Toespraak bij de ambassadeurslunch bij de Raad van State

Toespraak van mr. Thom de Graaf, vice-president van de Raad van State, ter gelegenheid van de ambassadeurslunch bij de Raad van State op dinsdag 16 april 2024

Excellences, Mesdames et Messieurs,
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Je voudrais vous dire quelques mots, d’abord en français et puis en anglais.

Il y a deux ans, notre dernière réunion dans cette grande salle du Conseil d'État. Je vous souhaite encore une fois la bienvenue. Je sais que vous avez tous un calendrier très chargé et donc je me sens particulièrement privilégié que vous avez accepté ma invitation à ce déjeuner aujourd'hui. Je vous présente mes excuses pour le malentendu concernant une date antérieure, qui se situait malheureusement en plein Ramadan.

Two years after our last meeting in this grand hall of the Council of State I once again would like to welcome you here. Knowing that all of you have busy schedules I feel very privileged that you accepted my invitation for this luncheon today. And I apologize for the misunderstanding of an earlier date, which was unfortunately in the midst of the Ramadan.

I am grateful that we are now here together, State Councillors – at each table you will meet at least one of them, and ambassadors, chefs de poste, of member states of the European Union and most of the G-20-states. A very special welcome I would like to extend to a special guest: Mr Oleksandr Karasevych, the ambassador of Ukraine.

As diplomats I do not have to tell you good international relations need to be developed and nourished, always based upon mutual respect, understanding and with respect for international law and acceptance of the universal values, including fundamental human rights.

International relations based on the Rule of Law will lead to fair international trade and cooperation, based on mutual trust and the principles of reciprócity. The combination of this all has been for decades the very essence of peace, security and prosperity, in Europe and beyond. When this essence is jeopardized, as it is today in many places in the world, for instance by the Russian Federation in Ukraine but also elsewhere, in the Middle East, or in Africa, we all have to stand firm and raise our voices and our influence. Probably the most famous Dutchman of all times, Desidérius Erasmus, needed little words to make this clear: ‘He who allows oppression, shares the crime.’

When Erasmus died in 1536, the Council of State for the Low Countries (in other words The Netherlands) was just five years old: founded in Brussels in 1531 as final advisor on all governance issues to the Habsburg Emperor Charles V. And during all these five centuries , notwithstanding the many changes in history and Dutch state structure, this advisory task has remained. Advice to government and parliament on all legislative matters, treaties and constitutional questions. The advisory task traditionally also included resolving disputes between government and citizens. The latter developed in the second half of the 20th century to the full administrative justice-role which we know today.

As vice-president I am responsible for the day to day governance of the Council as a whole and I am chairing the Advisory-division, while the Administrative Jurisdiction division has its own chair, my dear colleague Judge Rosa Uylenburg, who is present in our midst.

Might you by any chance wonder why I am vice-president instead of president, there is a simple explanation: His Majesty the King is traditionally ceremonial Head of Council although he is for understandable reasons not to be called Mr. President. His Majesty only attends on rare occasions where he then presides over a ceremonial gathering, without any influence on the work of our advisors and judges. And this is of course exactly how it should be in a Constitutional monarchy.

Your excellencies,

For the past months many of my national and international friends have been curious (and sometimes worried) about the meaning of the results of the Dutch election last November. In what direction will the Netherlands head? The well read newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad last month noted serious concerns about the state of the Netherlands amongst large foreign investors.1 They were not so much concerned about the possible different political direction, but mainly feared longer-term economical unpredictability.

I must admit the election result was a remarkable one. Although after five months the formation of a new coalition government is still ongoing - a tradition which we share with some other states, especially our Belgian neighbours - and nobody knows the exact outcome of the present talks, a few things are and must remain clear. The Netherlands have a robùst Constitution, based upon the rule of law and a deeply rooted democratic tradition. Checks and balances are very strong. The rule of law is not only strongly founded in our national constitution, but also in many European and multilateral treaties that – in our legal system – have immediate legal effect in the heart of the Dutch legal order.

No concern about that.The rule of law also implies a certain strongly felt culture based on values such as reason, moderation, tolerance, respect and harsh Constitutional knowledge. These traditional Dutch values dating from the 17th century need constantly to be upheld by politicians and other persons of influence. The so called High Institutions of State of the Netherlands – the Council of State, the Audit office and the National Ombudsman are strong independent pillars of the Constitutional democracy and the Rule of Law, as are the Courts of Justice.

The Council of State does not only engage itself with the constitutional state within the Netherlands. The Dutch Constitution vests our government with the duty to promote the rule of law in international affairs. For an internationally oriented country, with an open economy of considerable size and with a traditional orientation towards the outside world, the attachment to the rule of law at the international level is a matter of self-interest. Yet, it is also very much in line with the Dutch tradition of advancing peace and security, justice, environmental conservation and human dignity and freedom for all. In the current era of armed conflicts, stalemates in peacemaking and poorly functioning multilateral diplomacy, it is important to seek to strengthen the rule of law in international affairs. This may also require a reform of international institutions; for too long an unfinished agenda. One thing is for sure in 2024: we need a much more solid international institutional security architecture. In addition, we also need to strengthen international economic consultation and decision-making. The Council of State regularly expresses its concerns and ideas in this regard, whenever we advise on new treaties, legislation and other matters pertaining to foreign affairs, defense and international economic and financial pólicies. We of course look forward to hearing your views on this during our luncheon.

For my part, it is my strong belief that the Netherlands, whatever government is formed, is and will stay a strong and stable society, based on the main principles of parliamentary democracy, rule of law, international legal order and close cooperation within the frameworks of EU, Council of Europe, NATO and UN. Political directions can change as outcome of the elections, but not the fundamental pillars of our society, and our economical strong position in the delta of Europe, and orientated in trade, transport and technological innovation.

Ladies and gentlemen, let us have a pleasant luncheon in the spirit of Erasmus, gathered as an international society that respects international law, human rights and good faith between people.

Please join me in a toast on the Chair of the Council of State, His Majesty the King!

[1] ‘Buitenlandse aandeelhouders bezorgd over Nederland’; Het Financieele Dagblad; 1 maart 2024 (blz. 1 en 5)