Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at EU ambassadors lunch

Ladies and gentlemen,

It’s good to see you all again. And to stand before you as Prime Minister of a new government. It’s a pleasure to be here and I’m looking forward to our discussion. But first, I’d like to thank Estonia for its excellent Presidency over the past six months. Your style was clear, transparent and aimed at fostering connections. Many concrete results have been achieved over the past six months, for example the establishment of PESCO. And the icing on the cake was a successful Digital Summit in Tallinn.

As you know, a new government has taken office here, following long negotiations. But during those coalition talks it was of course business as usual. Certainly at EU and international level. Important steps have been taken to bolster friendships, both old and new, within the EU. And we will continue these efforts. But I’m happy that, with a new coalition agreement, we can press ahead with discussions on the EU.

The key word here is continuity. The bottom line is – and always will be – that the Netherlands feels a deep connection to a Europe in which we share the same values. And which brings us security, stability and prosperity. We will continue to be an active and reliable international partner and we want to lead the way in efforts to create a more effective European Union.

We are at the start of an important period in the EU’s history. The Brexit vote was a wake-up call. Since then, the remaining 27 member states have come closer together. Awareness of the value of the Union and the ‘cost of non-Europe’ is greater than ever, and has helped create clarity. The arc of instability around Europe and all the changes taking place in Asia, the United States, and elsewhere only add to our conviction that we need to keep on working together.

Now is the time to press ahead. To join hands and build a future-proof Europe. That means collaborating on issues where we will not get results by acting alone: think about the single market, security, financial stability and climate policy. That’s the way to get people on board and foster public support for the European project. Especially among people who no longer understand why we started working together in the first place.

The Leaders’ Agenda we adopted in October is a crucial instrument for setting priorities and monitoring progress. And the themes addressed by the Leaders’ Agenda correspond with priorities set by my government. I’d like to highlight a few now.

Firstly, migration. Recently, I attended the AU-EU Summit in Côte d’Ivoire. I also visited Mali and Ghana. These visits confirmed my view that tackling the causes of migration is vital. We must invest in Africa so that young people have prospects there and have a reason to stay. At the same time, Europe urgently needs to modernise its asylum policy. Based on the principles of responsibility and solidarity.

As for the EMU, a competitive and resilient EMU is fundamental for Europe’s future. Strong member states form the basis for this. It is member states that first and foremost have a responsibility to their own citizens. A responsibility to get their own houses in order. To ensure competitive economies and functioning democracies. That requires continuous attention and, sometimes, decisive action and political courage. But we’ve seen that reforms do pay off. Take the economic growth generated by countries like Latvia, Spain and Ireland, for example.

Earlier, I mentioned the establishment of PESCO. We fully support this initiative.
It is high time that we in Europe took more responsibility for security on our continent. The Netherlands is participating in seven PESCO projects. And we are playing a leading role in the project on military mobility. It aims to make the transport of military materiel and personnel within Europe more efficient.

Another important topic is cooperation in the area of climate. This is a prime example of a problem that no country can solve alone. It’s good that, last week in Paris, we once again confirmed our commitment. As President Macron noted, doing nothing means losing the battle. The new Dutch government is convinced of the need to act. We’ve made tackling climate change one of our policy priorities. At EU level too. When it comes to lowering CO2 emissions, we will work for a tougher joint European target.

I can’t end this policy rundown without mentioning the single market, our biggest economic asset. Rounding off current action plans will be an important task for the upcoming Bulgarian and Austrian Presidencies. At the same time, we must consider how we can develop a new strategy for 2019 onwards, so that we can offer European companies and consumers more opportunities in future growth markets.
Especially in the digital economy.

Finally, I am of course pleased with the first breakthrough in the Brexit negotiations. But we are only at the start of a long and complex process. It’s important that we reach good agreements with the UK. Both in terms of exit conditions and our future relationship. That’s why the EU27 must continue to form a united front in subsequent negotiations. Unity among member states is our absolute priority.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The challenges are big. But so too are the opportunities. If the EU forges ahead on its current path, I believe the European project can be even more successful. Under-promising and over-delivering are an important part of this. For the next six months it’s Bulgaria’s turn to lead the way. I have every confidence in Bulgaria’s Presidency and I look forward to working together.

Thank you.