Verhagen on globalisation and Dutch foreign policy

Speech by minister Verhagen (Foreign Affairs) at the Maastricht University.

‘Over the dikes and into the world: using a moral compass to plot a realistic course’

President Ritzen, ladies and gentlemen,


Thank you for the opportunity to present my vision for Dutch foreign policy this afternoon at the University of Maastricht. A native of South Limburg may be inclined to see The Hague as foreign territory. But even though I now work in the west of the country, Maastricht still seems close: as many of you know, I grew up just outside the town centre. So today is something of a homecoming for me. Particularly as my parents are sitting in the audience!

It has already been a full and productive day. This morning I was in the village of Mariahoop where I spoke to an asparagus farmer and his seasonal workers from Poland. This afternoon I visited the Avantis business park, a cross-border venture by the cities of Heerlen and Aachen involving such fields as new energy. Both visits have strengthened my conviction that the world is getting smaller all the time.

The world

The world has unquestionably profited from globalisation. Between 1995 and 2005, global GNP rose by 45%, from $37.5 trillion to $54.6 trillion.In that same period Dutch GNP rose by 25%, from 380 billion to 470 billion.1 All around the world, people are reaping the benefits, in the form of a higher standard of living, lower unemployment, increased access to information and greater mobility.

But a smaller world does not only mean sharing the benefits; it also means sharing the burdens. The threats of the 21st century affect every one of us. Modern terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, climate change or bird flu: today’s challenges do not respect national borders.

Cross-border problems like these compel us to rethink our future. How do we deal with rising sea level, on the one hand, and a mounting demand for energy, on the other? How can we effectively combat terrorists who disregard the time-honoured system of international law built up by nation-states? And how can we ensure that nuclear secrets are not traded freely on the internet? These are new questions that demand a new type of political leadership.

The Netherlands and the world: opportunities and challenges

Ladies and gentlemen,

Heineken beer is enjoyed in more than 170 countries. I bring up this statistic to illustrate something you already know: the Netherlands profits from globalisation. Our economy is largely dependent on foreign trade. We have the tenth largest GNP per capita, and our economy is ranked 16th in the world. Globalisation has unquestionably given a real boost to these figures, and everyone knows it.

At the same time the Dutch worry about their position in the world. We wonder how much control we have over our own lives. Our jobs, our security, our environment and our identity all seem to be under pressure from the outside world, from international trends that lie beyond our grasp. Are we ruled by fear?

You certainly get that impression from certain segments of the Dutch media. For example, according to a recent editorial in NRC Handelsblad by Bas Heijne, ‘the Dutch have become scared of the big, bad world, and they have resolutely slammed the door behind them.’2 Seen in that light, the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty was a manifestation of a more general sentiment.

And to a certain extent I can understand this sentiment. A smaller world means that some of our problems have become bigger. Certainties suddenly vanish, only to be replaced by question marks. The Dutch are not the only ones plagued by doubts. When President Bush was on an eight-day tour of Asia, comedian David Letterman joked, ‘He’s over there visiting American jobs.’ And the mood among our European neighbours is also subdued: 39% of Europeans regard globalisation as a threat to domestic businesses and employment.3

Over the dikes and into the world

But I refuse to pander to these feelings of uncertainty, like some other Dutch politicians. Not that this strategy has been unsuccessful: during the elections last November, we saw the rise of nationally oriented, anti-European parties.

But what alternative do people like Geert Wilders or Jan Marijnissen offer the Netherlands?

Are they seriously suggesting that we simply retreat behind our dikes? I couldn’t disagree more. Firstly, participation in the globalisation process is not a choice; it is a fact of life. Secondly, we would actually be much worse off behind our dikes.

My approach is a different one. It is self-evident that the outside world cannot be held at arm’s length. We are confronted with globalisation the moment we venture out the front door: in our neighbourhoods, at the local supermarket, at work and in our free time. The world begins at our doorstep. We cannot retreat inside and pretend that this isn’t the case.

