The National Day of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is celebrated on 27 April, the birthday of King Willem-Alexander. This year, the King together with his wife Queen Máxima and their 3 daughters Amalia, Alexia and Ariane will visit the Dutch city of Amersfoort to celebrate his birthday. On this occasion, for sure, the city of Amersfoort and all others in the Netherlands will be colored in orange, and there will be many other things that, together, form the Dutch ‘brand’: tulips, Gouda cheese, windmills, ‘stroopwafels’, wooden shoes, ‘bitterballen’ and so on. Many of these products are rooted in old traditions. Some originated in the 17th century when the Dutch – traditionally eager seafarers and keen mapmakers – started to explore the seas and to develop economically. The Netherlands began to trade with the Far East, and as the century wore on, it gained an increasingly dominant position in world trade.
The 17th century is known in the Netherlands as our ‘Golden Age’. It was a period of great wealth for the Dutch Republic. With the East India Company (VOC), trade blossomed and cities who were members of the VOC were among the richest in Holland. The rich history of these cities is still visible in their many mansions, canals, churches, city walls and harbours. In addition to becoming a trade nation, the Netherlands also attracted philosophers, writers and scientists from around the world. Art and science blossomed as well, which can be seen in the paintings of several famous Dutch Masters: Rembrandt, Hals, Vermeer and Steen.
Actually, in 2019, we mark the fact that the so-called Grand Master of the Golden Age, Rembrandt van Rijn, passed away exactly 350 years ago. It is probably no exaggeration to state that Rembrandt van Rijn is one of Europe’s most famous painters, having produced about 300 paintings, 300 etchings and some 2000 drawings. Rembrandt died in 1669, having lost his house and belongings and in fact, having gone bankrupt.
The death of Rembrandt was followed, very soon after, by the year that is known in Dutch history as the ‘year of disaster’, 1672. In that year, the Dutch Republic was on the verge of collapse, being invaded at the same time by the French army under Louis XIV, attacked on sea by forces under the command of the King of England and invaded in the North East by troups from the bishoprics of Cologne and Muenster. The Republic was reduced to a third of its original size and a period of economic decline followed.
While this is not something to celebrate, it does make us aware of the huge progress we have made and the achievements we have realized since then. An important part of that progress must be attributed to the fact that we are situated in Europe. After centuries of wars on the European continent, the cooperation we have established in the European Union, with our former adversaries, has brought us peace. In addition to huge economic progress and political advantages. Today, all EU members states have a shared interest in providing security, not only in our own part of the world, but in others too. This holds true for the Netherlands as well as Romania, despite the fact that our two countries are situated in different corners of Europe.
2019 is a special year for Romania. For the first time in its history, Romania holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. A challenging task, especially at a time when, just like at the end of the 17th century in the Netherlands, progress cannot be taken for granted. Faced with the possibility of a Brexit, EU member states, under the guidance of Romania, need to carefully reflect on the EU’s strategic agenda for the years to come. Making sure that EU citizens understand what the EU stands for and that it can deliver on its promises. Issues like the EU’s climate policy, a sustainable economy, migration, security, but also safeguarding the EU’s values and interests, should be on the agenda in the Dutch view. If we as EU partners manage to realize our objectives and show clear results, this will certainly inspire EU citizens to vote in the upcoming elections for the next European Parliament, which will be held in Romania on 26 May.
An important stage in the process of determining strategic choices for the EU will be the upcoming gathering in Sibiu on 9 May, where the European leaders will have a first exchange of views on the EU’s internal and external policy priorities. 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 countries that are eager to see Romania conclude its Presidency successfully. Having in mind the progress that has been achieved in the legislative area in the first few months of Romania’s EU Presidency, the Netherlands is looking forward to a discussion about all of these priorities, starting in Sibiu on 9 May. I wish all the Romanian colleagues involved in the Presidency success in this endeavor.