Speech Minister Bruins Slot at the Benelux Youth Parliament

Speech by Hanke Bruins Slot, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, at the Benelux Youth Parliament, 28 September 2023

It is wonderful to see so many young people who are interested in democracy, diplomacy, and – of course – the Benelux

Your involvement matters. Because, as one participant of a previous session in 2021 formulated it – and I quote:

“Young people have the power to imagine the future, because they are the future.”  

So I am really glad that you are here, to show that involvement. Because democracy is not self-evident. If we don’t take care of it, it will fall into disrepair, and might even disappear.

So contributions by new generations – like yourselves – are crucial. Because it is a privilege to live in a democracy. To be free to say what you want, and to live your life as you choose.

So we must cherish, protect, and, maintain our democracy. This is true for institutions like the Benelux Parliament, as much as it’s true for people. We, diplomats, politicians, and policy makers need new ideas and energy too. Youth involvement is tremendously important for this.

You are the voice of the future, and you help us build bridges to that future. This is necessary in national, as well as European politics. And especially for the Benelux.

For as long as this project has existed, we have always looked towards the future. It was here, after the Second World War, that our three countries experimented with intensive, international co-operation.

Because of this, the Benelux is often called ‘the laboratory of the European Union’. What we try here, is later adopted across Europe. It was here that a customs union, free trade across borders, and the free movement of people, were tried for the first time.

Today, we work together on a great number of issues, like sustainable energy, education, and fighting crime. We are a unique bloc within the European Union: three small democracies, with a strong, shared belief in co-operation and the rule of law.

This has made us into a strong brand within the EU. We have an excellent track record on the rule of law, and we intervene together on many issues, like the European institutions. If the Benelux agrees on something, this is an indication of where the whole EU might be headed. Together we have a role to play in helping the EU move forward: by experimenting with new ideas for integration, and by jointly standing up for our values, and our interests.

For decades, the Benelux has shown Europe the way forward. And now we must look towards the future. So it’s a pleasure to – literally – look at that future.

Because you, as a youth parliament, show that the Benelux also appeals to the next generation. You have taken time out of your schedules to discuss issues like e-health, and the participation of handicapped people in society. And you will advise the Benelux parliament about these issues.

It is wonderful that you’re willing to do this. Because democracy is about showing up, and making your voice heard. Today, you have done both.

Benelux Secretary-General Frans Weekers has described the Benelux as the EU’s best kept secret. I admire how you have discovered that secret so early in life. And how you are making the Benelux even more relevant. And perhaps that’s the best kept secret of the Benelux: you. Young people with new, fresh ideas on the future.

With you, the Benelux definitely has a bright  future ahead of it. What that future will look like, is largely up to your generation. So if I could ask you one thing, it would be this: stay involved. Keep making your voice heard, join a political party, or find another way to help shape the future of our countries.

Because the Benelux, like our national systems, ultimately is a democratic project. And democracies are fragile. They exist because we keep renewing them; because people continue to get involved. That’s why I really appreciate your presence here today.

I hope that this early experience with policy and politics has inspired you, and that we can count on you to help shape the future of our countries.

Thank you.