It is my contention that in a globalised world, good foreign policy helps bolster security, employment and prosperity in the Netherlands. It is in our national interest to pursue an effective foreign policy. That is what makes the job of foreign minister so appealing to me: by playing an active role beyond our borders, I hope to improve the lives of the people living inside our borders. I am convinced that a nationalist attitude will lead only to less security, higher unemployment and a decline in prosperity. By contrast, an international outlook that takes account of globalisation will create new benefits: more security, more jobs and a healthier environment.

We must not turn our backs on the world but rather capitalise on our traditional strengths: an open orientation and the ability to venture beyond our borders and engage with what we find there. Our enterprising spirit, our curiosity, our knowledge of foreign languages and cultures are all assets in the present age. Don’t shut the curtains – open the windows. It’s time to climb over the dikes and head into the world!

Public support

Shaping this country’s future depends on using our influence on events happening outside our borders. I want to show the Dutch people that foreign policy is relevant to them, that it isn’t a hollow song and dance that we put on in The Hague and at our 158 embassies and consulates abroad.

If we make people understand the tangible influence that foreign policy has on their daily lives, we can eliminate many of the doubts surrounding the globalisation process. It would be a great honour if, in four years’ time, I came to be thought of as our most domestically oriented foreign minister.


Ladies and gentlemen,

This afternoon I would like to explain what I mean by effective foreign policy. I would like to share the fundamental principles that underpin my vision and relate them to five policy areas: (1) human rights, (2) Europe, (3) the transatlantic relationship, (4) peace and security and (5) the climate and energy.

Principle behind the policy: a moral orientation, a realistic course

In crafting a foreign policy for the Netherlands, I am plotting a realistic course with a moral compass.

To me, morality is not an empty concept. On one level, of course, this conviction stems from my background as a Christian Democrat. But it is also a matter of civilisation. There are certain boundaries that you simply don’t cross, in interacting with others. It is our duty to uphold the dividing line between civilisation and barbarism, especially considering how vulnerable it has proved to be over the past century. Our civilisation is worth defending.4 Values like freedom, democracy and human rights, and also solidarity and humanity are fundamental to Dutch foreign policy. They are also the touchstones of my political philosophy.

When I talk about plotting a realistic course, I mean pursuing a set of policies that does justice to this country’s national interests. Or, to put in more realistic terms, a set of policies that reinforces our position of power in the world. Let me explain what I mean by that, starting with the area of human rights.

1. Human rights

Ladies and gentlemen,

It has been more than a year since Abdullah Al-Mansouri, a resident of Maastricht, was arrested in Syria. He was extradited to Iran, where he has been held ever since. I would like to reassure him, his family and all the people of Maastricht who have worked so hard for his release: the Dutch government is just as concerned about Mr Al-Mansouri’s plight as you. We have taken every possible opportunity to bring his case to the attention of the Iranian authorities, and we continue to urge them to allow him the consular assistance he is entitled to as a Dutch national.

I went into politics because I wanted to help mould the society I lived in. Promoting human rights has always been an essential part of my political mission. In my first speech to the UN Human Rights Council on 12 March, I said that the Dutch government must be prepared to show moral courage. Robert Kennedy described moral courage as a ‘vital quality for those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.’5

I want to heed Kennedy’s message and integrate the defence of human rights into our foreign policy. In bilateral contacts I am prepared to hold other countries accountable for their actions. And the Netherlands will make its voice heard in the European Union and in the United Nations.

I am aware that a minister is in a more comfortable position than the typical human rights activist. Their moral courage is a continuing source of inspiration for me. Take, for example, Rajan Hoole from Sri Lanka, who has been documenting human rights violations in his country for 18 years. Or Pierre Claver Mbonimpa from Burundi, who has devoted his life to the cause of prisoners, thousands of whom languish in overcrowded cells for years, waiting for trials that never come. What do these two men have in common? They are the joint recipients of this year’s Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, which is conferred by eleven renowned human rights organisations. An award like this gives their work the attention it deserves. But there are so many human rights activists who fight the good fight, day in, day out, often at great risk to their personal safety, without ever making the news. My admiration for them is boundless.

