Speech by Verhagen at 2010 Conference on Europe’s Security

The Netherlands is a fine country, and we’re good at many things. There’s no reason to be shy about that. It’s a fact demonstrated every day by our globally minded entrepreneurs, including some from Groningen! Like the shipbuilders at Wijnne Barends! But there are some things we can’t do alone. Safeguarding our security and prosperity in this world is one of them. That requires our combined efforts. To make it in the world, we need the European Union. I am fully committed to strengthening cooperation with our European partners.

'Strong Europe, strong Netherlands'
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,

It’s great to see that you’ve chosen to spend this lovely spring day at a conference on European security. There’s certainly no shortage of enthusiasm for the EU here in the Martini Church!

Let me start by thanking DUNSA for inviting me to speak about this issue. Before I consider the security of Europe, I'd first like to say something about the wider world. And the Netherlands’ opportunities and challenges in that world. It’s a subject that inevitably leads us to the European Union. Because the EU is the best guardian of Dutch interests in the world, including our security interests.

This is not my first visit to the province of Groningen: even as a foreign minister, I have been here before. And Groningen has also crossed my path outside the Netherlands in the last three years. Last month, for example, in São Paulo, while on a working visit to Brazil, I bumped into the managing director of Wijnne Barends, a local company. Wijnne Barends is an established Dutch shipbuilding and transport firm with a reach that extends to Bulgaria and China. In fact, seventy to eighty per cent of their clients are based abroad. It’s Dutch entrepreneurship at its best!

Why do I bring this up? Not to give free publicity to Wijnne Barends, I assure you. I don’t expect there are many people here looking to buy a 3,500-ton container ship. No, I mention them to illustrate how much the Dutch economy is bound up with the world economy. To show where our money comes from. Two-thirds of this country’s income comes from abroad, from international business. Obviously, this is a crucial consideration for me as a politician and foreign minister. And it should be a consideration for all politicians. The Netherlands is a trading nation, and our international outlook has brought us great prosperity. This is true today, it will be true tomorrow and it will still be true ten years from now. Soon, you too will earn your living abroad in one way or another. Those who think the Netherlands should turn inward are turning their backs on the future.

(Transnational challenges in a changing world)

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our main source of income hasn’t changed in four hundred years. But the world in which we do business has. Around the time you were born, the first cracks started appearing in the Berlin Wall. The Cold War was coming to an end, and with it, a bipolar view of global power. I don’t imagine that much of this filtered down to the playground, but for me, as a young member of the European Parliament, it was a time of great hope: freedom, democracy and human rights were poised to take the world by storm! Now, twenty years later, you’ve become students here in Groningen, and that optimism has been overtaken by a more negative mindset. The reason lies not in this beautiful northern town but in the zeitgeist: it’s as if we’ve lost a collective illusion – and started to act accordingly. The general mood is downbeat: what will the future bring?

And it’s true; the world is facing major, transnational challenges: climate change, the proliferation of WMDs (including nuclear weapons), international terrorism and pandemics. To say nothing of the effects of the financial and economic crisis. This is the dark side of globalisation, the same globalisation that has brought us so many benefits and opportunities.

So how do we tackle the problems of globalisation while making the most of its benefits ? More than ever before, we are recognising that we need each other. That no one country can do everything on its own. But successful international cooperation certainly can’t be taken for granted. In today’s multipolar world order, uncertainty is the name of the game. Who is in charge? Who still exerts effective moral authority? The way things now look, the G2 – the US and China – will be the leading actors on the world stage in the decades to come. But these two great powers have yet to forge a balanced and sustainable relationship. Meanwhile, international organisations like the United Nations reflect an out-of-date world-view. Emerging powers like China, India and Brazil are looking to assert themselves – and rightly so. They feel they’ve outgrown the need to go along with the prevailing consensus. And in tandem with this trend, the relative power of Western countries, especially in Europe, has declined. These countries will have to move over and make room for the new players. But how will this work in practice? Will the emerging powers interpret concepts like ‘responsible sovereignty’ the way we do? Will we be able to hold on to the things we cherish? Our prosperity, our security and our way of life – a free way of life? Are our values and identity under threat?

The uncertainty surrounding these questions explains our sombre mood. It also explains why our society has such a strong tendency to turn inward at times like these. We want to get back to what we know, what we trust. But even if we prefer ‘Hart van Nederland’ to BBC World, events around the world will still have an impact on us. There’s no escaping it. And the world will still give us opportunities, too. Opportunities we need to seize.

