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…So it is an honour to be here in an official capacity.
Another recent privilege was hosting Prime Minister Rutte in the UK. We tried to impress him with a press conference in Admiralty House: a lavish government building filled with great naval paintings. Unbeknown to me, however, the painting we stood in front of depicted the 1672 Battle of Solebay: the battle which inaugurated the third Anglo-Dutch War. Thankfully, no embarrassment was caused - it turns out we both claimed victory.
Despite a war, or two, or three, the UK and the Netherlands are very old friends. We’ve spent centuries trading together, fighting alongside one another, our royal families even marrying each other. And - most importantly - we understand each other.
The world, as I see it, is not split along traditional lines: North/South; East/West; Developed/Developing. It is divided into those societies which are open and those which are closed. The UK and the Netherlands pioneered the modern, open society. Free; fair; outward-looking; plural; tolerant; democratic; staunch defenders of free trade. Tonight I want to explain why those values are more important than ever.
Our world in flux
Every generation believes it is living through history. But these truly are unprecedented times. A collision of historical forces - economic, social, geopolitical has left our world in a state of flux and it isn’t yet clear how the dust will settle.
Economically, the 2008 financial crash was not a short-lived blip. On the contrary, this was a watershed in global economic affairs. The economic model employed in some of the world’s largest economies - overcentralised, high-risk, debt-driven - has fundamentally failed. Those economies will never be - or at least should never be - the same again.
The Eurozone is still seeking lasting resolution to its troubles, and across the European Union as a whole we find ourselves at a crossroads: one way lies cooperation and prosperity; the other: division and decline. And there is still a great deal of work to do to ensure we take the right path.
Socially we are witnessing a transformation in large parts of North Africa and the Middle East: a clash between the forces of freedom on the one hand and powerful vested interests on the other. For many of the states involved, the future is uncertain.
But what is clear is that the hunger for change will not be easily crushed. It lives in a generation of young men and women politically deprived and economically repressed but technologically savvy and internationally-minded. Their grievances and hopes are here to stay.
Finally, the geopolitical landscape is changing, with relative power continuing to slide - in crude terms - from North to South and West to East. That movement places Europeans on shifting sands. Washington is devoting increasing time, money and energy to strengthening its Pacific presence, responding to growing opportunities in the region and China’s continuing rise.
Of course, Europe will remain - to quote Hilary Clinton - America’s ‘partner of first resort’, and the transatlantic alliance will endure as a vital international axis. But this is - again, in Hilary Clinton’s words - ‘America’s Pacific Century’. We learnt very clearly from the military action in Libya: when it comes to security in our own neighbourhood the Americans will not always take the lead. And just as the US is redefining its place in the world, we Europeans should be smart about our position too.
The open society in uncertain times
So global economic uncertainty, conflict on our doorstep, a shifting world order. These are not easy times for open, liberal societies. Insecurity stokes fear and fear is the greatest gift to extremists across Europe and indeed the world. Populists, demagogues and xenophobes. Chauvinists, protectionists and nationalists.
The far right will hang every problem on integration and a loss of national sovereignty; the far left will denigrate capitalism in all its forms; in their different ways, both will put it all down to globalisation. And the irony is: both will offer the same misguided solutions - pull up the drawbridge; shut out the world; achter de dijken.
But history teaches the grave danger of that approach. And prosperity and safety today depend on working with one another: to trade, to tackle climate change, to fight terrorism, to combat disease. It is in that context that our partnership - the Netherlands and the UK - takes on renewed importance. Because, if we are to counter the forces of insularity and division, we must prove that openness and cooperation provide better protection in these difficult times. And, for the parts of the world where liberalising forces are gaining ground we must keep the liberal flame alive and burning brightly.
In defence of internationalism
Clearly that task is as much economic as anything else: giving people jobs and opportunities - a stake in their societies. But just as important is physical security:
protection from harm; the guarantee of basic human rights.
64 years ago, in this very room, Europe’s leaders met to discuss how they would rebuild a continent ravaged by war. Bold men and women who took a leap of faith and laid the foundations for the institutions and norms they hoped would anchor the world should danger appear again.
Today, this city, The Hague, ‘the International City of Peace and Justice’ is a constant reminder that it is only by nations pooling our power that we can deliver justice for the innocent and wronged and deny impunity to the cowardly and cruel.
I’m not starry-eyed about our multilateral system. Our institutions can be slow and bureaucratic, and a system grounded in law and consensus will sometimes be obstructed by self-interested states. We are witnessing those constraints right now as the Syrian people continue to suffer at the hands of their rulers while the international community fails to condemn the regime with one voice. And so long as the UN Security Council remains so exclusive, so long as permanent seats are denied to Brazil, India, Germany, Japan and Africa, it simply will not reflect the modern world.
