Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the Interparliamentary Conference on the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defence Policy (CFSP/CSDP)
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen
It is an honour to be invited to speak to you at this interparliamentary conference on the security challenges Europe is currently facing.
Unfortunately, the organisers of this conference seem to have a great sense of timing: Europe is confronted with a multitude of security-related issues, on a scale we haven’t seen since the end of the Cold War.
First and foremost, there is the terrorist threat, which again raised its ugly head in Brussels only two weeks ago, striking at Europe’s very heart.
Then there is the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The protracted crisis in Syria, with all its humanitarian consequences.
The highly unstable situation in Libya.
The mass migration flows that have been caused by these crises and are putting a strain on our societies.
The threats to our cyber and nuclear security.
And so on.
It’s not a list that makes one sleep well at night.
My colleagues Bert Koenders and Jeanine Hennis tell me you had a very lively debate yesterday.
I won’t cover the same ground here.
Instead, let me begin by saying a few words on the follow-up to the Dutch referendum on the association agreement with Ukraine, held two days ago.
I must be honest: I had hoped for a more positive outcome, but we must face the result in all openness, and ratification cannot simply proceed regardless.
All I can say at present is that the Dutch government will deliberate on the outcome and enter into a discussion with our parliament.
We will also consult with our European partners and Ukraine.
This process will take time.
We need to find a solution that is acceptable to all parties.
In the meantime we will continue the work on the agenda we have set for our Presidency.
We’re now at the half-way point.
And let me assure you we have plenty of energy left for the next three months.
Allow me to provide a brief ‘mid-term review’ by discussing three priorities with you today.
Firstly, the most pressing issue – clearly – is bringing the migration flows under control.
I’d estimate that, for me personally, this has taken up more than three-quarters of my time in recent months.
The same goes for my colleagues in other capitals, I’m sure.
But I’m cautiously optimistic that we are seeing the emergence of a joint European approach that will allow us to regain control of our borders.
The implementation of the deal we struck with Turkey remains key.
This week was crucial, as it marked the first readmissions from Greece to Turkey and the first resettlements from Turkey to Germany, Finland and the Netherlands.
There’s still work to be done: we need to help Greece in streamlining its asylum processes and providing temporary reception on the islands that meets humanitarian standards.
We need to work with Turkey to improve the living conditions of all refugees.
And we need to ensure that all member states participate very soon in the EU’s resettlement efforts.
I call on all of you to rally support in your parliaments back home.
We also need to assist countries in the region, like Jordan and Lebanon, in coping with the pressure on their societies and providing adequate humanitarian relief to refugees.
We need to strengthen our external borders.
And we need to carry on working towards equitable burden-sharing within Europe, through relocation and continuing talks on the future of our asylum policy.
Secondly, it’s important that we keep focusing on growth and jobs through innovation.
We are seeing a gradual return of economic growth in Europe.
But this growth is uneven and too many people, especially young people, are still unemployed.
So I want to dedicate the second half of our Presidency largely to our economic future: the deepening of the single market.
The European Parliament has calculated that we could add 1.25 trillion euros to the European economy by creating a fully functioning single market.
That’s twice the size of the Dutch economy, added to European prosperity on an annual basis.
It would mean millions of decent, future-oriented jobs in sectors like digital transformation, smart industry and services.
We need to agree on a joint agenda to make this a reality.
Here again, I urge you to support this goal when you return to your national parliaments.
Our third and perhaps our most important objective in the context of today’s meeting is to connect with civil society.
As parliamentarians this is your core business.
To make this happen, we need national parliaments to be more involved in European decision-making.
Directly, by enhancing the use of yellow and orange cards, and by exploiting the full potential of your structured dialogue with the European Commission.
And indirectly, by involving national parliaments more in determining a member state’s position at national level.
In the Netherlands at least, parliament is certainly up to this task.
I see that for myself in the run-up to every European Council.
To summarise, the Dutch Presidency is calling for your help.
First, I invite you to work at home to bolster support for a joint European solution to the pressing issue of migration.
Second, I invite you to join in unleashing the full potential of our single market, generating much-needed jobs and economic growth for our citizens.
And third, I invite you to continue having discussions as useful as today’s.
Because building strong alliances between national parliaments is essential for a legitimate and well-functioning European Union.