Speech by Wopke Hoekstra at the North Sea Neighbours Conference
Speech by Wopke Hoekstra, Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the North Sea Neighbours Conference in London, 16 November 2022. The spoken word applies.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It’s truly a pleasure to be here.
Thank you, James, for hosting us all at this conference.
Let me begin by saying that as North Sea Neighbours we’ve had our ups and downs.
In fact, we hold the record for the longest war in history.
In 1651, during the English Civil War, the Dutch declared war on the Isles of Scilly, where the English royalist fleet was stationed at the time.
A short time later, English parliamentary forces took control of the islands, and we forgot all about the declaration of war.
Until a historian in the 1980s discovered that there had never actually been a peace agreement.
He informed the Dutch ambassador, who formally ended the conflict in 1986, after 335 years of official, but fortunately bloodless warfare.
As he joked at the time, it must have been terrifying for the islanders ‘to know we could have attacked at any moment’.
Fortunately, we’ve put all that behind us, and our relationship is in a much better place today.
To me, it says something about the similarity of our characters: we cultivate our historical traditions, but we’re inherently forward-looking nations.
In this way, our two countries have built a strong, enduring relationship: as friends, allies and reliable trading partners.
As friends do, we visit and stay with each other frequently. Nearly 50,000 British nationals are living in the Netherlands, and three times as many Dutch people are living here in the UK.
As partners on the global stage, we can count on each other. Not just when things are going smoothly, but also in times of trouble.
The world is rapidly becoming a more volatile and aggressive place.
We need to come up with answers on how to face this new world, and how we can best collaborate to improve our safety and prosperity.
The war in Ukraine is one of the turning points in our recent history.
The battles being fought in the fields and cities of that country make it painfully clear that the world of multilateralism, international law, and peaceful cooperation is not a given.
It must be defended.
Both our countries are steadfast supporters of Ukraine.
We stand with the Ukrainian people in their struggle against oppression and injustice.
We jointly train soldiers, we send military equipment, and we present a common diplomatic front.
Our geopolitical like-mindedness is just as evident as ever.
It’s also just as necessary.
Countries like Russia and China are trying to rewrite the rules of the game and gain the upper hand.
They have a fundamentally different worldview than ours – one that doesn’t include democracy or the rule of law.
We must be realistic on this front: we can’t take it for granted that our social and political models will appeal to every country in the world.
This has been very much in evidence during votes at the UN, where a not insignificant number of states have abstained from condemning the Russian invasion.
This might seem like an abstract reflection on international politics.
But it has real-life consequences for individuals and companies.
Global trade will always be important to our prosperity, but our dependence on foreign energy and strategic resources also makes us vulnerable.
This is why we must work together to jointly reduce these vulnerabilities.
Through bilateral security cooperation, within NATO, and by stepping up diplomatic relations with geopolitically important countries.
We’re both mercantile nations, with a long tradition of tolerance and trade.
Few countries benefit as much from stability, reliable international agreements, and respect for international law as we do.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The current geopolitical tensions present us with tough challenges, but I’m confident that together we will be able to face them.
As we have done so many times before, helped by the similarity of our characters and by our shared principles.
Good friends speak their minds to one another – especially when they see things differently.
I recognise there are differences over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol – and I hope the ongoing talks between the Commission and the British government will be concluded quickly and satisfactorily, with solutions that both parties can get behind.
This could help to unlock the true potential of Britain’s relations with the EU.
After all, we need to work together to face the challenges of the future, and focus on our shared interests.
We both stand to benefit from a more resilient Europe, which takes more responsibility for its economic security and defence.
In that regard, the Netherlands would welcome close cooperation between the EU and the UK on security issues.
We also welcome the fact that the UK has joined the PESCO project on military mobility.
Finally, we need a Europe that leads the world in addressing climate change.
Today’s conference helps us take important bilateral steps in that direction.
And although the climate is getting warmer, we could still face some difficult winters.
To address this issue, we should intensify our cooperation on renewable energy such as offshore wind power and hydrogen.
The same winds that once propelled sailing ships across the Channel will now power a more independent energy future.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I’d like to close by highlighting a passion that we share: football.
The Lionesses’ coach Sarina Wiegman, who happens to be Dutch, once shared the secret of their success:
‘It’s now.... It’s now.... We are in the now! It’s the only thing we talk about.’
As usual, what’s true in football is true in life.
The same goes for diplomacy.
Today, let’s talk about now.
How we can improve our cooperation.
How we can solve our challenges.
And how we can work to achieve joint success.
Everything we accomplish in the now will make us both stronger as we move towards the future.