Speech of Foreign Minister Bert Koenders at the expert meeting on Global Governance

Speech of Foreign Minister Bert Koenders at the expert meeting on Global Governance (The Hague, 8 December 2015).

This speech is only available in English.

Thank you, Dr Williams, and the Hague Institute, for hosting this joint event. And thank you, High Representative Mogherini, for your involvement, for the work of the EEAS, and for your leadership in Europe.

Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

This consultation comes at a time of rapid change, both within Europe and beyond. The need for international cooperation is greater than ever. Whether it’s climate change, security, trade, migration, or the economy, no country can go it alone. At the same time, the current multilateral system is under tremendous pressure. Both the EU and global institutions must adapt to new realities.

Let me start by saying that the Netherlands supports a strong EU Foreign and Security Policy. By acting through the EU community of shared values, European countries can achieve so much more on the global stage than they could by acting alone. That is perhaps a cliché, but it is important to say it. Together with our European partners, we must make sure that international cooperation delivers – now and in the future. In this seminar, we’ll explore how to do this.

I have every confidence that these two days will produce many valuable insights for the EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy. The Strategy should articulate a solid, ambitious, and very operational vision for global governance. Because multilateralism is not some naïve ideology. Nor is it a luxury. The opposite is true: realism, for the Netherlands and for the EU, means investing in common rules and in global governance. The problems we face don’t stop at national borders – and neither can the solutions. We gain nothing from a world of isolationism and fragmentation, where closing borders is presented as a panacea. As other powers emerge, we should redouble our efforts to find common ground. We need to shape a rules-based system that guarantees a level playing field for all. How to get there? That is the challenge before us.

Today, I want to share some of my views with you on two questions that are implicit in the programme for this event:

1. First, how should the EU organise itself to help achieve the member states’ aims on the global stage?

2. Second, what reforms to global governance should Europe push for to ensure that the multilateral system prevails?

But before I offer some of my answers to these questions, let’s have a closer look at the current state of the multilateral system.

We rely on global governance to solve global problems. When the financial crisis began turning into a global economic crisis, the world relied on the IMF, the World Bank, the regional development banks and the cooperation of central banks to cushion the impact and prevent the crisis from escalating. Even though many recipes were controversial, the world needed a coordinated response. We had to fight this together.

When disasters occur, like the recent earthquake in Nepal; or when a deadly disease emerges, like the Ebola outbreak in West Africa; or when people are forced to flee their country, like the refugees from Syria; we turn to the United Nations. We expect the UN to provide protection, food and shelter. We expect it to be the international ‘first responder’.

And when civil war ravages a country, the UN is brought in to mediate. Often, once a peace deal is concluded, the UN is there to keep the peace. I’ve been part of these efforts myself, heading the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire and the Stabilisation Mission in Mali before assuming my current position.

States still look to the multilateral system when they are confronted with problems they can’t handle by themselves. But this multilateral reflex is becoming less automatic; less self-evident. I see signals of change at different levels, from individual people to groups of countries:

1. Individual citizens are no longer waiting for the international community to respond when a crisis unfolds. Recently, a wealthy businessman and his wife spent millions of euros on a ship and a crew, to rescue people who were crossing the Mediterranean in ramshackle boats. The couple have now saved thousands of lives in a coordinated response with Italy and Malta. Private citizens are also using technology to connect with like-minded people and engage in activism. You may have heard of Avaaz. It is the world’s largest online activist network, with over 42 million members from 194 countries.

2. Private companies and charities are coming up with their own solutions as well.

Last year, Facebook introduced a feature called ‘Safety Check’ to allow people to connect with friends and loved ones during a disaster. It was activated after the Nepal earthquake in April and the Pakistan earthquake in October. And again following the recent terrorist attacks in France and Nigeria. This rapid-response tool was appreciated because it made a difference. It didn’t solve the problem, but it helped.

3. Last but not least, states are forming new coalitions and founding new institutions. Emerging countries have a larger say in many of those institutions than in existing organisations with a similar mandate. I need only mention the New Development Bank, or ‘BRICS bank’, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

In my view, such initiatives are an understandable response to today’s complex and rapidly changing realities.

All these actors want to be part of the solution to today’s challenges, and that’s a good thing!

But we have to acknowledge: some of these new initiatives were born out of frustration with the current system of global governance. A number of existing institutions are seen as ineffective, or as too exclusive, dominated by a small club of countries. The legitimacy of these organisations is being questioned.

It’s easy to point fingers. We all want to have a say in the UN’s decisions, within the boards, the General Assembly or the Security Council, but at the same time we expect rapid and effective action. The late American diplomat Richard Holbrooke once said, ‘Blaming the UN when things go wrong is like blaming Madison Square Garden when the New York Knicks play badly.’ He had a point: multilateral organisations are like a playing field. If the players – the member states – fail, they first and foremost have themselves to blame. The United Nations’ ability to function, and this applies to the EU as well, depends fully on the political, financial, and organisational capital that its member states want to invest in it.

Yet critics of the current system also have valid concerns. To stay with Holbrooke’s analogy, from time to time you need to renovate your stadium. So that you can increase its capacity, improve the playing field and accommodate new players. If you don’t, people will eventually go elsewhere.

