy.

Our Union works for the prosperity and well-being of our citizens.

But today, more than at any point in the recent past, people throughout our continent are worried about the impact of economic crises on their own lives.

High energy prices, soaring inflation, and a looming recession are all causes for concern.

This requires us to do two things:

First, take immediate action to alleviate the economic pressure, and second, to work towards a more resilient and future-proof European economy.

Economic cooperation has always been the EU’s strongpoint.

We have the world’s largest single market and the highest standard of living.

But we can’t blindly rely on our history for continued success.

We need to continue investing in tomorrow’s economy.

To stimulate all member states to converge on the highest possible economic and social standards.

To reduce our dependence on external suppliers, and to strengthen our autonomy.

Your Excellencies,

A geopolitical Europe is the third pillar of our policy.

Our continent must do a better job at translating its enormous economic clout into geopolitical muscle.

Become more resilient.

More responsible for our security and defence.

To do this, we must increase military cooperation – both within NATO and between NATO and the EU.

The war in Ukraine has made clear how crucial both the transatlantic alliance and the European Union are.

We need both. And I believe both organisations will benefit from working more closely together.

Especially where the security of our own continent is concerned.

For that same reason, we see potential in the idea of a European Political Community.

A place where European leaders can discuss common concerns and challenges, and come up with solutions.

This should be a forum that is open to all democratic European countries that share our values.

Your Excellencies,

I will conclude my remarks, so we can continue our discussion over lunch.

As a parting thought, I want to share a new element of Dutch diplomacy with you

One which I strongly believe in.

A feminist foreign policy.

Half the population is female, but women’s rights are not universally recognised.

This is not just an issue of fundamental rights, it’s also an issue of neglecting the potential of half the population.

Fighting for full equality is therefore not just the right thing to do…

It’s also just smart policy.

We have always believed this.

Now we will also make this an explicit part of our diplomacy.

In line with the values on which our Union was founded – and in close cooperation with trailblazers like Sweden, France, Luxembourg, Spain and Germany – we will increase our focus on women’s rights, and gender equality, in our foreign policy.

Your Excellencies: thank you.