Speech by Prince Constantijn
The Hague, 13 March 2007
in The Hague University of Professional Education.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The subject of this gathering is a timely one. The Treaty of Rome, which laid the basis for today's European Union, was signed fifty years ago, and we are in the middle of the debate on the future ond the European constitutional treaty. But today I do not want to address the past nor the current political debate. I prefer to look towards the future. I thought there would be more sense I trying to give you a few pointers as you begin your careers in an integrating Europe. More generally, I want to say a few things about the role the Netherlands could play in Europe.
I thank the organisers for giving me the opportunity to address these subjects that are close to my heart.
Besides being Dutch, I also have a European identity. Europe is the reality in which I live and work. The EU is a structure that makes it possible for me to live and work in Europe. It provides a free, secure, stable and equitable community of law without borders. In some ways it also supplies me with an identity, which I feel mainly when I am outside Europe.
Europe is a reality. I do not question its existence, nor do I see any sense in debating the further need of the EU and the wider process of European integration. The EU is a community that we are bound to, that has proved itself over the years and to which we owe an enormous amount. Arguments about the need and value of the EU and European integration as such are either very academic or are meant to serve certain political agendas; but in any case, they don't take us forward. The discussion is more meaningful when it focuses on how we want to organise or change Europe. More specifically, it makes sense to talk about what our own ambitions are for Europe, as a country or for that matter as a region, a city, an organisation or an individual. What do we really want from Europe? How can we seize the opportunities that Europe offers at all these levels?
I stand by the general principles that fear is a bad counsellor, that it is better to base our approach on our strong points, and that we are more likely to succeed when we have the required knowledge. I also think that a consistent and constructive player fares better than an opportunistic one who seeks to maximise short term personal advantage. (This is incidentally an established theory on recurrent negotiations.)
Allow me to dwell briefly on why fear is dangerous, why we should base our approach on our strong points, why knowledge is necessary and why we need a constructive approach.
On the subject of Europe, we are often guided by fear, which is mostly the result of ignorance. Fear of hordes of workers from Eastern Europe, fear of losing our national or local identities, fear of the unknown, fear of the onward march of globalisation, and so on. I think it is more effective and useful to focus on the opportunities that Europe offers. How can Europe be a base for us to compete in an integrating world economy? How can Europe be a credible, clear voice for world peace, security, solidarity and justice? How can we benefit from the large supply of hard-working, well-educated Eastern Europeans, and how can we help them succeed? How can we attract the best talent and be pioneers in the knowledge economy? And how can we get the most out of the diversity and creativity that Europe has to offer? How can we define our distinctive qualities and strong points?
What causes this fear? What do people think Europe will deprive them of? Is European integration really a threat? This poses the question: what is typically Dutch, in fact? What are our distinctive qualities and strong points? I think the Netherlands excels in its enterprising and commercial spirit, its open society, its solid public sector, its international outlook, its pragmatism and reliability, its effectiveness, efficiency and creative talent. To these we owe our innovative and technology intensive agriculture, a disproportionate number of world-class companies, good scholarly institutions, leadership in water management…;Dutch people manage hotels and companies around the world. The Netherlands is a favourite base for foreign companies to invest. In short, there is very good basis to succeed in Europe and the world beyond. The only threat to these Dutch strong points comes from ourselves, when we close ourselves off behind walls of our own making.
I don't believe that Europe threatens our identity. I don't see this threat, and I don't know of anyone who wants a Europe of boring uniformity. If there is a levelling trend in the world today it might be globalisation, which is making all products available all the time in the same shops and restaurants in every city in the world. But in Europe I see precisely the opposite trend. Countries, regions and cities are doing better at projecting clear identities, because a distinctive profile gives them a competitive advantage. People feel comfortable with local customs, languages, food and cultures. Diversity can be a source of great strength. So we need to ask ourselves constantly what we should harmonise and where we should encourage diversity. The ability to manage diversity should be a trump card for Europe and Europeans in a globalising world.