I believe in supporting their efforts any way we can: with money, publicity and political pressure; by demanding their protection and by spotlighting their good work. The EU guidelines on human rights defenders provide a solid foundation for this. Working together with various NGOs, the Netherlands has produced a handbook to providing this kind of support. I have asked our ambassadors to actively apply the guidelines and this handbook in performing their duties. Human rights defenders must know that in the Netherlands they will find not only a listening ear but also a helping hand.

In Geneva I expressed my desire to elevate human rights to a more prominent place in our integrated foreign policy. These past few years have been a difficult time for human rights, particularly in the multilateral system. It is therefore time for a fresh impetus. Later this year I will be presenting a human rights programme to parliament that outlines where we stand and what we plan to do. The programme will address such salient issues as human rights and counterterrorism, human rights and development and the universality of human rights.

I’d like to expand a bit on that last point. Time and again, we are appalled by the horrors that ‘civilised’ people can inflict on one another: the H olocaust, the genocide in Rwanda and the Srebrenica massacre, just to mention a few of the most harrowing examples. And because the bounds of civilised behaviour are so easily transgressed, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights conventions are right to establish firm, inviolable standards. These human rights and fundamental freedoms apply to everyone, in any circumstances, wherever they happen to live. These precepts are not open to discussion.

I am not a moral relativist who would seek to water down these rights under the guise of cultural or religious differences. The Netherlands is not attempting to assume a position of moral superiority; that would be unwarranted. Our own society is far from perfect. We too are open to criticism from the outside, such as UN human rights rapporteurs or the treaty bodies. In January the UN Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee took us to task for flaws in our policy on domestic violence and for the negative effects of our immigration policy on the position of migrant women.

But wherever the bounds of civilised behaviour are trampled with criminal abandon, in places like Sudan, North Korea, Iran or recently in Zimbabwe, we cannot look away. The world that I envision is free from torture and persecution on the basis of sexual orientation, religion or political beliefs. The Netherlands is always willing to enter into dialogue with other cultures, but this is contingent on a reaffirmation of the universality of human rights as a guiding principle.

I am therefore pleased that the Netherlands was recently re-elected to the UN Human Rights Council. We are facing a major challenge. Many countries in the Council are less than concerned about human rights. Owing to the minority position in which we find ourselves, we will have to work even harder to make the Council effective and credible. As the third pillar on which the United Nations is based (alongside security and development), human rights must be given the attention they deserve.

It is worth stressing that human rights are not only a moral goal in themselves. They also help further our national interests. Countries that respect human rights enjoy more stability and legal certainty. This contributes to international security, predictable migration patterns and a favourable investment climate for businesses, all of which are good for the Netherlands. Demanding respect for human rights is one aspect of a realistic course.

2. The EU and the world

Ladies and gentlemen,

The balance of power in the world is shifting rapidly. Emerging markets now account for more than half of global GNP. Or, to put it another way: the traditionally wealthy countries no longer dominate the world economy. Giants like China and India, each with a population of over a billion, enjoy growth of nearly 10% a year.

On balance, this growth is beneficial for the Netherlands. We must respond to these changes and focus on niches, where we can successfully fend off competition from the ‘newcomers’. The Innovation Platform has cited a number of key fields where the Netherlands has an international reputation: flowers and foods, high-tech systems, water, chemicals, the creative industry, and pensions and insurance. This is where opportunities are to be found.

The European Union is an important vehicle for safeguarding Dutch interests and values in a changing world. I draw inspiration from the words of Helmut Kohl, who was made an honorary citizen of Europe in 1998. ‘If the integration of Europe does not continue, we can expect not merely stagnation but also decline.’6 Both our position of power and our standard of living are helped by ongoing European integration.

First of all, the Netherlands must use the EU to protect its strategic interests vis-à-vis other actors on the world stage. The combined voice of 27 member states, raised to defend their policy in international forums or to counter the occasionally erratic behaviour of other international actors, is many times louder than that of the Netherlands alone. In that sense, the Union is a sort of a megaphone, a logical and realistic extension of our voice in the world.