If we in the Netherlands want to turn these international developments to our advantage, we have to engage with the world. We have to stand up and be counted. Over the past three years I have tried to formulate an active European and international policy for our country. It hasn’t always been easy; there are plenty of people, including politicians, who are firmly opposed to this sort of international orientation. The kinds of people who would rather retreat behind the dikes, in the hope that the storm will blow over on its own. But ladies and gentlemen, that is not going to happen. To paraphrase an old musical, we can’t stop the world because we want to get off. The carousel turns, and we turn with it. All we can do is make sure the music’s to our liking and that we enjoy the ride.

(Strong Europe, strong Netherlands)

How can we secure Dutch interests in our insecure world? How can we arm ourselves against the risks of a changing world facing great challenges? How do we deal with new security risks in the 21st century?

The answer lies in partnerships. Because global problems can only be solved through cooperation. Because this is the best way of getting countries involved and giving them their share of responsibility. Because this is the only way to anticipate problems. In short, partnerships present enormous opportunities: economic, political and military.

I’m talking about partnerships with emerging powers that we must get to know better and learn to work with. This is why I was in Brazil last month. I’m talking about partnerships with traditional allies, with which we share important values. Chief among them is the United States, but I would also mention the NATO alliance, which stands ready to guarantee our security. And of course, I’m also talking about a partnership that has given us unprecedented stability and prosperity over the past sixty years: the European Union. I am fully committed to strengthening cooperation with our European partners.

A strong EU is in the Netherlands’ best interests. I say this especially to those who have used the recent turbulence in the eurozone to argue that the Netherlands should go its own way, in the manner of Switzerland. And to those who, in the run-up to the election of 9 June, have suggested halving the Dutch contribution to the EU. I can imagine that this is a good way of winning votes, but there is only one way to describe these kinds of tactics: public deception. Even ignoring the sheer impossibility of such a promise – as confirmed by the Dutch Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis – a budget cut of that size would be incredibly unwise.

Let us agree on the principle that EU funds should be well spent. Not wasted, and not spent on vague and costly projects. I also agree that we shouldn’t be spending more than other member states that are as wealthy as we are. So far, so good; these are principles I’m committed to defending. But I am not short-sighted: if you want something for your money, you cannot strip the EU bare. Our standard of living and security are rooted in European cooperation. So we will have to continue investing in the EU to ensure that it is equal to its task in the coming century: namely, promoting the shared interests – including security interests – of its member states, the Netherlands not least among them.

Just stop and think about all the things we depend on the European Union for: regulating migration, fighting crime, safeguarding our energy supplies and managing regional conflicts. Think of how much we could gain, for example, if Ukraine were to become a modern democracy grounded in the rule of law. A country with which we could do business. And conversely, just think of the great cost when countries along our external borders become destabilised. All these types of issues must be addressed at European level. To neglect that responsibility now would be to thumb our noses at future generations. At you and your children in fact.

(How can we strengthen the EU?)

Ladies and gentlemen,

What should the Union do to become a persuasive force on the world stage, and what will be required of us, the individual member states?

First of all, we need to put the Greek debt crisis behind us. When the financial and economic crisis broke out, the euro played an important stabilising role. But the same crisis also exposed weaknesses in the eurozone: many countries are grappling with large budget deficits and excessive debt. If you factor in the declining competitiveness of a number of countries, the result is widespread and unhealthy worry, which is then fuelled further by market speculation. Make no mistake: solidarity can only be stretched so far. A number of countries in the eurozone will have to fundamentally reform their economies. The strict taskmasters of the IMF will be on hand to ensure that this happens in Greece.

We, too, will be making a contribution, as will the other fourteen members of the eurozone. We are not doing this out of charity, but rather to reassure the market. These unprecedented emergency measures – the total package of €500 billion that the finance ministers agreed last week – have been described as a ‘shock and awe’ campaign to save the euro. It has been an expensive lesson. That much is certain. But to me it is equally certain that these measures were necessary, and in the Netherlands’ interests. Quite simply, a stable euro generates more money for us. We have taken action now to prevent something worse down the line. And to limit the damage we suffer. These emergency interventions also show that the European Union can take decisive action when it needs to. When the chips are down, we can achieve unity. It’s now clear to everyone concerned that problems of this kind must be prevented at all cost in the future: by making firmer agreements on public finances and by tightening their enforcement. We’ve had to face up to the fact that there are some flaws in the tapestry of the eurozone. The EMU will have some difficult times ahead, but it is better to make tough decisions now than to close our eyes and let the situation spin out of control.