So, yes, our international institutions are incomplete and imperfect, but just imagine the world without them. Where would the people of Libya be now if they had not had the UN-sanctioned backing of the international community? No doubt many of them, as Qadhafi threatened, hunted down like rats rather than celebrating the first anniversary of a successful revolution.
Where would former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, be? Because he wouldn’t be in the UN’s Detention Facility in Scheveningen where he stands accused of crimes against humanity. Nor would Thomas Lubanga be facing judgement for the mass conscription of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo - the ICC’s first full judgement, which we expect next week.
The United Nations has played a vital role in major wars and crises since its inception. It has mediated countless peace settlements. Through our international institutions, tens of millions of refugees fleeing war, persecution and famine have been helped. Agreements have been signed and standards set on issues as diverse as climate change, malaria, gender equality, HIV and Aids, environmental sustainability. The list goes on. Now a treaty to regulate the international sale of arms - a previously unimaginable agreement - is even in sight.
And it is only by working together that we have any hope of tackling the new threats. Take a terrorist-executed nuclear attack: unthinkable just a generation ago but now a possibility the international community cannot afford to ignore, thanks to an increased availability of nuclear material combined with more information about making the weapons on the internet, as well as thriving smuggling networks. That is a stateless threat, impossible for any national police force, no matter how advanced, to contain.
But together we can agree and enforce the rules that will prevent such attacks. And I’m travelling to a major summit in Seoul later this year to that very end.
International cooperation on crime
And cooperation isn’t just necessary to stop wars or avert nuclear attacks. It’s also the only means of dealing with drugs, human trafficking, money laundering, criminal gangs. The serious, organised crime that represents a growing threat to our societies that, overall, costs the UK up to an estimated £40bn a year. In the words of Sir Hugh Orde, the President of the UK’s Association of Chief Police Officers, ‘In the 21st Century, policing is international.’
Now, with European integration back on the agenda in many national parliaments we must ensure cooperation on crime does not become bound up in those debates. This is simply about keeping people safe. In Britain, while the political parties argue endlessly over the evils and virtues of the European Union, what are our law enforcement professionals doing? They’re rolling up their sleeves working with their European counterparts, getting on with catching criminals.
Aled Williams, who we’re lucky enough to have here tonight, heads up Eurojust, the body that assists member states with complex, cross-border prosecutions and recently helped bring some of Europe’s most prolific people smugglers to book.
Rob Wainwright, another Brit and Director of Europol, which provides member states with threat assessments and coordinates cross-border operations, and famously helped crack the world’s biggest online child abuse ring, rescuing hundreds of children.
The message from the policing community is clear: the ability to share criminal records, to locate criminals who try to escape across borders, to help each other spot illegal arms or stolen goods - these are indispensible tools in the modern world.
Of course, methods can always be improved. The European Arrest Warrant, for example, has streamlined the way suspects are extradited between member states.
It has helped serve justice on a failed London bomber caught in Italy. A German serial killer tracked down in Spain, a gang of armed robbers arrested in six different EU states. But there are instances of it being used in trivial cases and we need to look at how we prevent that so that use is always proportionate and citizens can have confidence in the system. But the principle remains: crime crosses borders; crime-fighting must too.
And, on that note, given it’s the eve of International Women’s Day, I’d like to express the UK’s support for the principles in the Council of Europe’s Convention on Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. A landmark agreement aimed at lifting the standards of protection for women across Europe. We are getting ourselves in a position to sign later this year, and I know that the Dutch Government is working towards signing the Convention too.
A staggering one in four women living in Europe suffer physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes. That abuse is outrageous anywhere. But it is especially scandalous in a continent that prides itself on having lead the way on gender equality and human rights. Rape, female genital mutilation, psychological abuse - these have no place in modern, open societies.
The UK already has tough rules in place. But there are areas where we can and must do better. One of the most important is bringing perpetrators to justice when they commit offences in other countries - otherwise known as extra territorial jurisdiction.
We already prosecute British citizens for committing murder or paedophilia abroad. I want us to be able to do the same to British men who seriously hurt women anywhere in the world. There must be nowhere to hide.
So, to conclude, I hope I haven’t spoilt the rest of your meal with talk of conflict and crime. But hard headed messages are necessary in these uncertain times. The values of our nations - of open societies - are being tested. To win this battle, we have to do more than promise tolerance or freedom. As important as those liberal values are, we need to demonstrate that only our way - only openness and cooperation - will deliver stability and keep people safe from harm. So where others tout extremism, we must guarantee security. Where they spread hate, we must offer order. Where they fuel fear, we must provide hope. And where they build walls, we must tear them down.