Secondly, we cannot deal with the cross-border challenges facing us on our own. Climate change and energy security, terrorism, asylum and migration are issues that require an international response. And formulating this response must begin close to home: on the European continent.

Thirdly, we need the Union and its internal market to stay internationally competitive. The Social and Cultural Planning Office recently concluded that the Dutch owe 10% of their affluence to the internal market,7 to the tune of €3,000 per year.8 We must move closer to completing the market, to achieve maximum benefit from the global economy. In this sense I agree with Ben Knapen when he writes, ‘Globalisation demands policy. The globalisation process must be managed with skill. Although it has become almost a taboo to say, for the Netherlands, globalisation demands a European framework: this country is too small and the world is too large.’9

I do, however, take exception to his use of the word ‘taboo’. I do not think that the Dutch ‘no’ to the Constitutional Treaty should be construed as a lack of will to work with the EU on common problems, to the good of our shared prosperity. The will is clearly there. 72% of Dutch people believe that EU membership is ‘a good thing’.10 Even the generation that takes the two greatest achievements of the European project – peace and prosperity – for granted, realises that we cannot ignore the benefits of the internal market. They understand too that Europe bolsters the Netherlands’ position of power in the world.

The lesson of the ‘no vote’ is not that we should strip the EU bare but rather that we should clothe the Union in garments that are appropriate for the season, i.e. in keeping with the times and the expectations of the public. Working from this mindset, the government has distilled a proposal for a new treaty: no constitutional trappings, a clearer division of competences, strict application of the enlargement criteria and more democratic control by the European Parliament and the national parliaments. The last item on this list refers to a mechanism whereby the Commission would be obliged to retract a proposal if a majority of national parliaments believes that it fails the subsidiarity test – in other words, if they feel that Europe has no business being involved. Along with that, there must be better European cooperation in those areas where we need each other, like climate and energy, terrorism and crime, asylum and migration. But we don’t need Brussels to interfere in issues that we can handle very well on our own, like pensions, mortgage interest relie f, health care and education. I think that our proposal addresses the concerns of the no-voters without short-changing the yes-voters. I would be shirking my duty if I were to interpret the no vote as a sign that the Netherlands should abandon the EU, or that we should pursue a more nationalistic course.

The government is now preparing for the European Council, on 21 and 22 June. Our goal is to reach agreement on the future of the Constitutional Treaty. Achieving this goal will unquestionably require a great deal of give and take. And obviously, in the end, we’re hoping to take more than we give.

3. The transatlantic relationship

Ladies and gentlemen,

Every year, as a boy, my father would take me to visit the American military cemetery in Margraten. My father spent the war in hiding, while my grandfather was interned at Buchenwald. I grew up with a strong sense of gratitude for the sacrifices of the Allies. The endless rows of white crosses in the immaculately green lawns made me think: why did so many give their lives for our freedom? I have always been deeply touched by the willingness to make personal sacrifices in the service of democracy and freedom.

The Netherlands, and with it the European Union, shares certain fundamental values with the United States: freedom, democracy and human rights. For that reason I believe it is passé to speak of a choice between Europe and the US, between a European and an Atlantic orientation: I consider myself both a European and an Atlanticist.

Europe and America must show political leadership if we are to defend our values in a rapidly changing world that is constantly throwing up new challenges. There are numerous areas where we already have a strong working relationship with the Americans: in Afghanistan and the Balkans, or with respect to Iran, where the US has adopted the EU’s two-track policy. In those areas where we are not working together as well as we might, we must do everything we can to repair the relationship, so that American and Europe can be the decisive force for good in the world.11

This does not mean that I am afraid of being critical of our biggest ally. In fact, it is these ties of friendship that enable us to call America to account for its actions. On issues like climate change, for example, or the human rights situation at Guantánamo Bay. I want to build bridges wherever possible and point out shortcomings whenever advisable. This is also to the advantage of the Netherlands. A healthy transatlantic relationship is another example of a realistic course, on the basis of a moral orientation and shared values.

