Prime Minister Mark Rutte and President Barack Obama consult with each other during the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C. in April 2016.
For more than 400 years, the Netherlands and the United States have formed a deep bond founded on shared values and a common history.
It started in 1609 when a Dutch ship, the Half Moon, landed on the shores of what is now Manhattan. The two nations have been trading with and investing in each other since.
In fact, the Netherlands was the first country to loan money, five million guilders, to a young America in 1782. Through the centuries, the Netherlands and US economic partnership has created jobs, sound investments, and promising opportunities.
And the ties between our two countries keep growing stronger.
The Netherlands is a fixture in the top five largest foreign investors in the US. With its favorable business climate, highly trained workforce, and strategic position in Europe, the Netherlands attracts a lot of American businesses too. The US maintains the leading single-country investor overall for the Netherlands.
In short, the US and the Netherlands have a partnership that works. And as one of the founding nations of the European Union, the Netherlands plays a pivotal role in the the EU.
But as the world continues to grow more complex and connected than ever before, and with security challenges roiling nations near and far, the US and the Netherlands — and the EU and the US — need to keep nurturing their relationship to ensure it benefits future generations, Netherlands Ambassador to the US Henne Schuwer believes.
“If we think of our relationship as a gardener thinks of his garden, we’ll realize how much work we must put into it. A gardener does not simply plant seeds and wait for vegetables to grow,” Ambassador Schuwer said. “No, he must prepare the soil, sow the seeds, water the seedlings, pull weeds, and manage pests to yield a decent crop. The relationship between our two nations is worth that kind of work. Our children and grandchildren are worth the work.”
The challenges of a turbulent world
The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs has for years emphasized the interconnectivity of internal and external security. This has never been clearer than today.
Five years of civil war in Syria have had detrimental consequences for the Syrian population, and regional spillover that affects Europe. Migration flows, refugees, degrading treatment at the borders of, and inside of, the EU create images that are shocking.
Understandably, Ambassador Schuwer said, this can lead to the tendency of people locking their doors and drawing their curtains while waiting for the storm to pass. But if people and nations allow this tendency to dominate, those who threaten the Western way of life will have room to maneuver.
“I sometimes wonder if we fully comprehend what exactly is at stake here, and I’m weary of a sense of defeatism. It’s as if there’s nothing any of us can do, as if it’s better to simply draw the curtains, turn up the heater and open a bottle of wine,” said Ambassador Schuwer.
“We’re better than that. Everything we have accomplished since World War II, in our own country, in Europe, and in the world, is phenomenal,” he said. “We must work together to protect that, and fewer relationships are more important to that effort than the one between the EU and the US.”
Responsibilities and leadership
That being said, what can the US and EU does to strengthen the transatlantic relationship?
For starters, European nations can invest more in their own security, and the EU and the US can approve the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
European nations, including the Netherlands, need to stop seeing defense as an afterthought and start investing more in their own security.
Without question, the Netherlands does contribute, particularly in the anti-ISIL coalition, in Mali, and in Afghanistan. But in order to maintain those international efforts — for which the demand will only increase, not decrease — additional funding is necessary.
“A situation in which the US is responsible for supplying a large portion of the means to NATO is not sustainable. NATO partners are committed to spend 2% of the GDP to defense,” said Ambassador Schuwer.
“Naturally, the US is critical, and asks itself how it is possible that the US takes the safety of the Europeans more seriously than the Europeans themselves,” he said. “We in Europe need to do our part to take our own security as seriously as our American allies do.”
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
From Europe and the Netherlands alike, negotiations on this ambitious trade treaty between the US and the EU are viewed with suspicion and apprehension.
The social debate on TTIP is overshadowed by a fear of chlorine chickens and lawsuits with hardly any attention given to the positive sides of a trade deal between the two largest trade entities in the world.
What could TTIP mean for us, both economic and political?
The Netherlands, as a trading nation, should try to close this deal to not only decrease trade tariffs, but to also accept each other’s standards, Ambassador Schuwer believes.
“In certain areas, our standards are different from those in the US, but US standards are not crazy. Obviously, the EU needs to tend to the legitimate concerns of its citizens, but we don’t have to let ourselves be led exclusively by negativity,” he said.
“It’s up to us to sustain our transatlantic alliance and keep on working together for the greater good. We must make sure our transatlantic alliance continues to bear fruit for generations to come.”