November 19, 2018

Bert Koenders on the Dutch EU Presidency

By Joe Ray.

H. E. Mr. Bert Koenders, Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, delivered a speech in The Hague on 20 November outlining the strategy and objectives of the forthcoming Dutch EU Presidency.

The sold-out event was the culmination of a two-day Pre-Presidency Conference, jointly organised by the Clingendael Institute for International Relations and the Trans European Policy Studies Association (TEPSA). TEPSA traditionally provides recommendations for the incoming Council Presidency, and guests at Leiden University Campus The Hague were given a concise summary of the Association’s recommendations for the 2016 Dutch Presidency by Professor Iain Begg, TEPSA Board Member and Professorial Research Fellow at the European Institute, London School of Economics.

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Mr Koenders was then welcomed to the podium. He thanked TEPSA for their proposals, adding that Europe faces many difficult challenges which can only be resolved if its Member States stick together. There is no viable alternative to European cooperation, the Minister argued. It may be costly at times, and indeed the transaction costs of getting things done in the EU have increased as the Union has expanded, yet the price of isolationism and populism is even higher.

According to the Minister, the complexity of the challenges facing Europe cannot be used as an excuse for inaction – no matter how difficult they may seem. The Netherlands will play the role of an “honest broker with ambitions” during its Presidency, said Mr Koenders, remarking that he remains optimistic about the prospects for European solidarity and cooperation despite the multitude of issues with which the 2016 Dutch Presidency will be confronted.

In the Minister’s view, issues such as the migration crisis, terrorism, and the environment can be successfully addressed if European countries are willing to work together. Mr Koenders went on to outline the “strategic agenda” which the Netherlands intends to pursue upon the commencement of its Presidency.

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This agenda has four distinct aspects, he explained.

First, economic growth must be strengthened through innovation, smart regulation, and the completion of the single market in services.

Second, energy and climate issues must be addressed – Mr Koenders expressed his hope that the COP21 climate conference in Paris will result in workable proposals which can be implemented at the EU level, and also highlighted the importance of energy security.

Third, the EU must act more coherently and strategically as an entity if it is to have a viable global role.

Finally, reforms must be made to the EU financial system, including better support for small businesses.

The Minister’s speech was followed by a Q&A session and reception.

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