4. Peace and security

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Cold War is behind us. The time that the world was dominated by an East vs. West mentality and the fear of a disastrous end to the nuclear arms race is now history. James Bond operates against a different backdrop than he did a quarter century ago, and The Afghan has replaced The Hunt for Red October on my bedside table. Today’s threats come from different corners of the world, and our security has many faces.

The American security strategist Thomas Barnett argues that contemporary threats originate in countries and within groups that are excluded from what he calls the functioning core of globalisation. They do not reap the benefits of the world’s economic opportunities. Barnett urges us to introduce this ‘non-integrating gap’ to the advantages of economic integration in order to make globalisation truly global.12

In Barnett’s words I recognise the three Ds that form the cornerstone of the Dutch approach to conflict zones: diplomacy, defence and development. In other words, working together to safeguard stability and improve economic and social prospects for the local population.

This three-dimensional approach stems from an integrated foreign policy, in which the three pillars of security, development and diplomacy reinforce one another. By applying this approach both locally and globally, we put the benefits of globalisation within reach of a larger group of people, giving them the tools to participate in the process and live their lives with dignity. In doing so, we remove a source of discontent and contribute to long-term stability.


It is not only idealism that informs this approach; it is also enlightened self-interest. Take Afghanistan, for example. By participating in the NATO mission there, the Netherlands is contributing to that country’s security. A modicum of security is a prerequisite for development, and development stifles the breeding grounds for radicalisation. Over the long run, this translates to a reduced chance of terrorist attacks in the West. One of our soldiers in Uruzgan hit the nail on the head when he said, ‘If we don’t do anything there, the terrorists are going to be in our front yard before we know it.’13 So we don’t send our troops to Uruzgan for purely altruistic reasons. ISAF is directly serving the security interests of both the Netherlands and Europe as a whole: we want to prevent the Taliban from ever having a free hand in the mountains and plains of Afghanistan again.

And our presence is helping: we are making progress in Afghanistan. The economy is growing; foreign investment is on the rise, and basic services, like health care, are again accessible. There is a free press, and the Afghan parliament boasts 91 female members. But these important gains of the last few years remain vulnerable, and the process is far from irreversible. According to the UN, Afghanistan scores near the bottom of the Human Development Index.14 The democratic institutions have not yet proven their worth. The opportunities for reconstruction are legion, but we are having great difficulty in taking advantage of them. Corruption and lack of capacity are just two of the barriers that must be overcome. In short, things are going more slowly than we would like. The goals of this operation are not going to be achieved overnight.

(The Balkans)

The same goes for our mission in the Balkans. For more than a decade the Netherlands has been actively involved in peacekeeping and reconstruction in that part of Europe. Over the past eight years, about 18,000 Dutch troops have been deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as part of UN, NATO and EU missions. During that same period, 5,000 troops were involved in NATO operations in Kosovo. We recently promised to contribute 40 to 60 people to the civilian EU mission in Kosovo. They will be charged will helping to train criminal justice authorities (including the police) and customs services in an independent Kosovo. Another reason we are there is the hard lesson we learned in the 1990s: Europe cannot afford to ignore potentially volatile situations so close to home – neither for moral reasons rooted in Western values, nor for reasons of self- interest. Think of the torrent of refugees and the high costs of post-conflict reconstruction.

I believe that the Netherlands must continue to fulfil its responsibilities as regards crisis management, whether in Uruzgan, the Balkans, off the coast of Lebanon (to prevent that country from relapsing into civil war), in southern Sudan (to monitor the peace settlement) or Congo (to advise and train the military). Or elsewhere in the world, as a participant in future missions. In principle I am not opposed to the deployment of Dutch troops to Africa, though I do feel that we have a special responsibility to our own region.

Whenever we decide to take part in such operations, our contribution must be proportional and effective. We have an excellent military: modern, mobile and well trained. We are capable of adapting to a wide variety of situations, and in the light of this, we should not shirk our responsibility to lend a hand wherever we can. If we want to attain our ambitions, we need to put our money where our mouth is. That is to say, we have to ensure that the defence budget is given adequate resources.

The Netherlands is working together with its partners from the EU and NATO. By contributing our fair share to crisis management operations, we remain a credible partner and ally. This ensures us a place at the bargaining table: by participating, we can make our voice heard in the global debate on peace and security and help shape international security structures. That is plainly in our interests.

