Speech by Minister Hoekstra at the EU Heads of Mission (HoMs) meeting

Speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs Wopke Hoekstra at the EU Heads of Mission meeting on 17 April 2023 in The Hague. The spoken word applies.

Enlarge image Wopke Hoekstra HoMs
Image: ©Frank van Beek

Good afternoon excellencies,

Ambassador Oljelund, thank you for your hospitality.

It’s a true pleasure to be here in the Swedish residence, a building that projects serenity and thoughtfulness, qualities desperately needed in a world that is anything but serene.       

Though I have to say that on this particular street, turbulence is anything but new.  

Way back in 1664, on the Lange Voorhout, two carriages met, travelling in opposite directions.

Their passengers: two hot-headed ambassadors, one from England the other from Holstein.

Neither carriage wanted to give way – that would be a disgrace.

And so a standoff ensued…and passions got so enflamed that swords were drawn.

Nevertheless Johan de Witt, grand pensionary of the province of Holland at the time, managed to break the impasse.

He came up with a masterly solution: if the ambassadors were to continue on foot, there would be plenty of room.

Challenges and solutions

Ladies and gentlemen,

For our challenges today, solutions are not so straightforward. 

However, the mindset needed to proceed is.

Besides thoughtfulness, we need determination, and guts – qualities that echo a booklet Sweden sent to its people a few years ago.

The booklet said that if Sweden were to be attacked by another country, reports of surrender could only be false, for the simple reason that Sweden would never give up.

And it’s this type of determination and guts we need today.

First and foremost to face the biggest conflict on our continent since the Second World War. 

We must help Ukraine not only for their peace and security, but for that of our continent.

Now, and in the future.

Because the war in Ukraine is an important litmus test to our credibility, and its outcome will resonate in Moscow, Beijing and Tehran.

Hence the only way forward is to persevere, with more weapons, more financial assistance and more sanctions.

At the same time, we must also consider how we can become more effective in our efforts. 

For example by strengthening the European Peace Facility.

By finding ways to stop the circumvention of sanctions.

And by improving EU cooperation with NATO, as well as with the Global South. 

We are, of course, meeting here as EU representatives, but the good news is that there is an increasing overlap between the EU and NATO.

And I think it's fantastic that Finland has now joined.

Of course, I also hope that Sweden will become a member of NATO.

And the Netherlands will do its utmost to realize this.

And yes, I know that Sweden’s patience is being put to the test, but in the end, we will prove that it will be rewarded. 

A strong, determined EU

Ladies and gentlemen,

To help Ukraine, we must, above all, look at how we can strengthen our own Union.

Because let’s face it:

Only a strong, determined EU can help Ukraine.

Let me highlight three different ways how we can build on that strength.

First, a strong EU means growing up, geopolitically, into a Union that is resilient enough to protect its economy, while remaining open for business.

To boost our Union’s open strategic autonomy, we must strengthen the EU’s political and economic foundations, reduce risks of strategic dependencies, and expand our capacity for geopolitical action, always striking a balance between protection and openness. 

The Critical Raw Materials Act and the Chips Act are important steps in this regard.

As are our efforts to diversify trade flows.

For a strong EU we must also strengthen our decision-making processes.

That’s why qualified majority voting must be extended to the areas of sanctions, civilian missions and human rights declarations.

And finally, we must be willing to use our economic power.

If only as a counterforce, when Europe is put under pressure.

And that’s why we’re looking forward to the new anti-coercion instrument.

Make no mistake, this is a tool I would prefer be left untouched, sealed in its packaging.

But still within reach, as a deterrent. 

That’s also why we are advocating an EU sanctions regime targeting serious cases of corruption.

To us, this is an essential instrument, protecting the rule of law and the rules-based international order.

Our economic strength can also bolster our relations with other parts of the world.

Yet to be honest, the EU’s influence today is less than the sum of its parts, and we must have a better and more visible collective proposition to offer to countries outside of Europe.

Together, as Team Europe, and with collective efforts, such as the Global Gateway.

This proposition is also important in relation to our position towards China.

While there’s not much we can do to change China’s assertiveness, we can influence the environment in which China operates.

More generally, growing up geopolitically also means maintaining a unified stance towards China, which is a true balancing act:

Pushing back on China’s attempts to undermine the international rules-based order.

Yet pushing forward cooperation on climate change, biodiversity and pandemic preparedness.

And that’s why we welcome the recent visits of EU leaders to China.


Ladies and gentlemen,

A strong EU is not just about growing up geopolitically.

It’s also about facing our own problems. 

In this respect, we need a united stance towards migration.

People continue to reach our borders, and this is putting increasing pressure on our asylum systems.

Over the next few months, we need to focus on two things.

First on the Asylum and Migration Pact,

where we must strike a clear balance between solidarity and responsibility.

The Netherlands believes that mandatory screening and asylum border procedures are essential.

And so is a future-proof Dublin system.

Second, we must take action in the meantime,

Better implementing existing rules,

Strengthening Europe’s external borders,

And building partnerships with countries along all migration routes.

Partnerships that are equal, comprehensive and mutually beneficial, involving diplomatic outreach, trade, visas and development cooperation.

This will take a collective effort, or to put it another way: a ‘whole-of-government-and-Commission-approach’.

Feminist Foreign Policy

Ladies and gentlemen,

A strong EU is about facing the world, it’s about facing challenges, and above all, it’s about acting in line with our values.

And I must say I find it somewhat ironic: while Ukrainians are fighting for their rights, in the EU we are arguing about them.

To be strong, we must stand firm, not back down, when it comes to our values…

To gender equality, a founding principle of the EU.

That’s why the Netherlands decided in May last year to pursue a feminist foreign policy.

This policy is all about giving every individual equal rights.

Unlocking the potential of half of the world’s population, reinforcing democracy and global resilience, and dismantling unequal power structures.

Feminist foreign policy is very much a work in progress.

I am planning a high-level event at the UN General Assembly this year following the fine example set by my colleague Annalena Baerbock.

In a follow-up to this event I would like to invite you to the international conference that we’re organising this autumn in The Hague.

Steadfast determination

Ladies and gentlemen,

A strong EU stands firm for Ukraine.

It stands firm for its interests.

And its stands firm for its values.

You can’t have one without the other.

And for all these things, we need determination.

And guts.

It’s as the Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjöld once said: ‘It is when we all play safe that we create a world of utmost insecurity.’

And if I may add to this insightful observation: To protect our security in Europe, we must play fair and as a team, and in the spirit of the Swedish booklet I mentioned earlier, we must press forward with steadfast determination. 

Thank you.