Benelux Prime Ministers’ Summit Joint Declaration Rotterdam, 29 November 2023
We, the Prime Ministers of the Benelux countries, have gathered here today to reiterate our commitment to deepening Benelux cooperation and further European integration. Just as at our beginnings, there could not be a better time for such a commitment. Seventy-nine years ago, while Europe was plagued and divided by war, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg proved themselves pioneers by entering into an agreement on a customs union. Ever since, Benelux cooperation has been a functioning model for regional cooperation and a frontrunner of European integration. At a time where the devastation of war has returned to our continent, the Benelux countries stand and remain united to defend and promote European unity, solidarity and security while reaffirming our commitment to the core European values of democracy, human rights, and the Rule of Law.
The Benelux countries remain united in their strong condemnation of Russia’s illegal and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine. This aggression threatens Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty, and mutilates its territorial integrity, and has major implications for peace and stability not only in Europe, but around the entire world. We reaffirm our full support for Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s aggression for as long as it takes, and the need to pursue accountability for all international crimes and other violations of international law, committed in or against Ukraine. We welcome the continued work on a possible tribunal to investigate and prosecute the crime of aggression committed by the political and military leadership of the Russian Federation and the establishment of the Register of Damage for Ukraine in the Hague. The Benelux countries all adhered to the Joint Declaration of the G7 and are working to shape their security arrangements with Ukraine as a sign of their steadfast commitment. We will continue to provide political, military, humanitarian, and financial assistance to Ukraine for as long as it takes. We support Ukraine’s path to EU accession and acknowledge its commitment and substantial efforts to meet the required conditions. We encourage Ukraine to continue on its path of reforms.
Situation in Israel and Gaza
The Benelux countries condemn in the strongest possible terms Hamas and its brutal terrorist attacks across Israel. There is no justification for terror. We strongly emphasise Israel’s right to defend itself in line with international law and international humanitarian law in the face of such violent and indiscriminate attacks. We reiterate the importance of ensuring the protection of all civilians at all times in line with international humanitarian law. While welcoming the interim agreement allowing the release of Israeli hostages, we call on Hamas to immediately release all hostages without any precondition. We reiterate the urgent need for continued and meaningful pauses in hostilities and the establishment of humanitarian corridors to allow for the provision of urgent humanitarian aid, and we stand ready to continue supporting those civilians most in need in Gaza in coordination with partners, ensuring that such assistance is not abused by terrorist organizations. We recall the need to prevent regional escalation. Also we reaffirm our commitment to contributing to reviving a political process on the basis of the two-state solution.
We recognise that EU member states, the Benelux included, find themselves confronted with difficulties in managing the current number of people seeking asylum. Providing shelter to people who flee war or persecution is a shared key value. To uphold this value, containing irregular secondary movements and ensuring the effective return of people without a right to stay is of the utmost importance. We emphasise our commitment to the existing cooperation mechanisms on readmission and return agreements between EU member states. We also underline the need to establish and strenghten equal and durable partnerships of the EU with third countries, in line with international human rights. We underline the importance of swift progress on the Asylum and Migration Pact,
as well as on the Schengen Borders Code, with a view to countering secondary migration and to ensuring that reintroducing of internal border controls remains a measure of last resort, and we stress the necessity of a thorough implementation plan, prioritising screening and asylum border procedures and a solidarity mechanism.
While NATO remains the cornerstone of our collective defence, we are convinced that a strong and united European Union is crucial to the continent’s ability to safeguard its security and prosperity. The European Union has to project its values throughout this changing world. The Benelux countries firmly support those values, and have been collaborating on defence topics within the Benelux Steering Group since 2012. In order to foster joint support for Ukraine, the three Ministers of Defence signed the Benelux defence support program to Ukraine into effect in October of this year.
EU Enlargement and the future of the European Union
The Benelux countries support the EU perspective of candidate countries in a merit based enlargement process. We recognise the strategic relevance of future enlargement in the context of important changes in the geopolitical environment, and we reiterate our support for EU enlargement as a catalyst for positive change. If well managed, enlargement can contribute to peace, security, the rule of law and prosperity on the European continent. In order to make enlargement a success, all candidate countries need to fulfil the accession criteria (Copenhagen criteria), and strengthen the rule of law as a core precondition for membership. The Benelux countries underline their readiness to contribute positively to this process. The stability and resilience of candidate- and potential candidate countries should remain a high priority for the EU. In parallel, it is crucial that the EU will be ready to absorb new members and maintains its capacity to act to pursue its ambitions. We must to this end set up a process to structure preparations and start a dialogue on internal reforms in a way that guarantees member state ownership. We should evaluate whether our toolbox to safeguard EU values, our policies and budget are fit for purpose, also in an enlarged EU, to then assess what reforms are needed. In a changing global context, the EU must remain a strong actor, with well-functioning institutions and rule of law, that can take effective and legitimate decisions so as to match its ambitions for the benefit of its citizens.
Rule of law
The Benelux countries remain at the forefront of preserving the rule of law and fundamental rights in the EU. We fully support the European Commission in the important role it plays as guardian of the Treaties and administrator of the Union budget, and call on it to continue to act proactively and decisively in case of breaches of the principles of the rule of law. All existing instruments to prevent, identify and address breaches of the principles of the rule of law need to be used to their fullest potential. EU membership comes with an obligation to respect the European values as enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union. In order to avoid member state backtracking, we underline that we need to strengthen the EU’s rule of law toolbox including the conditionality regulation and to place the rule of law front and centre in the debate about how to prepare our Union for future enlargement.
