Ambassador Roelof van Ees about the dynamism of an historical relationshipReading Time: 9 minute
Although much has been achieved over the last 140 years, there is still considerable potential to be activated. I am pleased to share for example that Romania and the Netherlands are currently undertaking a ‘mapping exercise’ aimed at identifying the most promising areas for deepened cooperation, be it in the field of European cooperation, international justice, security, science or commerce. Roelof van Ees, ambassador of The Netherlands in Romania, talks about the relationship between the 2 countries.
First, how would you characterise the bilateral relationship between the Netherlands and Romania?
I would qualify the relationship between our two countries as dynamic, covering a wide range of mutual interests. Some of the benefits are probably known to the Romanian people, such as our strong trade and investment relations resulting among others in considerable employment and sharing of expertise. Other benefits are likely to be less visible to the public, for example our military cooperation or the police cooperation against cross-border crime. So, in fact, there is considerably more useful involvement than meets the public eye. In all fields of our cooperation, be it on international politics, defence, cross-border crime, cyber security, trade and agriculture, government officials and business leaders in the end have a common goal, or if you will common effect: the prosperity and wellbeing of our peoples and the furthering of key international goals.
An effective relationship is obviously not static, it evolves and develops over time. No fewer than 140 years ago, in the year 1880, the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Romania established diplomatic ties. Our relationship has developed ever since and we are now shaping our common future as close partners in the European Union, NATO and in other key multilateral organisations.
Although much has been achieved over the last 140 years, there is still considerable potential to be activated. I am pleased to share for example that Romania and the Netherlands are currently undertaking a ‘mapping exercise’ aimed at identifying the most promising areas for deepened cooperation, be it in the field of European cooperation, international justice, security, science or commerce. This approach is likely to not only benefit our two countries, but to also strengthen the cohesion in the European Union and international cooperation, in order to meet the challenges of our time, not least in the field of climate and security.
How strong is the economic cooperation between our countries actually and how can we further improve it?
As a key investor in Romania, the Netherlands is a strong advocate of cooperation, knowledge exchange and trade. Our economic involvement in Romania is a source of satisfaction – not of complacency – but it also entails considerable responsibility. Dutch companies in Romania see themselves as flagbearers of the Netherlands, in the business as such and in terms of representing our business culture. Generally speaking, they actively aim for a high business standard, thereby contributing positively to the business environment and society in Romania.
Our economic cooperation with Romania, spanning 140 years, currently is in quite a dynamic phase. Annual bilateral trade adds up to over €5 billion, growing every year by approximately 10%. As one of the top 10 trading partners of Romania, we work closely with the Romanian Ministry of Economy, Energy and Business Environment (InvestRomania), the Romanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Romanian Embassy in The Hague and several other organisations to reduce the approximately €1,5 billion annual trade deficit on the Romania side.
What are the main interests of your country right now, regarding global matters?
Being an externally oriented country, thriving on relations with a great number of countries around the world, the main interest of the Netherlands is global stability, which in our view is served best by the normative, rules-based multilateral world order we have been enjoying for several decades. That is why we continue to strongly advocate the importance of cooperation in international fora, such as the United Nations, the European Union and NATO, as well as justice and the rule of law. Stability is also key for sound international business. Only if companies can do business in a stable, secure and level playing field in Romania and the Netherlands, will companies be ready to invest more in our two countries. Also, the Internal Market and its four freedoms can only function properly if these conditions are met. It is also for this reason that the Netherlands fully supports the accession of Romania to the OECD. We hope that it will pave the way for more economic convergence and business opportunities between our countries.
For my government, tackling climate change is a top priority and we strongly support the EU Commission’s Green Deal. The Dutch government has set the ambitious climate target of reducing CO2 emissions by 49% by 2030. Climate change can only be tackled at the international level, and we are determined to contribute to that effort in a meaningful way. Likewise, cross-border issues such as transnational crime, terrorism or the migration issue, require a joint international response. The Netherlands, or any other country, cannot deal with these global challenges on its own.
When you presented credentials to E. President Iohannis, you raised the further development of the economic relationship with Romania. Could you elaborate, please?
Our economic ties and common economic ambitions are undisputed. Together with the Netherlands-Romanian Chamber of Commerce (NRCC), the Dutch Embassy organises seminars and events on Doing Business in Romania, as well as networking events, including the Dutch National Day celebration and the New Year reception. These events aim to strengthen existing ties and forge new ones between members of the Dutch community and their Romanian counterparts in many different segments of society, most importantly government, the cultural sector, business and the NGO sector. The Embassy also supports trade missions to Romania and to the Netherlands and focus visits for decision makers. Another practical area of cooperation is the long standing financial technical cooperation programme with Romania which is linked to Romania sharing the NL constituencies at the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund.
Romania and the Netherlands are both geared towards increasing sectoral cooperation in fields such as smart city, urban mobility, energy security, agriculture, education and climate. I am keen to see cooperation in these areas expand and I am confident that together with our Romanian partners we will be able to achieve results which matter in the upcoming years.
In your audience with President Iohannis special reference was made to cybersecurity. Why is that?
As digitalised countries our peoples and companies benefit from having an open, free and also fast internet. As a result, we are unfortunately vulnerable to criminals in the business of stealing identities and hacking digital systems for financial gain. But we are also vulnerable, and this is more worrying, to state actors who are conducting increasingly open and aggressive cyber operations for political and economic purposes. These attacks aim mainly to sabotage vital infrastructure, spread false information to influence public opinion and to steal government and corporate information, including high-grade technological and other forms of knowledge. These activities obviously threaten to undermine democratic legitimacy and they cause economic damage. That is why the Netherlands is investing in an ambitious cybersecurity agenda, involving cyber diplomacy, support for the ongoing effort aimed at international regulation of the digital domain, investment in cyber intelligence and in both defensive and offensive cyber capabilities to protect against, respond to and deter cyberattacks. Our efforts to safeguard economic security are made in close cooperation with the business community. In view of Romania’s advanced ICT expertise, it is no surprise that our countries work together on developing norms in the UN and to strengthen the instruments of the EU to act in this area. Romania is one of the leading countries in terms of the number of certified ICT specialists. Almost 100,000 specialists are active in Romania’s ICT sector and approximately 5,000 out of the 30,000 engineers graduating every year in Romania are trained in ICT. For this reason, a considerable number of Dutch ICT companies are active in Romania.
