Speech by Minister Hoekstra at the Utrecht Conference in Poland

Speech by Wopke Hoekstra, Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the Utrecht Conference in Poland, 29 June 2023. The spoken word applies.

Minister Rau,

Ladies and gentlemen,

For Bravery, Leadership, and Loyalty.

These are the words inscribed on the Military Order of William. The oldest and highest honour in the Netherlands.

It’s awarded for exceptional bravery in battle – and only to the very few, and most deserving.

Only eleven military units have ever won the right to carry the Order in the their banners.

And only two of these are not Dutch.

The first is the American 82nd Airborne Division.

The second is the Polish 6th Air Assault Brigade.

This unit carries on the tradition of the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade which fought with great distinction in Operation Market Garden in 1944.

Their commanding officer, general Stanisław Sosabowski was posthumously awarded the Bronze Lion for his leadership and bravery in this operation.

Polish forces helped liberate our country.

For this we owe you a great – and continued – debt of gratitude.

The Second World War is a strong connection between our two countries. It’s a connection that I feel strongly today, as our continent has once again descended into war.

It’s also a bond that stands in a much longer line of historical ties, dating back to the Middle Ages.

For centuries we traded together, and exchanged ideas and people, as well as goods.

For example: I recently learned that the composer of the Polish national anthem – Józef Wybicki – studied in Leiden; my own alma mater.

Like Leiden, this beautiful city of Łódź has a long history as a textile centre.

And Minister Rau: it’s of course your alma mater, and also celebrates its 600th anniversary this year.

Surrounded by all this shared history, we couldn’t wish for a better vantage point from which to look towards the future. Here at the 32nd Utrecht Conference.

The issues on today’s agenda, like economic co-operation, war, and the security of our European continent – are all deeply rooted in our shared historical tradition.

They are a good starting point to move towards a future of security, prosperity, and strong, shared values.

Let me begin with security.

The Polish border is a European border – and it’s a border shared with Russia and Belarus.

Poland has long lived in the looming Russian shadow.

You have consistently been clear about the threat Russia posed – and you were right.

Russia’s devastating and illegal war against Ukraine has proven this beyond any doubt, and has forced us in Western Europe to urgently recognize this threat.

We are acting on it now, and we will continue to act.

Because for millions of our European neighbours, it’s now far more than a threat – it’s their lived reality.

Ukrainians face the horrors of this war every single day.

Every single day, soldiers and civilians die, and cities are bombed.

Every single day, Russia commits hundreds of war crimes: rape, torture, murder.

Throughout all this, Poland has been one of Ukraine’s most steadfast, reliable, and closest allies.

Without your military and political support, humanitarian aid, and heart-warming help to refugees, Ukraine’s fate could have been even darker.

I want to thank and commend you for all that you do.

Our two countries stand united in our support for Ukraine, and will continue to work closely together.

Like the operations conducted by the Netherlands air force here in Polish (and therefore NATO) airspace.

Together we are strengthening NATO’s defensive posture on the eastern flank.

We’re also working closely together to provide the much-needed aid, to strive for accountability and justice, and to enact new packages of sanctions.

We will help Ukraine get through this war with much-needed humanitarian and military aid.

We will work to cripple Russia’s war economy with sanctions.

We will strive for accountability and justice, with evidence gathering and establishing legal mechanisms.

Impunity is not an option.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Ukrainians are fighting to preserve their freedom, sovereignty, and democracy.

While their direct fight is against the Russians, their ultimate fight is for something.

For a strong, safe, and European future.

For the values we all share in our Union.

That is what’s at stake in the trenches of Ukraine’s battlefields.

Besides aiding them in their fight, we can do them no greater honour than to respect these fundamental values ourselves.

We have had our disagreements in this area  but we’ve always continued the conversation as friends and allies. We will continue to do so.

Today, in the context of war, the meaning of that conversation has shifted.

I believe it has become even more important.

We face a new geopolitical reality – and in this reality we must ensure that our institutions and our values are strong.

More than ever, we need a strong and united EU, with common principles at the heart of our cooperation.

A stronger Union also requires stronger economic foundations.

This starts with a well-functioning internal market.

With mitigating dependencies, as the world becomes increasingly volatile.  

And with ensuring the EU’s capacity for effective global action.

A final area where we have room to grow, is in economic co-operation.

Poland’s economic growth has been spectacular, and the economic ties between our countries are stronger than ever.

We have both profited greatly from the single market.

The Netherlands is now one of the largest foreign investors in Poland, and the Dutch economy benefits enormously from the contributions made by the hard-working Polish community in our country.

Looking towards the future, we face similar challenges.

We want to maintain economic growth, foster innovation, while combating climate change.

Some years ago, these things might have been seen as contradictory – but now they’re certainly not.

The transition to a green economy is a long road, but with countless opportunities along the way.

By innovating constantly, leading globally, and working together on speeding up the transition, we will give ourselves a head start in tomorrow’s global economy.

This economy will be green and sustainable, and Europe will be at its heart.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In these three fields: security, values, and economic co-operation, we are faced with strong challenges.

From a difficult present, it’s our task to move towards a stronger future.

I believe this is our shared mission, and a great opportunity.

One that will require, in the words of the Order of William: bravery, leadership, and loyalty.

Not only on the field of battle, but also in the arena of politics, the centres of innovation, and in the marketplace.

It’s up to us now to show this leadership.

Thank you.