Budget day 2019: international developments require robust foreign policy

Shifts in the balance of geopolitical and economic power are leading to greater uncertainty and unpredictability in the world around us. There is still no clarity on Brexit yet and China is becoming notably more assertive on the world stage. As are countries like Iran and Russia. In the coming financial year, the Netherlands will continue to implement robust foreign policy that will safeguard Dutch interests around the world. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2020 budget reflects this.

Image: Valerie Kuypers
The briefcase that contains the budget memorandum for 2020.

We will create opportunities for Dutch businesses internationally and stand ready to assist Dutch travellers. We will limit the risks that arise from international conflicts and developments. And we will work with the UN and NATO to increase global peace, security and stability. In addition, the Netherlands will strive to create a modern, efficient and sustainable European Union that respects the democratic rule of law and achieves tangible results.

The Netherlands in the European Union

Our country’s security and prosperity are closely linked to security and prosperity in Europe. We have an innovative and open economy, and a considerable number of jobs in the Netherlands are linked to trade in Europe. And to Europe’s trade with the rest of the world. That’s why the Netherlands wants the following five themes to be a central focus of the European Union’s work in the years ahead: migration; security; a strong and sustainable economy that offers protection; the climate; and promoting our values and interests abroad.

In order to finance this, negotiations have begun on the new common EU multiannual budget (the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework). The Netherlands is committed to a modern budget where the burden is shared fairly between member states, with more focus on ambition and less on tradition. We’re striving to complete the banking union, limiting the risks to the taxpayer as much as possible. At the same, Brexit is looming ever closer, showing that we should not take the EU for granted. In order to minimise Brexit’s impact, the Netherlands is pushing for the successful completion of the Brexit negotiations and for the UK’s orderly departure with a withdrawal agreement in place. ‘The European Union is not a given, that much is clear,’ said Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok. ‘It’s a project that requires committed and strong member states to uphold it.’

Global relations

Mr Blok is focusing on the countries and regions that are the most relevant for the Netherlands’ security, including in terms of migration. We will keep working to strengthen relations with the countries close to the EU and with member states in eastern Europe. Priorities are strengthening the rule of law, combating corruption and promoting economic growth.

‘Global power relations require us to invest more in our own security and that of our allies,’ he said. This is why the Netherlands is currently taking part in a number of international missions, such as NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan (until 2021), the NATO presence in Lithuania (until 2020), the NATO capacity-building mission in Iraq and the Anti-ISIS coalition.

Human rights are the cornerstone of human dignity and freedom, and form the basis for open and free societies all over the world. Promoting human rights is also in our own interests, because democracy and the rule of law are the best foundation for prosperity, stability, growth and development. The budget for the Human Rights Fund will see a structural increase of €9.6 million. An additional €10 million will be made available on an annual basis to strengthen the rule of law and peace processes by way of the Stability Fund.

Development cooperation challenges

For Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag, this budget is the next step in the implementation of her policy document ‘Investing in Global Prospects’. Her policy is focused on reducing instability, poverty and inequality in developing countries; promoting sustainable economic growth and effective climate action around the world; and strengthening the Netherlands’ international earning capacity.

The international challenges are significant in both scope and number. In many developing countries, there is a desperate lack of jobs and useful education for the growing numbers of young people. That is why, just like last year, an extra €60 million will be set aside annually for education. The position of women has barely improved, if at all, while in many countries the scope for civil society organisations to carry out their work is shrinking. More people are being forced to flee their homes or becoming displaced due to conflict and violence. In addition, the effects of climate change are becoming ever clearer, particularly in vulnerable developing countries. Next year, an additional €10 million will be made available for a climate fund.

International trade under pressure

Around the world, protectionism is increasing. The multilateral trade system is under significant pressure, particularly due to the trade tensions between China and the United States. The future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom is also the source of much uncertainty, as are emerging economies that are becoming formidable competitors and major technological players. ‘The Netherlands will continue working to create fair trade rules, a strong multilateral system and open markets,’ said Ms Kaag.

At the same time, there is a focus on new opportunities. Next year, Expo 2020 will take place in Dubai, for instance. Over a period of six months, the Netherlands will showcase what it has to offer in terms of smart, innovative solutions in the areas of water, food and energy. This will also help strengthen the Netherlands’ contacts with governments, businesses and researchers in the Gulf region, create more opportunities for Dutch businesses and boost cooperation on the SDGs and climate change.

Consular affairs

In order to make life easier for Dutch nationals abroad, 2020 will see as many digital government services as possible brought together in one place – Loket Buitenland. We will also be running a campaign, together with the Tax and Customs Administration, to inform Dutch nationals of the importance of preparing well for their trip. It will also be easier to apply for a visa; the application procedure will be made digital in 2020, in so far as the law allows.