Speech by Minister Dijsselbloem to mark Liberation Day

Speech by the Minister of Finance, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, to mark Liberation Day, 5 May 2015.

Your Royal Highness, Your Excellencies, honourable guests,

My father was 15 at the time of the Liberation. Soon after, he left his home town of Helmond on his bicycle. He cycled through Flanders, crossed the Channel and continued his journey in Britain. In the final year of the war he had got to know some of the British soldiers who liberated the south of our country and were temporarily based in Helmond. He even exchanged addresses with some of them. They were not much older than him, but had left hearth and home to help free Europe from the Nazi dictatorship. Just like the men of the I Canadian Corps, under the command of General Charles Foulkes.

My father’s bicycle trip raised a lot of eyebrows. Arriving in Dover, he cycled through London and westward to the New Forest, before returning to London and heading for northern England. There he visited a soldier named Stan in Ellesmere Port. I don’t know his exact route, but he was given a bed for the night wherever he went. In farmhouses and manor houses, with postmasters and schoolmasters. They all invited this Dutch stranger into their homes. And he made many friends for life. Peace had just arrived, and there was a great sense of optimism and trust. The trust that existed in the post-war reconstruction years was very special.

Peace requires trust. Even when you’re still far apart. Peace requires a willingness to move closer to others. Even if your minds never quite meet. Peace requires a willingness to compromise. Even if you never reach complete agreement. Peace requires us to recognise that there are sometimes several realities. And that everyone is entitled to cherish their own truth. Peace requires a willingness to come together, even if you can’t quite join hands.

Trust is also vital in my job – politics. A fundamental rule of Dutch parliamentary democracy is that ministers must enjoy the confidence of a majority of MPs. Such confidence is deemed to exist until parliament indicates otherwise. This rule bolsters consensus-based politics. There is a tradition of cooperation between government and parliament, sometimes involving unusual coalitions. Assuming that confidence exists until proven otherwise is a solid foundation on which to build.

In the European Union, too, trust is essential. When European cooperation began after the capitulation, there was every reason for mistrust. A series of conflicts culminating in two world wars had left Europe seriously damaged. But the post-war generation recognised that this was precisely why mistrust had to be overcome.

The European Union is an unusual partnership that brings together people with very different motives. Be it pure idealism, commercial considerations, or the reluctant recognition that they happen to be situated in Europe. But no one denies the history behind the EU’s origins, or the need to work together. History compelled us to overcome mistrust. Peace requires trust. Trust creates freedom. What happens in a society dominated by mistrust? Suspicion and fear thrive. These are the enemies of the peace and freedom in which we live.

Mistrust creates deep divisions and can lead to conflict. Mistrust, hatred and conflict go hand in hand. Mistrust, hatred and violence between population groups and between countries. A scenario reflected in Europe’s long history of conflicts, pogroms and genocide. It has never been far away. And it is not far away even today.

Many of today’s conflicts are civil wars. They are also a source of international conflict. Just look at Syria, Yemen and Ukraine. Increasingly, we find that we are involved in one way or another. Due to the media, travel opportunities and even international payment transactions – in short, due to globalisation. And that’s why these conflicts are also insinuating themselves into our own society. Sowing suspicion and fear. If we allow this to happen, it could put our freedom in jeopardy.

We need to draw self-confidence from our resilience. We will not allow the freedoms we have won to be taken from us. The Netherlands and the Western world in general have developed a culture of freedom that we should be proud of. And which is worth defending.

Our liberators from Canada, the United Kingdom and all the other Allied countries realised this. Every year we are moved as a nation by their participation in the march past in Wageningen.

We still owe them a debt of gratitude. It’s on the shoulders of these giants that we have further shaped our societies. We bound our fates together by forming a military alliance and participating in the international and European community. We must continue to cherish the security and freedom that such common ventures and mutual trust have brought us. Our country must preserve its openness and international outlook, even when new threats emerge. Just as, in our darkest hour, we were able to count on unconditional support from our international friends, so we in turn must now demonstrate our own commitment in the face of the tragic events unfolding in the Mediterranean Sea and in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake.

Let me conclude with this. My father remained loyal to his friends, our liberators and their families, throughout his life. He traded his bike for a Vespa and later a Peugeot towing a caravan. My father and the generations that followed grew up in peace and prosperity. In the Netherlands, this era of peace began 70 years ago today. Peace creates trust and requires trust. And only a society built on trust knows genuine freedom. Today we are celebrating 70 years of freedom and 70 years of peace in our country and our part of Europe.

This is not something we can take for granted. Indeed, it’s far from commonplace.

So let’s celebrate. In the knowledge that peace brought us freedom. And that we have a duty to use our freedom to promote peace.

Thank you.