Esteemed Ms Ambassador, this is the second time when you’ll be celebrating the King’s Day in Romania and you’ll be hosting the reception for this event. What is your main message on this occasion for the Dutch community living here?
First of all, let me thank you for allowing me, on the occasion of our national day, the birthday of our King Willem Alexander, to thank you. I am a faithful reader of the Nine o’ clock news and I especially appreciate your analyses of political events. Turning now to the Dutch AND the Romanian community, I would underline that we have seen numerous success stories in the year that is behind us and which I believe provide a solid basis to work on in the year ahead.
Clearly, 2016 was a very successful year of economic growth in Romania and I congratulate your country with this achievement. At the same time, one should not forget that Dutch companies active in Romania do not only benefit from this, but actually contribute to this too. Over 4000 Dutch companies mean some 200.000 jobs. So, let’s continue this solid economic relationship and elaborate it in different ways and fields.
How will you mark King’s Day in Romania?
This year’s King’s Day is a special one, since the King was born in 1967 meaning that he turns 50. To mark this special year, we will add some special element to our traditional King’s Day reception. More particularly, we have decided to mark the reception, taking place in Hilton hotel with the involvement of its Dutch Operational manager, by something for which the Netherlands is world famous, namely flowers.
While having a flower arrangement contest on the occasion of King’s Day in Romania has almost become a tradition – it is the 8th edition and the contest is gaining in popularity year after year! – we have added a new element this year: the guests attending our King’s Day reception will be able to cast their vote on their most favourite flower arrangement. As a result of this vote, I will hand over a ‘people’s choice award’ to the winner during the reception. So not only will we have 50 Romanian florists competing for the first prize of the most beautiful flower arrangement by a professional jury, but we will also have this popular vote. In my view, this is symbolic of the popularity of our Royal family and the importance of the King and his family for our country.
How do you sum-up the experience you have had so far as Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Romania? Is there a project close to your heart that you have fulfilled so far, one you are very proud of?
That is a very tough question! Being Dutch Ambassador in Romania and Moldova, the issues I deal with and the areas that we are active in, are extremely diverse and varied! This is actually the beauty of my position. So, there are a number of things that spring to my mind…It could be the efforts that we do with Dutch companies to liaise with several faculties in Bucharest and other cities in Romania to make sure that education is more closely adapted to professional demands (vocational training), it could be our efforts of ‘greening the city’, involving Dutch horticulture, or our bringing in Dutch designers to contribute to renewing the city and overhauling old industrial complexes. But if I really have to choose one, it would be working with Romanian law students on a very special project which concerns the screening of a Dutch documentary, called Gazing into the Soul. The documentary features interviews with Dutch judges and offers a unique glimpse into this profession and particularly the challenges that come with it. So, watching Dutch judges discuss questions such as what it means to be a legal professional, what expectations society has from professionals working in the justice field and how to meet them. And then to discuss this with young Romanians preparing for a career in this field is truly rewarding.
We will continue this work, we plan future screenings at the Bucharest Court of Appeal, our Consul in Timisoara plans on organizing several screening for legal professionals there and the National Training Institute for Magistrates plans to introduce the documentary in the continuous training program for judges and prosecutors.
This really is a project that is dear to my heart, not only because of the strong profile the Netherlands has when it comes to justice and international law, but simply because it is important to have honest conversations about such essential questions related to fundamental values and how you deal with them. Maybe I should invite you to participate in one of the screenings.
In the interview granted to Nine O’clock last year on the King’s Day, you have metaphorically stated that your main priority here is “to show all the colors of the Netherlands in Romania”. How much have you succeeded in this period of time to show from Holland’s face as a country of innovation, of creative industry, of modern city planning and architecture?
I think we have come a long way! But of course, my ambition goes further and I believe that much more can still be done. As I indicated in my answer to your previous question, the Embassy has been quite active in ‘spreading the Dutch model’ in several areas that we consider of interest in the Dutch/Romanian relations and where we think we can make a difference. To give you one concrete example: we have in different ways promoted the concept of “smart cities”, which I find most relevant for Romania’s fast growing cities, not only Bucharest. I believe there is a lot we can do together there.
