The Netherlands’ network of missions to be made flexible, economical and task-driven

The Netherlands depends on other countries for its security and prosperity. The world is changing though, while at the same time sizeable spending cuts have to be made. The Netherlands is closing five of its consulates-general and downsizing its large embassies, as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague. More economical housing will be sought for embassies and consulates, and where possible, the Netherlands will share embassy buildings with other countries. These are the most important measures to be taken by the government, as outlined in the policy letter ‘Working together for the Netherlands, worldwide’, which was conceived to ensure maximum flexibility in representing the Netherlands’ interests around the world.

Foreign minister Frans Timmermans feels strongly about the benefits of a strong network of missions: ‘The Netherlands relies on other countries. That’s why the government wants to maintain a global presence in the form of a flexible network of missions. At the same time we need to make significant cuts. The government has made choices and closely considered where we can provide added value. This is why we are reducing our presence in Europe – the Netherlands’ backyard – while increasing it in emerging markets, where governments still play a significant role and our diplomatic access provides added value.’

Security and prosperity

Foreign policy focuses on promoting the international rule of law and human rights. A safer world is a more prosperous world. The Netherlands depends on the rest of the world for its prosperity: one-third of its national income is earned abroad, while one-sixth of its jobs are generated by foreign investment. To protect these interests, Mr Timmermans is keen to maintain a broad presence in the world without closing any more embassies. Economic diplomacy will play an increasingly important role in the future. Within the network of missions, more capacity will be devoted to emerging markets, where the state has a dominant position and diplomats’ official access is of crucial importance. In addition, the Netherlands will experiment with a more flexible deployment of diplomats within certain regions, so as to be able to respond to changing circumstances. Investments will also be made in collaborative digital workspaces.

Slimming down

The consulates-general in Antwerp, Chicago, Milan, Munich and Osaka will be closed. Where necessary, the work done at those locations to promote Dutch economic interests will be transferred to the responsible embassy or a Netherlands Business Support Office (NSBO). There will also be staff cutbacks at large embassies around the world.

Under the new agenda for aid and trade, the number of activities in partner countries will be reduced. Aid will be phased out in Bangladesh, Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Mozambique and Uganda, which will affect the size of the embassies there. The Netherlands will maintain a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan and Yemen, but its precise nature will be subject to review, due to the relatively high costs associated with the security situation in those countries.

Economising and co-location

In the years ahead a housing review will be conducted for all embassies and residences, and a number of buildings will be sold. A percentage of these proceeds will be used to invest in less costly premises. In ten cases, the Netherlands will share an embassy building (and the associated costs) with other countries.

Consular assistance

Consular assistance is being modernised. Passport and visa processes are being digitised, and a single telephone number is being introduced for Dutch nationals in need of assistance, at any time of the day or night, anywhere in the world. In the future, the focus of consular assistance will be on genuine emergencies, and charges for consular services will reflect real costs.

Spending cuts

These combined measures represent a spending reduction of €100 million at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A large part of this will be borne by the network of missions. As a result, not every mission will be able to perform every service. The cutbacks translate to a 25% reduction in the total cost of the apparatus (i.e. headquarters and mission network) compared to 2011.

Since then, six missions have closed: the embassies in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ecuador, Eritrea and Uruguay, and the embassy office in Almaty. Missions in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Zambia will be closing shortly. During that same period an embassy was opened in Panama and a consulate-general in Chongqing, China. Due to the rapidly changing political and economic situation in Burma, a flexible one-person mission will be set up in the capital city Yangon.