In this context, it is also worth mentioning that next month in Toronto, the Netherlands will again be taking part in the G20, the international forum devoted to global economic challenges. We are doing our bit to safeguard financial stability around the world. And to secure Dutch employment and Dutch prosperity in the future.

Ladies and gentlemen,

A second requirement for strengthening the EU is that we re-energise our economies and get them moving in a sustainable direction. We are now winding up the review of the Lisbon strategy, which will culminate next month in a new strategy, designed to take the EU forward to 2020. This review process has been dominated by the themes of sustainable growth and employment. This is the right focus in these times. Creating scope for innovation and sustainability, so that Europe can stay competitive in the world. This will benefit Dutch entrepreneurs more than most, thanks to the global character of their trade and investment activities.

Thirdly, we must uphold and defend the shared values that form the foundation of European integration. We cannot abandon the very quality that makes us so attractive to the rest of the world: our commitment to freedom, democracy and human rights. Credibility means adhering closely to the accession criteria we agreed. Any state seeking membership of the Union must show that it fully embraces European values. There should be no second-tier members of the EU.

To boost our powers of persuasion in th e world, we must be far more united. The Treaty of Lisbon is a fact: we now have to make it work for us. The President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, must truly become the faces and voices of the EU in the world. The new European External Action Service, which is the diplomatic arm of the EU, must be a success. This will require discipline and self-control from all member states. We must recognise that a common foreign policy enlarges our presence in the world, and this knowledge must outweigh any personal wish to see our own flag waving in every corner of the globe.

Only when we agree on a robust common policy can Europe become a significant geopolitical power on the world stage, alongside the United States and China. We should aspire to turn the G2 into the G3. Not as an end in itself, but as a way to increase our influence on international events.

Ladies and gentlemen,

If Europe evolves into a politically engaging player, both the European member states and the US stand to benefit. The traditional allies, Europe and the US, will strengthen each other’s position in the world, making it more difficult for China and other regional powers to break with the transatlantic consensus. I am still convinced that together, the US and Europe can make the difference on many of the challenges we face. That together, we can be a force for positive change in the world, motivated by our shared values. But the EU will have to grow into that role. We shouldn’t run before we can walk.

(Our security interests)

The same point applies to our security. Which brings me to the subject of this conference. My belief is that Europe cannot be secure without a robust European Security and Defence Policy. Gone are the days that we could look across the Atlantic for security guarantees. In a world where the balance of power is shifting so dramatically and where security risks take so many forms, we cannot blindly trust that the Americans will safeguard our security. We have a responsibility too! As I said a moment ago, if Europe wants to play a meaningful role on the world stage, EU member states will have to approach foreign policy questions with more strength, unity and vigour. This means building a credible European Security and Defence Policy. And it will bring only benefits to NATO too. After all, the European partners have to be able to deliver in the Alliance as well.

This will include investing in hard power. Economic and political power is only credible when it is backed by military power. We need to place more emphasis on cooperation between European armed forces. But frankly, we also need to set aside more resources for our own defence capabilities. I hope we can make genuine progress in this area: it is sorely needed. At the same time, member states must continue to invest in their civilian capacity. In the years ahead, demand for these kinds of services and expertise are certain to increase too. EU missions depend on the efforts of police officers, judges and other rule-of-law experts. Here too, there is much to be gained. I imagine that Nick Witney spoke about this issue this morning. He once described European missions as a ‘triumph of improvisation’. 1 We can do better. We must do better.

A precondition for this is an integrated mindset. Both civilian and military action, rather than either one or the other. This is one of the EU’s strengths – a unique strength, in fact. We should reorganise our planning structures to reflect his, both strategically and operationally. At some point, we will also need to start thinking about establishing a civilian-military operational headquarters in Brussels. We could also improve our efficiency in developing capacity. In other words: prevent overlap and promote joint investment. There’s not a lot of money to go round, so we need to be smart in using the resources we have. The joint deployment of helicopters, for example. We also have to engage with other partners: NATO, of course, but also strategically important players such as the Russian Federation. Partnerships like these increase not only our capacity but also our political clout in the world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Netherlands is a fine country, and we’re good at many things. There’s no reason to be shy about that. It’s a fact demonstrated every day by our globally minded entrepreneurs, including some from Groningen! Like the shipbuilders at Wijnne Barends! But there are some things we can’t do alone. Safeguarding our security and prosperity in this world is one of them. That requires our combined efforts. To make it in the world, we need the European Union. That’s the message I wanted to bring to Groningen today and the message we can discuss in more detail in a moment.

Thank you.

1 http://www.nrc.nl/europa/article1987834.ece/Strijdmacht_EU_werkt_voor_geen_meter