The EU-Single market and competitiveness
2023 marks the 30th anniversary of the EU-Single Market. The Benelux countries mark this occasion with a renewed commitment to this cornerstone of European integration, solidarity, and competitiveness, which has created growth, jobs, and opportunities for European citizens and businesses. To further strengthen the European single market and make sure that everyone benefits, the Benelux countries are committed to a clear and consistent EU legal framework, based on harmonisation and mutual recognition, that facilitates cross-border trade. Furthermore, they work together closely through regular exchange and coordination, for example by collectively providing impulses to the ongoing European legislative processes, especially with regard to the next Commission’s mandate. The Benelux countries also aim to ensure the EU’s long-term competitiveness, while preserving an open economy and level playing field, taking the Single Market as the base camp that allows EU business to scale up. This includes pursuing an open strategic industrial policy to strengthen our position at the international, national, regional, and EU-level where needed, and ambitious initiatives to remove unnecessary and disproportionate barriers and diminish the remaining legal fragmentation in the Single Market. A fully integrated Single Market will also contribute to cross-border dissemination of the goods and services needed to succeed with the green and digital transitions.
The Benelux countries are committed to play a pioneering role within the EU for the transition to sustainable energy and to build and rely on public-private cooperation in this field. We are committed to putting all our efforts into the transition to a carbon-neutral, renewables-based and highly efficient energy system, and we are committed to a circular Benelux economy by 2050. The Benelux countries especially recognise the potential of wind energy and green hydrogen production as well as imports of such hydrogen in the North Sea area, and have created a more united regional policy front with the Pentalateral Energy Forum and the North Seas Energy Cooperation. The 2023 Benelux hydrogen study maps future hydrogen demand for the decarbonisation of industries and transport, analyses hydrogen supply through own production and imports, and maps out ways to put the Benelux in the forefront of an interconnected green hydrogen market. These steps highlight our ambition to make the countries of the Benelux a regional hub for renewable energy.
Climate and COP28
We are committed to achieving climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest and to supporting ambitious EU legislation to achieve this goal at the EU level. We will be present at COP28 in Dubai with a shared Benelux-European Investment Bank pavilion where we emphasise the importance of increased climate action and ambition with solid results on mitigation, adaption, loss and damage, and finance. The Benelux underlines that the shift towards a climate neutral economy in line with the 1.5ºC goal will require the global phase-out of unabated fossil fuels.
The floods in 2021 (and in recent weeks) in the larger Benelux region, remind us that our countries are not spared by the impact of climate change. The Benelux Water Day on enhanced cooperation in regional flood risk and drought management, which takes place today in Maastricht, is a first step to work towards a joint Benelux agenda and a coordinated effort in 2024 to improve our preparedness for extreme weather events.
Justice and security
The Benelux is facing an increase in organised and undermining crime. Through our long tradition of constructive cooperation in the field of security, we are committed to an integrated approach to tackling organised crime. In that light we applaud the entry into force of the Benelux Police Treaty on 1 October 2023, which introduces a level of cooperation unique in the world. The treaty has further intensified and simplified cross-border police cooperation, offering new possibilities for cross-border action, and improving the exchange of information. The treaty places the Benelux countries at the forefront of police cooperation in Europe and the world.
Cross-border cooperation and Benelux Union
The EU’s internal border regions continue to suffer from legal and administrative obstacles that hamper cross-border cooperation. In September 2023, the EU Parliament adopted resolution BRIDGEU requesting the Commission to propose, among other things, the establishment of cross-border contact points to prioritise, analyse and propose possible solutions. As pioneers, the Benelux countries are in the forefront of this development. In 2024 the Netherlands-Flanders cross-border contact point will become operational and close cooperation is sought with the Benelux Union to benefit from its arsenal of legal instruments that is uniquely tailored for solving cross-border issues. In the same spirit, the Benelux countries reiterate their commitment to continuing to develop and to invest in their cooperation with all regions bordering the Benelux. The Benelux countries’ and North Rhine-Westphalia’s full support for the Meuse-Rhine
Euregion’s candidacy to host the Einstein Telescope is an integral part of this commitment.
Regional outreach and cooperation
In 2023, the Dutch Benelux presidency worked towards a coordinated and focussed Benelux political dialogue and cooperation with other regions. In that spirit, a Benelux prime-ministerial visit took place in the Balkans in July, and our Ministers of Foreign Affairs visited Ghana and Kenya in June, with follow-up political and security consultations with Kenya in September. In addition, the Benelux special envoys to the Sahel visited Mali and Chad in January, and the political directors of our Ministries of Foreign Affairs visited Ethiopia together in March. With regard to the changed context in Niger, we will continue to focus jointly on our shared interests and on ways to contribute to stability in 2024. In November the foreign ministers of the Benelux and the Nordic Council met to discuss strategic coordination on security, energy and the war in Ukraine. The Benelux countries underscore their commitment to continuing this coordinated outreach in 2024.
We, the Prime Ministers of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg are confident that our Benelux Union will continue to play its role at the vanguard of regional and cross-border cooperation, in particular by strengthening the internal market, promoting sustainable development, including energy transition, and enhancing justice and security.