Over the next several years, the Dutch government intends to further expand its integrated policy. It is clear, for example, that strengthening the rule of law is an ever more important issue. The more firmly anchored the principles of the rule of law in a post-conflict zone, the less likely it is that we will have to contend with a failed state that falls outside the functioning core of globalisation and acts as a potential breeding ground for terrorism and other types of crime. This is why the Ministries of Foreign Affairs (including the Directorate-General for International Cooperation) and Defence encourage the involvement of other parts of central government; they too have a relevant contribution to make. For example, the training of police, judges, prosecutors and lawyers will require input from the Ministries of Justice and the Interior. This government’s philosophy also embraces cooperation with NGOs and the private sector.

(The Middle East)

Ladies and gentlemen,

No conflict stirs up so many emotions as the one between Israel and the Arab world, both inside and outside the region, and even in our own country. In one of the most volatile parts of the planet – Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the spiral of violence in Iraq, the unstable situation in Lebanon and the role of Syria – the Israeli-Palestinian situation is often described as the mother of all conflicts. Personally, I am wary of such a label. Consider, for a moment, that this conflict claimed about 1,800 lives last year, while an estimated 100,000 died in Darfur during that same period. But it is undeniable: 60 years of various peace processes, with all their ups and downs, have not resulted in a peaceful solution.

Let me stress that I feel a close bond with the people of Israel. The suffering inflicted on the Jewish people in the 20th century is one of the blackest pages of human history. This must never be blotted out from our collective memory. I readily understand Israel’s refusal to do business with parties that do not recognise its right to exist and actively seek its destruction. The three conditions set by the Quartet – recognition of the state of Israel, renunciation of violence and acceptance of all previous accords – must not be watered down. As long as Hamas does not accept them, it cannot be a negotiating partner, even though it is now part of a democratically elected government. If we were to invite Hamas to the negotiating table now, we would be giving terrorism the veneer of legitimacy, and this is unacceptable.

But I also believe that Israel must abandon its current settlement policy. According to a recent UN report, the number of colonists is increasing by 1,000 per month.15 I believe there must be greater freedom of movement for both the Palestinians and their goods. I understand the frustration and the hopelessness that a life of enforced poverty causes, though at the same time I must stress that terror is never a legitimate response to hardship. Suicide bombings and rocket attacks are no solution, and such actions only compel Israel to defend itself with greater vigour, thus perpetuating the vicious circle of violence. Compounding the problem is the support for terrorist movements provided by countries like Iran and Syria. By appropriating the Palestinian cause for their own ends, they further destabilise the entire region.

Politicians on both sides must continue to work to boost popular support for a peaceful solution, while setting a good example through their own actions. I am pleased that Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas are interested in meeting on a regular basis, and I hope these talks will swiftly result in confidence-building measures from both sides. Trust and understanding are vital ingredients for a peaceful solution to this intractable conflict.

I agree wholeheartedly with Kofi Annan’s observation that the biggest irony of this whole sad story is that the broad contours of a solution are not really at issue.16 We all know more or less what an eventual deal will look like. As I see it we will have two states, based on the borders of 4 June 1967, with East Jerusalem for the Palestinians and West Jerusalem for the Israelis; no large-scale return of refugees to Israel and an international monitoring mechanism. A peace package that includes these elements must offer Israel recognition and security, and the Palestinians their own state and the prospect of a better life.

My idea of a realistic course is for the Quartet to intensify its efforts and tailor its approach to regional peace initiatives, particularly the Arab League’s proposal, which was recently given a new lease of life. In doing so, the Quartet can bring the contours of a peace settlement into sharper focus. Ultimately, we need all the parties to concentrate on the substantive details of a peace accord. The Quartet could present its plan to the Security Council, which would submit it to Israel and the Palestinians as a total package, a solid proposal for a final agreement to be negotiated by the parties themselves.

