Toespraak bij de jaarlijkse ambassadeursbijeenkomst

De Engelstalige toespraak van mr. Thom de Graaf, vice-president van de Raad van State, bij de ontvangst van een groep ambassadeurs uit de EU- en enkele G20-landen bij de Raad van State op 31 maart 2022.

Ihre Excellenzen, meine Damen und Herren,
Vos Excellences, Mesdames et messieurs,
Your Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

Once again I would like to welcome you here in this great hall of the Council of State of the Netherlands. I am honoured that you accepted my invitation for this Ambassadors luncheon today.

As we all know, there is wisdom in the words of the legendary Beatle John Lennon, when he once wrote that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

Originally, this Ambassadors luncheon was scheduled for the Spring of 2020. Covid-19, which still is in our midst, but with less risk, delayed our plans.

I am grateful that we are now finally here together, State Councillors – at each table you will meet at least one of them, and ambassadors, chefs de poste, of memberstates of the European Union and the G-20-states. I look forward to fruitful discussions and exchanges of views, as we share the notion of the importance of good international relations, based upon the respect and understanding of international law and the universal value of fundamental human rights.

The Council of State is – among other tasks – the most important and final advisor to the government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands as well as parliament on matters of Constitutional Law and international treaties, including the EU-treaties and the implementation of European Law.

According to Dutch Constitution the Council of State is independent and autonomous, and functions in the heart of the public structures of this country, in the heart of The Hague. Our task is to preserve the rule of law and to strengthen the quality of legislation and administration.

In more European countries a Council of State exists with similar tasks. We even have a European association of Councils of States and the highest administrative courts, of which at this moment my Italian colleague holds the chair. There is a strong and very fruitful cooperation within this Association, for we share the same values and same objectives. Next month, we will have our yearly general assembly in Rome.

For your understanding the Dutch Council of State is one of the oldest state institutions of the country. It was established nearly 500 years ago by the Emperor Charles V. At the time it existed of high nobility of the Lower Countries. Its main role was that of advisor. And in all these hundreds of years, notwithstanding the changes in history and state structure (from part of the Habsburg Empire and Spanish domination to a free republic and after the Napoleonic years the Kingdom of the Netherlands), the advisory task stayed and broadened in time. The advisory task also included disputes between government and citizens. The latter developed in the 20th century to the administrative justice-role which we know today. The advisory task on legislation and constitution and the administrative jurisdiction-task are nowadays carried out in two separate divisions. Separated but nevertheless under one roof, in one institution. 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 esteemed colleague Bart-Jan van Ettekoven, 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: the King is ceremonial Head of Council, but he only presides on rare ceremonial gatherings, as in December last year, where the Princess of Orange turned 18 and was welcomed within the Council.

Your excellencies,

I have tried to contact your new colleague from Ukraine, ambassador Maksym Kononenko, to invite him to this meeting, but was unable to reach him. I would have welcomed him here in the atmosphere of peace and prosperity, rule of law and protection of human rights. Exactly the atmosphere which in his own country is totally harassed by the Russian military invasion and brutal aggression. Universal principles of non-interference, non-aggression and peaceful settlement of disputes, which are cherished here in The Hague, the international centre of peace and justice, are set aside without any consideration for the lives of Ukraine citizens. We deeply feel committed to the Ukrainian people.

In our next, upcoming Annual Report the Council of State emphasizes those basic elements in the international legal order.  Of course the international legal order is broader and larger than that.

Our citizens and businesses are involved on a daily base. International and European treaties, agreements and legislation form the structure on which our citizens can rely for legal protection when abroad, can trade and export our products and services, can enjoy freedom wherever they go and can ensure their consumer rights.

International cooperation, based on mutual trust and the principles of reciprocity and what the Romans once called ‘pacta sunt servanda’ (the observance and compliance of agreements) is the very essence of our peace, security and prosperity, throughout the world. When this essence is jeopardized, we all have to stand firm and raise our voices.

Let me quote the famous 17th century Dutch humanist, lawyer and diplomat Hugo Grotius, who laid, among others, the foundations of international law and defined the idea of the Society of states. He wrote: “The sanctity of an oath with regard to promises, agreements and contracts, has always been held in the greatest esteem, in every age and among every people”.

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

Thank you!