The national day of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is celebrated on 27 April, the day when King Willem-Alexander celebrates his birthday. Willem-Alexander was crowned the King of the Netherlands on 30 April 2013. Before that date, Dutch people were used to celebrating Queen’s day, because of the fact that we had Queen Beatrix, who succeeded her mother Queen Juliana and before her Queen Wilhelmina who acceded to the throne in 1890. So for almost 125 years, the head of state of the Netherlands was a woman. And the influence of women on Dutch state affairs does not end there, because King Willem-Alexander married Queen Máxima, a former investment banker but also the UN’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance, who is known world-wide for her tireless efforts to improve access to financial services for those in the world who are less fortunate and for whom access to small credits may be the first step out of poverty.
In Romania, a woman is in charge of the government for the first time in the history of this country. I met Madam Prime-Minister on March 12, for what may be considered part of the standard, diplomatic practice: the courtesy call that an Ambassador of a friendly country, partner in EU and NATO, pays to a newly appointed Prime-Minister. Except that it wasn’t! We had a substantive meeting, that lasted well over an hour, and our discussion ranged from the Dutch-Romanian partnership in the EU, via our dynamic economic cooperation, to difficult bilateral topics. And we agreed on pragmatic ways to intensify our relations and bring them to a higher level.
Since that first meeting, there have been two more meetings – each in the company of many other ambitious and dedicated women, ministers and ambassadors. And every time, our discussions have focused on concrete solutions to real problems of our societies, problems that the people in our two countries encounter in their everyday life.
Naturally, we have focused on the position of women. Starting from the awareness that global gender parity according to a recent publication by the World Economic Forum is still 170 years away. There is much to be done, which includes addressing the issue of violence against women- which is unfortunately still so present in today’s society. In Romania, almost one quarter of Romanian women between 18-74 experience physical and/or sexual violence at least once in the life by an intimate partner. Both Romania and the Netherlands have ratified the Istanbul Convention on combating violence against women, but from figures like these, we see that there is still work ahead. If we can move forward on issues such as this one together, that is to our mutual benefit. Because it is also clear that, in some areas, Romania can serve as an example to others, including the Netherlands. Such as is the case when we look at the gender pay gap. With a pay gap of only 6 pct, Romania is the European country that is doing best. In the Netherlands, women unfortunately still get paid on average 16 pct less for the same job.
In the meetings with the Prime Minister and many other women in leadership positions, it was decided that these and other inequalities are unacceptable in 2018. We looked at all the powerful women that we see, the talent that is available and we look at our own possibility of being role models, and reaching out to the younger generation, especially girls. And decided we wanted to get to work, using not only our strengths and capacities, but also the diversity of our respective societies, starting from different cultures, coming from a different history and located in different geographical positions.
The Netherlands and Romania are situated in different, almost opposed, corners of Europe. This partly explains why we hold sometimes different views on issues. But we are allies in NATO and partners in the EU. We have a shared interest in providing security in our and other parts of the world, in upholding the values that we have committed ourselves to and making the EU an area of prosperity, stability, safety and well-being for all our citizens.
When the Netherlands held the EU Presidency two years ago, our priorities naturally included the migration crisis, but also improving the functioning of the internal market (in the area of digital services), making our economies fully circular and introducing the Urban Agenda, enabling European cities to take part in European decision making, especially with the aim of making our cities more livable by making them smart. The Dutch Embassy in Bucharest, during our Presidency, has succeeded in undertaking several local activities to put our EU priorities in practice. For instance, we have embarked on an ambitious project in the framework of our focus on smart mobility, and recently an impressive number of Romanian mayors visited ‘smart city projects’ in the Netherlands, to witness what results can be achieved in different fields if one applies innovative techniques in sectors such as infrastructure, transportation or health care, but also if one aims at sustainable solutions for agriculture or waste management.
Very soon, on 1 January 2019, Romania will take over the Presidency of the European Council. A daunting task! Brexit will mean that EU member states need to carefully reflect on the EU’s strategic agenda for the years to come and the new budgetary cycle forces us to take decisions that may be painful. It places a great responsibility on Romania and its leadership. But of course, Romania can count on the support of its EU partners, the Netherlands being very much among those that are eager to see this country succeed its first EU Presidency.
I am looking forward to continued cooperation with our Romanian interlocutors on all these issues, and on all the possible levels. If we do this in an inclusive way, using also the unused potential of the many talented women in this country, we will certainly be able to move things forward. Thus, we ensure that pragmatic decisions are taken and that the interest of the future generations will be put in the first place.
Photo credit: Sorin Stana