Once again, American leadership is an indispensable part of the process. The European Union has an important part to play as well. In its coalition agreement the Dutch government pledged to use its bilateral contacts to promote a solution to the Middle East conflict. I will be visiting the region in two weeks. Between 11 and 13 June I will be travelling to Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories. On my trip I will be accompanied by a number of young people who will be given a chance to see the situation on the ground firsthand.

5. Climate change / energy security

Ladies and gentlemen,

Global warming and the rising sea level are increasingly dominating the international agenda. The ‘inconvenient truth’ of Al Gore – namely that if we don’t drastically alter our lifestyle, our children and grandchildren will inhe rit an uninhabitable world – has lent the issue a sense of urgency. This is a good thing; change starts with awareness. But we need to do something with that awareness. We must show political leadership in order to relieve the pressure on the environment.

That starts with making international agreements. The Netherlands can’t do anything about melting icecaps on its own. Even within our own borders, it will do no good to seek shelter behind the dikes. Effective measures depend on cooperation. The 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, as agreed by the European leaders at the Spring European Council, is a good example of the kind of leadership we need. I will press the EU to demand that kind of leadership from other parties as well: the US, which is the largest source of greenhouse gases, and major emerging economies, like China, which are producing more and more pollutants all the time.

With its explosive economic growth, China will soon overtake the US as the biggest emitter, and if we don’t take concerted action, this will also have a major impact on the quality of life in this country.17

We will therefore stand firm in the negotiations over a post-Kyoto regime. Pressing new realities demand that the Netherlands play a pioneering role in developing new, ambitious international climate objectives for the post-2012 period. As Minister of Foreign Affairs, I would like to make an active contribution to this effort, together with my colleague, Jacqueline Cramer, Minister of the Environment and Spatial Planning. I look forward to exchanging thoughts with one of the Special Envoys to be appointed by the UN Secretary-General and discussing the option of a special session on climate change during the next General Assembly in New York. This is one way of sharing my ideas on the path to an inclusive post-Kyoto agreement, and I intend to seize that opportunity.

The issue of climate change is intimately connected to the question of energy supplies. We must address our dependence on fossil fuels – first and foremost because these fuels are the biggest source of CO2 emissions.

Secondly, because we are ever more dependent on a dwindling pool of non-Western suppliers. In the decades to come, oil and gas will increasingly come from the Middle East, Russia, North and West Africa and the countries around the Caspian Sea. In most of these places, the state takes a close interest in the energy sector. A tight energy market gives producing countries power, and this can lead to unwelcome situations. Many oil and gas-producing countries do not see eye to eye with us on some of our most fundamental values, such as respect for human rights and democratisation. Their sometimes unpredictable behaviour can have serious consequences for our energy supplies. Rectifying this situation is in the direct interest of the Netherlands, especially considering its implications for our security.

Ultimately, the supply of fossil fuels is finite. For all the reasons I just outlined – pollution, dependence and exhaustibility – we need to wean ourselves off fossil fuel and embrace alternative, sustainable energy sources. After my visit to Avantis, where I took a drive in a hybrid car and toured the site on a ‘green’ electric bike, I am optimistic that we will be able to innovate in time. New ideas are springing up constantly! The construction of a windmill park off the Dutch coast, for example. I see that as a step in the right direction. Some maintain that this solution is too costly. I would ask them to look beyond the direct environment benefits and consider the indirect advantages, like the positive effect on our national security. At the same time, I don’t want to rule out the option of nuclear energy, another source of clean power. It is no accident that the Borsele power plant is being allowed to remain open during the term of this government. And it would be inconsistent of us to denounce nuclear power while simultaneously importing nuclear energy from France.

Nowadays climate and energy have a profound influence on our national interest. Thomas Friedman has even argued that a ‘green’ ideology should be the unifying political movement of the 21st century. Why? Because environmental issues are no longer the exclusive province of ‘tree-huggers’. They have become the constituent elements of a geostrategic, geoeconomic, capitalistic and patriotic policy.18 This realisation must spur us on to decisive action.


Ladies and gentlemen,

What can you expect from me as Minister of Foreign Affairs? A realistic foreign policy with a moral orientation. I want to strive for a better world, not merely for idealistic reasons, but also because a better world is better for the Netherlands. I hope you will come away from this speech with an understanding of three main points.