In multilateral diplomacy, that means reforming institutions so that they remain inclusive and effective. Without reforms, our international organisations will lose their legitimacy, and then they will become irrelevant. The game will be played elsewhere.

I see a real risk here: of further fragmentation, of a far more chaotic and unpredictable reality. A world with several competing blocs, each with its own rules, but without any common denominator. A world where truly universal values that underpin our global governance – such as human rights – are dismissed as local preferences. A world where might makes right.

That is not an appealing prospect. Not for the Netherlands, and not for other European countries or the European Union. We should not stand by idly as the global order is reshaped. We should actively take part in the process. The EU can either export stability or import instability. There are not a whole lot of alternatives.

If we are to be successful, both the EU and the multilateral system need to adapt. But how?

Let’s start with the European Union, by which I mean both member states and the EU institutions.

We’ve already seen what the EU can achieve if it acts as a unified whole. When it comes to climate change, Europe plays a leading role – as shown in Paris. When it comes to international trade, the EU remains the world’s largest economic bloc. Economic power is mistakenly seen by some as ‘soft power’, while it is anything but soft. Economic sanctions are hard: just ask Iran, or Russia. Anti-trust rulings are hard: just ask Microsoft or Google.

The EU needs a unified position now more than ever. The arc of instability around our continent affects all member states. The threat of terrorism shows how closely our internal security is linked to external security. And the assertiveness of other powers requires us to stand as one. That is, Europe needs a strong Common Foreign and Security Policy, and a strong Common Security and Defence Policy.

We can make much better use of existing instruments. The Lisbon Treaty allows for flexible cooperation. A great example is the concept of ‘lead nations’. The Vienna Process on Syria’s political future is a case in point. The participation of High Representative Mogherini has really helped to provide legitimacy. We should apply the ‘lead nations’ approach more often. But let me stress some important conditions: the EEAS should always be on board, and the Council must give an explicit mandate. We can’t have a situation where two or three member states decide to take care of business without sharing information with others. And we should trust the High Representative to act fully within her mandate.

Europe can also deliver better by mixing its instruments. After all, issues such as conflict, migration and poverty are often linked. This means that different policy areas – trade, development, security and politics – have to be addressed collectively: a comprehensive approach, or ‘joined-up approach’ as the High Representative calls it, helps us to better achieve our aims in a given country or region. The Sahel Security and Development Strategy sets a good example. As does the EU’s ‘regional strategy for Syria, Iraq as well as the Daesh threat’.

Let me make one remark on this. When I read this, I remember I could have read it 15 years ago. What does a comprehensive approach mean? Do we really use a mix of our instruments in a strategic and political way? Is our approach tailor-made to the regions and countries we work in? My answer is: so far, not enough. If I look at the EU’s enormous assets, I know we can do better. We need the support of the 28 member states. Everybody realises that it’s more difficult and you have higher transaction costs with 28 than with 6 or 12, but it also gives us an opportunity. Looking at our instruments, some of them soft and some of them hard, it is important that we now engage politically.

I have worked in the Sahel. According to the text in front of me, there is now a comprehensive strategy. People have analysed the security and development nexus. But what does this mean? Are we really able to have border controls there, to manage the borders, to fight against smuggling? These are the crucial questions that show whether an international organisation can work or not. A comprehensive approach proves itself when it is tailored for a political situation, and when it doesn’t push a mix of instruments in a local situation as if all situations are the same. As if we can abstract from power politics and local realities.

So the EU’s approach should not be one-size-fits-all. European Strategy paper next year. It must adapt to the situation at hand. Each region is different, and within a region each country is different. Georgia and Ukraine are both countries with internal conflicts, but they shouldn’t be approached the same way. The review of the European Neighbourhood Policy, for example, takes into account this need to be flexible and aware of new political realities. That is the approach we should take.

This is important when we talk about macro-economic support for the Ukraine, or support for the elections in the East, or when we talk about corruption. These are all characteristics specific to the Ukraine. We have to assist with reforms without taking responsibility away from the local government.

I just talked about what the EU can do to improve its action on the global stage. But what about the international organisations that European countries are members of? What reforms should the EU be pushing for in these institutions?

I want to address three key areas: representation, engaging with regional organisations and engaging with non-state actors. I also want to say a few words about the UN specifically.

First, representation. There’s really no way around it: Western countries are over-represented in a number of institutions. To remain legitimate, representation has to reflect shifts in economic weight. Thirty-five years ago, the current EU member states accounted for over 30% of global output.

Five years ago, that share had dropped to under 20%. And five years from now, the EU’s share in the world economy will be roughly 15%, having halved in the span of 40 years.

That is not something to be afraid of. Europe’s decreasing share in the world economy is good news: other countries are finally catching up, lifting millions out of poverty. We will benefit from increased prosperity elsewhere, just as the six founding member states benefited from the EU’s gradual expansion. Of course we must continue to invest in our internal market, but we will benefit from other countries’ development as well.

