Speech by Rutte on the occasion of the State visit by President Gül

Short speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the government lunch on the occasion of the State visit to the Netherlands by Turkish President Abdullah Gül, The Hague, 18 April 2012.

Your Majesty, President and Mrs Gül, Your Royal Highness, Professor van Vollenhoven, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

At present there are 18,000 businesspeople of Turkish origin in the Netherlands. Many of them do business with Turkey. This confirms, 18,000 times over, the special economic ties between our two countries. Ties that are even older than the 400 years of diplomatic relations, which we are celebrating together this year.

Political and cultural exchanges also go back 400 years, making Turkish-Dutch relations even more remarkable. Turkey was one of the unexpected allies of the Republic of the United Provinces in our fight for independence from Spain. And as everyone knows, the tulip, our national symbol, was imported from Turkey. And the Netherlands and the tulip are still synonymous.

So this year we have a lot to remember and celebrate. And we are doing so in style. Commercial activities are planned, both in Turkey and here. Dutch masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum's collection are on exhibit in Istanbul. Turkish masterpieces have come to the Bonnefanten Museum in Maastricht. There are educational projects, special events for young people, and much more. So the conclusion is clear: after four centuries, Turkey and the Netherlands still have a lot to offer each other.

Mr President, for us, your visit to the Netherlands is a high point of this anniversary year. The Dutch government is delighted that you and Mrs Gül have come here with a big trade mission. This shows that the Turkish government and business community still take a great interest in our country, even after 400 years. I can assure you that our interest in Turkey is equally great. I'm looking forward to underscore this in person later this year, when I accompany Dutch business representatives on a visit to your country.

Here in the Netherlands we have followed the rapid economic progress that Turkey has made over the last decade with great interest and admiration. Today, your country is the 17th-largest economy in the world, and our country is the 16th-largest. But we will soon be trading places. I would like to congratulate you and the Turkish people in advance on your new ranking. Of course, economic expansion and prosperity are good for Turkey. But as your country is a major Dutch trading partner, this is also good for the Netherlands and good for Dutch business.

We in the Netherlands also have great respect for the international role that Turkey plays in promoting peace and security. I am pleased to note that this year, our two countries have been NATO allies for exactly 60 years, another anniversary worth commemorating. For 60 years the Dutch and Turkish armed forces have worked together for peace and security. And now that there are so many changes taking place in the Arab world, Turkey continues to shoulder responsibility outside the NATO framework too. The Netherlands values highly the very active role that Turkey is now playing in the Arab region. Especially your efforts to put an end to the terrible violence used by the Syrian regime against innocent civilians.

In this way Turkey is proving once more that it plays - and chooses to play - the key role of bridge in the dialogue between the West and the Islamic world. I hope we can seize the opportunity of this anniversary to bolster this dialogue so that we can look to the future together. Let us take steps forward wherever we can. Including the talks between Turkey and the European Union about your country's accession.

In closing, Mr President, it gives me pleasure to present you with a special gift. In honour of 400 years of diplomatic relations between Turkey and the Netherlands, our Ministry of Finance commissioned the artist Deniz Seyda Tunca to design a special five-euro coin. One side of the coin bears the Turkish flag and a tulip with closed petals, to show that your country is the homeland of this beautiful flower. The other side bears a portrait of our Queen and a tulip with open petals. So you see, this special coin symbolises a relationship that has flourished for four centuries.

As I present you with this special coin, I would like to propose a toast. To your health, Mr President, and that of Mrs Gül. To the friendship between our two countries. And to our common future.