Speech by King Willem-Alexander at the state banquet during the state visit to Greece

Madam President,

This visit had to be postponed twice, but finally it is happening! It’s a great pleasure to be paying a state visit to the Hellenic Republic.

We had wanted to visit you at the end of last year, in honour of the two-hundredth anniversary of the revolution that led to Greece’s independence. 

On Spetses, an island we often visit, the statue of Bouboulina stands proudly in the main square. She represents the contribution women have made to a free and strong Greece. You, too, are part of this long tradition, as the first woman president of the Hellenic Republic.

Greece brings to mind a myth about the goddess Athena. She and Poseidon were competing for control of Attica. Zeus decided that the one who offered the most useful gift would rule. 

Poseidon created a saltwater spring. And Athena an olive tree. She won. 

In the course of history, the tree was split by violence and scorched by fire. But it kept sprouting new green leaves. Life triumphed over and over again. 

Madam President, Greece is that olive tree.

Over the past decade we have seen evidence of its will to survive. After the extremely difficult years of the credit crisis, Greece found the strength and courage to reinvent itself. You introduced major administrative and economic reforms. 

I am keenly aware of the many sacrifices the people of this country have made. But the results give new confidence in the future. The olive tree is flourishing once more!

It’s important that the wider world recognises the incredible efforts that the people of Greece have made. I hope that our state visit will contribute to that.

We also want to focus on issues that we are wrestling with in the European Union, such as the reception of migrants. Due to its geographical location, this has been a profound challenge for Greece. 

It has placed a heavy burden on local communities on the islands and the mainland. But it’s a matter that concerns us all, and one for which all of us in Europe share responsibility. In a Europe without borders, migration is an issue that can only be resolved at EU level. Greece is also our southeastern border. And so, we feel closely connected with what happens here.

Greece is a proud and self-assured nation. And rightly so: the very concept of Europe would not exist if not for the rediscovery of Greek civilisation. Fortunately your country is not simply an open-air museum. Pride in the past goes hand in hand with the conviction that continuous renewal is needed, in government, society and the economy.

For the Netherlands, working with you on innovation is a source of inspiration. 

One example that’s close to our hearts is Orange Grove, an incubator for business startups. I remember our last visit, shortly after the launch in 2013. Back then it was still a small-scale initiative of the Dutch embassy here in Athens. Now, it’s a bustling community of young companies, universities, public authorities, investors and educational institutions. My wife and I are looking forward to visiting Orange Grove again tomorrow.

We see many more opportunities to deepen our cooperation. For example in the area of defence. We are united in our support for the people of Ukraine, who are facing such a terrible test. And in the need to help restore security and stability in Europe.

Another priority we share is the transition to a cleaner, climate-neutral economy. I know that this is very important to you – as it is to us. It’s essential to place sustainability at the heart of our actions, and our energy supplies, for example by embracing green hydrogen. The Netherlands wants to work with you to achieve that.

Madam President, we have been partners in the European Union for over four decades now.

Together we saw the Berlin Wall come down. We have welcomed 18 new member states and bidden one farewell. We’ve endured deep financial-economic crises. We’ve faced a pandemic. And now we stand united for freedom and democracy, against the backdrop of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

We’ve grown closer, getting to know and appreciate each other more and more. 

Two centuries after the start of your fight for independence, and after ten difficult years, Greece can again look forward to a vibrant future. That is proof of your remarkable resilience! We are grateful for this opportunity to be your guests at this turning point in the pride and confidence of the Greek people.
Greece warms the soul. We treasure our friendship with this beautiful country. A country where ancient olive trees always sprout fresh, green leaves.

And now I’d like to propose a toast.

To your health, Madam President and Mr Kotsonis.