April 23, 2019

Two years as German Ambassador to The Netherlands

By His Excellency Mr.  Dirk Brengelmann, Ambassador of Germany in the Netherlands.

Over 30 years ago, my wife Brigitte and I visited The Hague (and the German Embassy and Huis Schuylenburch, the German Ambassador’s Residence in the city centre), as part of the training programme of our Foreign Service Academy. The late Ambassador Otto von der Gablentz, a beacon of Dutch-German relations, received us and the other participants in the programme.

He described the challenges of his job, given many people’s memories of World War II, but also the wonderful experience of working with the people of the Netherlands to foster relations between our two countries. It was his dream job, he said. My wife and I concluded that this could be a future posting for us…It just took a little time.

And it is still a dream job for any German Ambassador today. German-Dutch relations cover every aspect of international cooperation, but go beyond that to include the regional and local level, in particular cross-border cooperation/Euregios, etc.

One aspect of the work of Otto von der Gablentz has changed: the shadows and tensions in the aftermath of World War II have largely faded away. However, it is still part of my work to attend important herdenking events, to make sure we remember and give testimony.

As I mentioned, German-Dutch relations touch every aspect, and some facts are hardly known to either the Germans or Dutch:

  • In 2017, goods worth 177 billion euros were traded between Germany and the Netherlands. German imports from the Netherlands amounted to 91.2 billion, while German exports to the Netherlands totalled 85.7 billion. The Netherlands was thus Germany’s second most important trading partner, right after China. Germany has been the main holiday destination for the Dutch for the past eleven years– and the Dutch are very much no. 1 in terms of foreign visitors to Germany.
  • The Dutch and German armies are integrating on many levels, well beyond the 1 (German-Netherlands) Corps in Münster. New projects are being planned. In most of our missions abroad we are teaming up with the Netherlands and this cooperation is very important to us.
  • In foreign policy and in the European Union our two countries are far more often than not “like-minded” and work closely together. This is true from the top level right to the very practical cooperation between our capitals, across the border and abroad.
  • The Dutch very much like this to take place at Augenhöhe, that is, on an equal footing. And given their status as a strong economic and political player, they have every reason for this.
  • At the Frankfurter Buchmesse in 2016 the Netherlands and Flanders were the Guest of Honour. I was amazed to see how many Dutch books appeal to a German audience. We are interested in the literature, history and politics of the Netherlands – some even say the country is a bellwether state for upcoming developments.

Ambassador Brengelmann.

Are there aspects which I think could be better? Yes, indeed, I believe it would be very good if Dutch school children learned more German (again). Language skills are important for communication, better mutual understanding, business, travel etc.

We also strive for more Dutch language education in Germany – and it works well, mainly in the western border areas.

I have often been asked what I like most about the Netherlands. My answers would include:

  • the open and professional way of doing business in the Netherlands. The country’spolitical system is very transparent. The Kamerbrief instrument is indicative of the relationship between the executive and the legislative. And it is a treasure for the reporting needs of any diplomat!
  • the good mix of old Dutch towns and remarkable modern architecture, even next to the motorway
  • the beaches in Scheveningen and Wassenaar (as I write it is 38 °C outside…) and biking in the dunes.

I am also asked if there is anything I do not like or where I disagree. As Ambassador one is naturally cautious, but let me try:

  • I have not become the greatest fan of broodjes lunch, but there are excellent restaurants here, no doubt.
  • Some Dutch argue they are basically free of hierarchical structures. However, I can quickly sense a certain hierarchical order, but it is more informal than in other countries.

Many observers say that it is always a good idea to mix German and Dutch colleagues, talents etc. After two years in The Hague, I can only agree.

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