1. The Netherlands benefits from a more stable world with open international relations, where universal human rights are respected. It increases both our prosperity and our security.

2. The Netherlands must continue to invest in the European project because a well-functioning EU is in our best interest. It means more jobs, better security, and a healthier environment. At the same time, working together makes us more effective problem-solvers.

3. The Netherlands also benefits from friendly ties with the United States because we share certain key values and because American leadership remains indispensable in a rapidly changing world.

In short, I am in favour of an international community of values, European cooperation and a transatlantic partnership in the interest of the Dutch people. Because these days foreign policy is also domestic policy, I also want to focus on cultivating public support for our foreign policy. Even though the first 100 days have come to an end, our dialogue with the Dutch people will go on. And here in Maastricht, we are taking that dialogue one step further.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Everyone has heroes, people they seek to emulate. Willy Brandt is one of mine. As a post-war politician he succeeded in climbing out of the shadow of his country’s recent past and leading the German people with him. In Warsaw he apologised for what Germany had done to the Jews and the Poles. Encouraging change from the inside out, he sought rapprochement with the East bloc through his unorthodox policy of Wandel durch Annäherung. Each of these is a compelling example of moral courage.

I would like to close my speech with Brandt’s words, which are also applicable to me: Zur Summe meines Lebens gehört, dass es Ausweglosigkeit nicht gibt (‘One of the crowning insights of my life has been the realisation that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel’). I too am an optimist by nature, and with your help, I will do my utmost to put forward creative solutions to contemporary challenges. As Willy Brandt remarked, peace and freedom are not handed to us on a silver platter, we must forge them with our own hands.19

Thank you.


1 World Bank, World Development Indicators 2007.

2 Bas Heijne, ‘De denkfout van Europafans’, NRC Handelsblad, 19 April 2007.

3 Eurobarometer Globalisation, 2003.

4 Theodore Dalrymple, Beschaving, of wat ervan over is, Nieuw Amsterdam, 2005: p. 15 and p. 189.

5 Robert Kennedy, speech in Cape Town, South Africa, 7 June 1966: ‘Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.’

6 Helmut Kohl, speech in Leuven, 2 February 1996: ‘Wir alle brauchen das vereinte Europa (…) Fehlt der Schwung zur Fortsetzung des Einigungswerkes, dann gibt es nicht nur Stillstand, sondern auch Rückschritt.’

7 SCP and CPB, Marktplaats Europa: 50 jaar publieke opinie en marktintegratie in de EU, 9 May 2007.

8 NRC Handelsblad, 9 May 2007.

9 NRC Handelsblad, 2 May 2007.

10 SCP and CPB, p. 47.

11 Zbigniew Brzezinski, Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower (Basic Books 2007) p. 187.

12 Thomas P.M. Barnett, The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Berkeley Books 2004).

13 Remark by Lt. Leo Potappel in Vrij Nederland, 1 March 2007.

14 United Nations Development Programme, Afghanistan National Human Development Report 2004 – Security with a Human Face: Challenges and Responsibilities.

15 Report of the Secretary-General on the Middle East, S/2006/956, section 19, 11 December 2006. ‘Indeed, according to official Israeli figures, more than 1,000 settlers a month took up residence in the occupied Palestinian territory during 2005, a rate that appears to be continuing.’

16 During his last month as Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan looked back on ten years of the Middle East peace process. In an address to the Security Council he said, ‘Perhaps the greatest irony in this sad story is that there is no serious question about the broad outline of a final settlement’ (12 December 2006).

17 Financial Times, 18 April 2007. ‘China will overtake the United States as the world’s biggest emitter of heat-trapping carbon dioxide either this year or next, the International Energy Agency said on Wednesday.’

18 Thomas Friedman, ‘The Power of Green’, New York Times Magazine, 15 April 2007.

19 Willy Brandt, Nobel lecture, 11 December 1971. ‘Peace, like freedom, is no original state which existed from the start; we shall have to make it, in the truest sense of the word.’