Knowledge is another important precondition for success. So I'm glad that this topic is on the agenda today at The Hague University. Europe is increasingly the space in which we live and work, and we will be working more and more with other Europeans. We elect Members of the European Parliament and see European Commissioners more often on TV and in the papers. If we want to make our influence felt as a country and as individuals, we need to know how Europe works and what our opportunities are. Just as the people who know their way around the Netherlands will be the winners in the Netherlands, and the people who know the world will win out internationally, the people who know their way around Europe will be Europe's winners. At school and university, in business and public administration, we must be aware of Europe, of how Europe affects us and what we can do to be effective in Europe.
I see education as a crucial link. We have a responsibility to prepare our citizens and our future intellectual capital for life and work in Europe. If we do it well, we will have a competitive advantage. If we neglect it, others will overtake us. How effective we will be is largely up to us.
The last general principle I stated is that we are more effective when we are constructive and consistent. A constructive Netherlands knows what it wants and uses its means to reach its ends. A consistent Netherlands makes clear where it stands and is a reliable partner in Europe. Especially for a small country, it is important to look for solutions and play a full part in the most significant political processes, like the Netherlands has done since the EU's inception 50 years ago. You can't exert influence from the sidelines, and if you don't know what you want, exerting influence is pointless in any case. With focused, consistently harnessed ambition, you can go far in Europe. The countries that dare to take the lead are the ones who shape or dominate the playing field.
The same applies to individual citizens. They need to say what they expect from Europe and hold their elected representatives to their word. Every poll after the referendum showed that, despite their criticisms, people generally do not reject the EU. In fact on some issues - migration, counterterrorism, the environment, foreign policy - they expect more Europe, that is, a clearer and more definite position from the EU. Their criticisms mainly relate to the relentlessness and inaccessibility of some EU decision-making processes. People want Europe to serve their interests in ways they can understand and identify with.
This message should not only be heard in a referendum, but whenever decisions are taken in the EU. The aim should be a Europe where people can move freely and safely and where it is simple to do business and set up companies. We should demand that the EU make more effective use of its scale, as a market, an area for research and a player in the world arena. At the same time, a large scale should not be a goal in itself; it should not be allowed to diminish the rich diversity of the European continent.
Europe should work for us, and we should let our voice be heard in Europe with a concerted effort to create a better world for us, our children and the world around us. If there is one continent that can play this role, it is Europe. Europe has learned from its own violent history that interdependence and respect for diversity are the only basis for lasting peace, in which the rule of law prevails rather than military force.
We have to make Europe part of the solution for the challenges the Netherlands faces, instead of treating Europe as a problem. I imagine that many of you here will do this, in your own ways, your own work and your own spheres of influence. In doing so, you will inevitably run into obstacles and ask yourselves why this or that is still not properly regulated - or why it is over-regulated. In these cases you should speak up. You should take responsibility for creating the Europe you want as part as your future. At any rate that's how I see it, and I've been asked to share my views with you today.
Fifty years ago, our grandparents' generation laid the basis for a peaceful, stable Europe. That was the great challenge of their time. The legal order they established has proved a great success. Our parents' generation created a Europe with a single market and a single currency, which has been a source of great prosperity. They won the Cold War and paved the way for an unprecedented, peaceful transition to a united, democratic Europe.
Now that the EU has reached maturity, our responsibilities are even greater. Now Europe has to face the challenge of the new Asian economies to stay competitive in the global knowledge economy. It has to export the stability and basic rights and values that it has achieved on this continent to the rest of the world, starting with our closest neighbours. It faces the challenges of climate change and of safeguarding our energy supplies. It has to find a response, working with individual member states and all us Europeans, to the inevitable flow of migrants arriving here from Asia and above all Africa.
This is the Europe you have to shape. How you do it depends on your ambition and your vision of the world you work and live in. Europe is not some distant place; it is here, everywhere around us. Ignoring it would mean selling yourselves short. Knowing it well means enlarging and improving your opportunities.
I would like to cite what Hofland wrote in the Groene Amsterdammer: we need a new word in the Netherlands for hyperactive navel-gazing. This, he says, is the syndrome this country has come down with. Some people like it. The world can go to the devil, they think; we have everything arranged so much better here. As you can imagine, I think that's a short-sighted, narrow-minded attitude. I hope you will focus on your opportunities and contribute actively to solving the problems of your time, here in your Europe.