Speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs Hanke Bruins Slot at the EU Heads of Mission (HoMs) lunch, 26 October 2023

Speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs Hanke Bruins Slot at the EU Heads of Mission (HoMs) lunch, 26 October 2023.

The spoken word applies.

Your Excellencies,

Madam Ambassador,

This is my first lunch with you and I’m delighted to take part in this valuable and long-standing tradition.

My predecessor, Wopke Hoekstra, spoke fondly of this special moment as a time to engage in an open and candid conversation.

As you know, Wopke Hoekstra has moved on to serve as a European Commissioner for one of the most significant challenges we face: climate change.

Over the past few years, as Minister of the Interior, I focused on something I believe is fundamental when it comes to tackling major challenges such as these: strengthening democracy and the rule of law.

And this objective also resonates with me when it comes to Europe.

By prioritising and protecting this founding principle of the EU over the past decades, we have been able to move forward and stick together at the same time.

Because democracy and the rule of law are core values of the EU.

They bind us as a union and make our union strong.

Today I’d like to take a moment to talk about the strength of our union.

You might not know that I also have a military background.

And one of the first things I learned at the Royal Military Academy is a lesson that also applies to Europe:

‘One soldier is no soldier.’ 

In other words: you need each other to achieve a goal.

The same holds true for the EU.

Together, we stand stronger.

And Consuelo, in that respect, the fourth priority you outlined – European unity to face our common challenges – strikes a chord with me.

That unity is clearly essential today.

Let me start with Israel and Gaza, where events are developing rapidly, and there are innocent victims on both the Israeli and the Palestinian side.

These developments are extremely concerning and demand a concerted diplomatic response.

Innocent civilians must be protected.

Humanitarian workers must be able to do their job safely and unhindered.

And regional escalation must be prevented.

The EU can play a significant role here.

After all, the EU is an important partner of Israel and the Palestinian Territories. 

A united response is vital. We can make a real impact if we join in conveying a clear message and organise coordinated outreach.

Indeed, as in all our endeavours, the EU’s message is strongest and clearest when we act together and speak with one voice.

Just as we did last week, when we were united in condemnation of Hamas for its indiscriminate, horrendous attacks on Israel and in support for Israel’s right to defend itself in compliance with international humanitarian law.

We must also act together, when it comes to ensuring secure passage for EU citizens to leave Gaza safely.

The suffering and loss of life in Gaza is truly immense.

We must call for restraint on the part of Israel in the use of force. And we must call for humanitarian pauses, so aid can get through. 

Even though any peace negotiations are a long way off, the two-state solution is the only realistic path to peace and security for the Israelis and Palestinians.

This is thus what I also stressed earlier this week in New York.

None of us knows exactly how this tragedy will unfold. But whatever happens, we must continue to demand respect for international humanitarian law.

Your Excellencies, the unrest in the Middle East requires our active attention and commitment, and engagement with our partners.

At the same time, we cannot afford to lose our focus on the war that’s raging on our continent.

In this regard, our unity is equally crucial. 

Russia’s war against Ukraine has been raging for more than 600 days.

In that time, we, as a union, have done our utmost to meet the challenge: to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s aggression, and to vastly improve our own security.

In less than two years, our diplomatic and military policies and capabilities have changed more than we would have thought possible over the last three decades.

And because the geopolitical landscape remains unpredictable, it’s likely that these policies will continue to evolve and expand.

We must support Ukraine for as long as it takes.

With economic assistance, financial support, and humanitarian and military aid.

That’s why the Netherlands has given almost two billion euros in military aid to Ukraine.

That’s why the Netherlands has joined the G7 joint declaration on security arrangements for Ukraine, and urges others to do the same.

That’s why we’ve also committed to delivering F16 fighter jets.

And that’s why we’ve put together our third support package for Ukraine this year, worth more than 102 million euros.

Recovery and reconstruction are crucial to Ukraine’s ability to withstand Russia’s armed aggression.

Russia must be held accountable for its crime of aggression.

The Netherlands has taken a leading role regarding the restoration of justice.

And we’re proud that the Register of Damage and the International Centre for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression in Ukraine are located here in The Hague, the city of justice and peace.

It’s only Ukraine can decide on the terms for peace talks.

The Netherlands supports President Zelenskyy’s Peace Formula and hopes many countries will join in so that a sustainable and just peace can be achieved.

The National Security Advisers’ meeting in Jeddah was an important step in that regard.

Representatives of more than 40 countries discussed how to establish a just and sustainable peace for Ukraine.

Your Excellencies, there are so many challenges that require our unity.

And at the same time, these very challenges also test our unity.

Meanwhile, we have another important question to answer: that of enlargement and its impact on our union.

Just as one soldier doesn’t make an army, a single member state doesn’t make a powerful collective. We must decide how our union can remain powerful… and how it can continue to take effective and legitimate decisions, as our collective grows. 

This is an important question.

The starting point is that enlargement should not weaken the EU and its capacity to act.

But this demands something not only from aspiring member states but also from us.

We too must do our homework.

Because enlargement can only be a success if we make it a success.

So with this in mind, how should we prepare?

As to the process, we should be careful to avoid excessive haste.

We must take time to prepare the EU for new members.

And we must take time to understand the possible effects of enlargement.

There is nothing to be gained by committing ourselves now to a deadline.

As for the homework we need to do, we believe the EU needs to focus on at least six interconnected aspects that I’d like to highlight briefly now.

First, for enlargement to be a success, there is work to be done in the field of rule of law, democracy and human rights.

Enlargement can be a catalyst for reforms in candidate member states.

But we need to make absolutely sure that the accession criteria are met.

Because European cooperation relies on mutual trust that rights and values will be upheld.

Second, in our preparations, we must also focus on geopolitics and security.

If managed well, EU enlargement can strengthen European peace, security and stability.

But we must also discuss the relationship between NATO and EU membership and the associated security implications.

The enlargement process should foster stability in new member states.

Third, our finances are an equally important focal point.

The EU’s financial resources can boost prosperity in new member states, but only if EU policies on cohesion and agriculture function properly.

The fourth point on our to-do list involves our internal market,  which of course will expand when our union grows.

This can strengthen our economic position in the world.

But we need to protect the single market’s integrity to avoid problems with the free movement of goods, capital, services and people.

Migration is the fifth focal point of our preparations.

It’s important that enlargement does not undermine our already fragile cooperation.

So candidates must fully comply with and put into practice the acquis on asylum and migration before joining.

And lastly, we need to focus on the EU’s institutional architecture.

Or more specifically, we must determine which institutional reforms are necessary to enable the EU to continue to make efficient and legitimate decisions.

From a broader perspective, we acknowledge the geostrategic relevance of future enlargement.

If well managed, enlargement can contribute to peace and security and foster the values that define us.

This, in a nutshell, is the Dutch view on the preparations necessary to make EU enlargement a success.

Your Excellencies, while the challenges ahead are daunting, they also give us the opportunity to progress on the path to a stronger, more united Europe, capable of making a lasting impact on the world.

Consuelo, the Spanish Presidency is making an excellent contribution towards this goal.

With so much to do, and even more to think about, I won’t take up any more of your time.

But if you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them.

Thank you.