The Netherlands has been an urban delta for many centuries. Our part of Europe was one of the first areas to urbanize quickly, having to deal with a large population on a small piece of land. This has led to all types of smart solutions with regard to public infrastructure, urban planning, food production, transportation and governance aspects. “Smart cities” are now very much on the agenda of policy planners, both on the central and on the local level. Today’s challenges have to do with stimulating innovation, climate resilience, energy efficiency, smart mobility, green and livable cities.
The Netherlands actively supports the exchange between cities in the EU with regard to smart solutions for urban challenges . As a follow up of our EU Presidency in 2016, and signing of the EU Urban Agenda, three Romanian cities (Constanta, Timisoara, and Sfantu Gheorge) have joined this initiative.
Smart cities and greening the city are perhaps my favourite subject; I really like to promote this concept. Not least because I find it very fundamental in our fast changing world: did you know that green spaces improve air quality and limit the impact of heatwaves? In addition, urban vegetation stores carbon, helps to mitigate climate change, and reduces the likelihood of flooding by storing excess rain. Besides that, an urban area with lots of green areas increases the value of the real estate. Also it has been calculated that children exercise 15% more if you add 10% extra green areas in the city. I think no further comment is needed to prove the importance of this subject.
With 25 per cent of the total foreign capital invested in Romania, Dutch companies contemplate new opportunities to expand their activity here. What are in your opinion, the main factors that explain this increased interest of the Dutch investors to develop their presence here?
There has been strong interest in Romania from Dutch businesses for many years now. Nearly all Dutch multinationals have a significant presence in this country and are large investors and job providers in Romania. In transport and logistics, banking, insurance, retail, manufacturing, shipbuilding and agriculture.
Dutch companies are attracted to Romania because of its strategic location, growing domestic market, competitive cost structure and the many talents of many young Romanians such as language skills, engineering ability, design skills, salesmanship, creativity, ICT-knowledge.
Of course, Romania’s persistent economic growth, amounting to 4,7 pct last year is an additional pull factor. All in all, it provides for a healthy economic climate, a fertile soil so to speak, to which Dutch companies, as I stated before, are willing and eager to contribute. They can provide added value and we see many examples of how the Dutch-Romanian combination is often a winning one.
All together, this has led to The Netherlands being the largest investor in Romania and resulted in a large and growing trade volume between our countries. In fact, in 2016, the bilateral trade volume was more than Euro 3.6 billion.
What about the social projects in which the Embassy of the Netherlands is involved?
You know: I consider Romania first and foremost a strong and relevant partner in EU and NATO and a strong economic performer. Romania is preparing itself for its first EU presidency in the first half of 2019; this is actually another important project for Romania where the Netherlands, having in mind our own fresh experience with an EU Presidency, is eager to support and assist Romania. During the very recent visit of the Director-General for EU cooperation of the Dutch Foreign Ministry to the Minister delegate for EU affairs, Ms. Birchall, we discussed various possibilities to do so. I am personally committed to help realize this.
So, with this I want to say that the times are past when the Netherlands had a substantial bilateral portfolio for social projects: Romania has access to EU funds, our discussions as EU partners also concern the social Europe that we are eager to build together, in short: we have moved on.
Having said that, I do see it as part of my job to get to know more women in leadership and influencer positions in Romania, with the purpose of inspiring other, less fortunate or less successful women from other layers of the Romanian society. So, on Women’s day (March 8), I invited some of these very impressive and inspiring women, to identify and discuss possible ways we have to bring about positive changes in Romanian society, starting from our respective working environments.
This is a discussion I would like to continue. I am not sure I would want to call it a social project; it is rather another example of our multiple engagement with all segments of Romanian society, reaching out to influencers, opinion-makers and, by doing so, coming up with new ideas and plans to work together and to intensify even further the Dutch-Romanian relationship.