The Netherlands is putting its economic interests before human rights, said opposition MPs in a Foreign Ministry budget debate on Wednesday. But Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal claims there’s no clash between promoting human rights and boosting overseas trade.
Dutch foreign policy has seen a major switch of direction under Mr Rosenthal. Stimulating Dutch prosperity is in the limelight, he explains:
“Exports provide 70 percent of our prosperity. Three quarters of this is within Europe. That means we constantly have to be outward-looking, and it’s also why I’ve declared benefiting prosperity to be an integral element of Dutch foreign policy.”
Socialist Party MP Harry van Bommel was one of Mr Rosenthal’s fiercest critics during Wednesday’s debate in the Lower House. The change of course is evident from the destinations of ministerial and royal foreign trips – like Queen Beatrix’s controversial visit to Oman. Postponed earlier this year in response to police violence against protestors in Oman, the trip now looks set to go ahead. The focus of Dutch diplomacy has also changed, Mr Van Bommel says:
“There’s a shift away from embassies in countries where the Netherlands gives development aid, or has particular concern for human rights, to strengthening embassies in countries where the Netherlands hopes to do a lot of business in future, like China, Russia and Brazil. These are the countries with growing economic power.”
Mr Rosenthal’s new foreign policy could affect the Netherlands standing abroad, says Mr Van Bommel. A number of ambassadors have raised similar concerns, including the British Ambassador Paul Arkwright. He says the Netherlands is increasingly closing itself off from the outside world, thus risking its international reputation. MP Harry van Bommel agrees.
“Dutch standing as a champion of human rights, as the legal capital of the world, is rapidly decreasing. We’re opting for short-term interests, which are the interests of trade and strengthening the international rule of law. Matters that are actually set down in the Dutch constitution are fading into the background. I find that highly regrettable.”
Mr Rosenthal says he agrees there should be more to foreign policy than just promoting Dutch prosperity and growth. But the one doesn’t exclude the other, the minister says – world trade and human rights are closely interlinked.
He also insists that the Netherlands is still part of the game internationally. He cites the Dutch contribution to security and stability missions in Libya and Afghanistan, or the fight against piracy.
But there is also criticism from within Mr Rosenthal’s own ministry. Anonymous civil servants recently expressed their concerns in Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad. They say Dutch foreign policy has become too inward-looking and too focused on economic interests. The minister counters that some civil servants simply can’t keep up with the Foreign Ministry reforms and cutbacks. “It’s a pity, we’ll have to work at it,” he says.