EU member states have shown that they are willing to make reasonable room for others. But the pressure will remain. I believe the ongoing shift in the global balance of power requires the EU member states to act more as a collective on the world stage. In time, I can imagine a single EU representation or possibly various forms of joint representation, but it should be a step we all take together, at the same time. Otherwise it is not fair.

And emerging countries should realise that with more power-sharing comes more responsibility-sharing. So this is not a zero-sum game: our making room for others becomes a way to guarantee the commitment of all. Maybe with some different views on the content.

Second, global institutions need to determine how best to engage with regional organisations.

Regionalisation is a clear trend around the world. The big question is whether regional blocs will compete or collaborate. Whether we will see fragmentation or cooperation, or a mix of the two. As regional organisations emerge, the multilateral system can no longer rely on top-down solutions for global problems. We need to figure out how to find common ground between different regions. How to arrive at common rules from the bottom up.

The European Union is extremely well positioned to play a role and to build bridges. It is the world’s most successful regional organisation. It is important to realise that this is the case, even with all the problems we have. Without the EU’s support, the African Union would not be what it is today. The EU also serves as a source of inspiration for ASEAN.

Finally, how to engage with non-state actors? We are moving towards a system of ‘Multilateralism Plus’. Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations calls for ‘collective measures for prevention and removal of threats to the peace’. Seventy years ago, ‘collective’ referred to states only. But many global issues can’t be addressed by governments alone. They need to involve a broad range of stakeholders, including non-governmental organisations and businesses. Take cyber security, on which we organised a conference, here in The Hague, earlier this year. It turns out that states cannot even define the problem just by themselves.

So today, the notion of ‘collective action’ should be interpreted in a broader and more inclusive way. Let’s create flexible and resilient coalitions, upholding a shared commitment to, and a common interest in, maintaining international peace and security. The Paris climate conference and the new Global Goals for sustainable development show what such partnerships can achieve. I am a sceptic on some aspects, but let’s not forget that even the Millennium Development Goals were to a large extent a success. Let’s also think about rules on how to collaborate on other themes, so that we become less dependent on ad hoc coalitions.

Finally I would want to make a few remarks on the United Nations before concluding. Three ways to make the UN more effective:

1. First, member states must throw their full weight behind truly global agendas to end poverty and to save our planet. The Sustainable Development Goals will help to eradicate poverty by 2030. Everybody knows that won’t happen by itself. And the current negotiations in Paris should lead to a universal climate agreement, including all relevant players – governments, civil society and business. And we need to manage the hyper-connected global economy better.

The G20, or even better: a G20+, the UN and the Bretton Woods Institutions must coordinate their work more closely.

2. Second, on conflict and peacekeeping, we have seen three excellent UN reports this year. But are we going to do anything with those? The Netherlands supports their conclusions and recommendations.

 Protecting civilians during and after conflict should be our first and foremost priority. When I look at the horrors in Syria, it seems the protection mandate has almost been forgotten. I hope the Vienna Process helps to give it proper attention again.

 We must ensure that conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts address root causes of instability and conflict, and promote inclusive development. As for peace operations, there is room for improvement of planning and logistic support. We cannot send soldiers as peacekeepers without munition.

3. Third and finally, we urgently need a more effective and legitimate UN Security Council to prevent and to end conflicts. As the Commission on Global Security, Justice and Governance emphasised, we need more opportunities for others to contribute to peace-making, peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

We are not in favour of veto rights for new Security Council members; the use of the veto can hamper decision-making and hurt legitimacy. The Kingdom of the Netherlands is committed to improving the ways of the Security Council. We hope to be elected to it, but of course it doesn’t mean we can change those ways by ourselves.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The European Union and the multilateral system are two pillars of Dutch foreign policy. Without them, my country’s role on the global stage would be much, much smaller. And it’s no different for other EU member states. Given the challenges facing Europe, the drafting of the Global Strategy comes not a moment too soon. I greatly appreciate that the High Represenatitive is seeking input beforehand, instead of afterwards. I know from experience what would happen if she had not: the dreaded ‘drafting by 29’, with the member states and the Commission debating every element. A prescription for disaster.

I look forward to the outcomes of this expert consultation. Together with Austria and Romania, we will use them to provide input for the Global Strategy’s chapter on global governance.

I want to make sure that the Strategy is solid, and that we follow through on it. During the Dutch EU Presidency, the European Council should adopt the new strategy – as we should aim for clear political commitment at the highest level. We can’t have a speech here again in three years, saying “yes, that was a nice strategy, but why did nothing happen since?” So immediately after its adoption we need to come up with specific action plans – preferably with timelines attached.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Even in a turbulent world, there is no reason to be timid. Europe is a global rule-maker and not a rule-taker. We can be modest and assertive at the same time. The EU was founded on the fundamental values of freedom, the rule of law, equality and solidarity. Even if those values cannot be imposed, their appeal resonates around the world. And as a multilateral actor, the EU is still very well placed to uphold those common values – and the rules that go with them – in our global institutions.

The EU must lead by example. Yes, we have internal problems, but we can still be confident. This seminar asks the question, ‘What is Europe’s contribution to a system of common global rules?’ My answer would be: Europe’s greatest contribution is the EU itself.

Thank you, and I wish you all an inspiring and productive seminar.