What in your view are the areas in which Romania and the Netherlands cooperate most concretely in the security and defence domain?
Romania and the Netherlands are strong supporters of multilateralism and international law. We also both have a transatlantic outlook and have quite a track record of commitment to the European Union and NATO. As a result, despite being at geographically different ends of the EU territory, our views are very much alike when it comes to EU and NATO cooperation and complementarity. This complementarity of views results, among others, in joint cooperation in the EU permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) in the field of Military Mobility, launched by the Netherlands. The PESCO Military Mobility project is a complicated name for an EU defence project designed to make sure that military units and equipment can be in the right place at the right time by reducing bureaucracy and connecting infrastructure among the participating EU Member States. But there are other examples of quite useful Dutch-Romanian defence cooperation. Last year, the Royal Netherlands Army worked together with Romanian Land Forces during the NATO joint exercise Resolute Castle 19 in Romania. Another recent example is the naval exercise Sea Shield in 2019, where Royal Netherlands Navy frigate HMS Evertsen and Romanian Naval Forces frigate ROS Regele Ferdinand practiced joint tactics and techniques in the Black Sea region. We look forward to the Netherlands continuing the military cooperation with Romania in the years to come.
Since the Netherlands is one of the major foreign investors in Romania, how can we intensify our economic relationship?
An attractive business climate in which companies thrive requires a transparent and predictable legal framework. In addition to the size of the market and attractive investment opportunities, Romania offers a central location in Eastern Europe, a well-educated workforce with great language skills, and access to other markets in the region. Since joining the EU, Romania gradually developed into a regional hub for Dutch multinationals, among many others.
In the next years, the Embassy will focus on key sectors where there has been an increasing interest from investors, such as renewable energy. Looking at the European ambitions for the next 10 years, both the Netherlands and Romania have much to gain from cooperating in this sector. The necessary massive transition from fossil to sustainable energy as foreseen in the Green Deal will only materialise if our European and national ambitions translate into private sector initiatives. In the field of energy, government-to-government, knowledge-to-knowledge and business-to-business activities are likely to increase substantially over the next decade. My country firmly supports the triple helix approach, in which government, knowledge institutions and businesses cooperate closely to apply innovative solutions and develop frameworks for implementation.
How does the Dutch business community see Romania? How can we improve the environment for them?
The Dutch business community generally has a positive view on Romania. After the revolution, Dutch companies and investors were among the first to enter the Romanian market and as such contributed to the development of the free market economy here. When talking with Dutch entrepreneurs, they generally value their Romanian work force and their commitment. They also find good business partners in Romania. Where needed, the Embassy provides assistance to Dutch companies in identifying potential Romanian business partners. As for challenges on the Romanian market, Dutch entrepreneurs usually point to the tight labour market, the in some cases lagging compliance with EU regulations and red tape. Another issue often mentioned is weak infrastructure, on a national scale and in big cities. The Embassy has been engaged in providing support for solutions for traffic congestion, for example in the Pipera area, where the Embassy is located, and by bringing experts to smart city events. We also promote alternative mobility solutions such as biking and creating a suitable biking infrastructure. As a biking country, we are happy to share our cycling expertise with Romania.
What is the biggest challenge for the Dutch Embassy?
Our greatest challenge, which at the same is an opportunity, is to foster a durable dialogue between our countries and to bring about meaningful cooperation in matters important to Romania and the Netherlands, such as security, defence, maritime cooperation, trade and investment. Governments come and go, in Romania somewhat more often than in the Netherlands, but the need for security and stability in this part of Europe remains. The Netherlands stands by Romania in NATO and the EU to face these challenges.
As partners in the European Union, our countries also have a common European vocation. Romania is one of the strongest advocates of European integration, having passed its first Presidency of the Council of the European Union with flying colours. As I mentioned, we are like-minded on many key issues. On a few issues we have an opportunity to converge our views, thereby also building bridges between diverging views of other EU Member States. Together, we strive to adopt common positions on the functioning of the EU (e.g. better regulation and rule of law), the EU neighbourhood and enlargement policy, and climate policy.
What are the key elements of your mandate in Romania?
I would think that this interview has already provided quite some insight in the various priorities of the Dutch Embassy in Romania in the coming years. In closing, I would like to share with the readers my attachment to art and culture, be it music, literature, painting or architecture. Art as a source of great entertainment, but also as a vehicle which allows people from different cultures to communicate with each other via images, sounds and stories. Romania has much to offer in terms of cultural and ethnological heritage, including modern and classical music, excellent art and ethnological museums and diverse architecture. Since I arrived in September last year, I have greatly enjoyed participating in the Iasi International Festival of Literature and Translation where Dutch novelist Herman Koch read from his recently translated novel, listening to Dutch writer Hanna Bervoets discussing literature with Romanian students of the Dutch language and culture department of Bucharest University, and hosting the Concertgebouw Orchestra which gave two wonderful sold out performances bringing to a close last year’s George Enescu Festival. One of the events we are looking forward to this year is the Dutch Youth Orchestra concerts in Romania scheduled in August. What better way to celebrate our 140 years of diplomatic relations?