Part I: Herman Schaper: The loss of domestic consensus on foreign policy and its consequences

This is part one of a five-part event summary of the main points and statements  of high-ranking Dutch political directors at The Hague Institute for Global Justice’s, entitled “An Inside View: The Effectiveness of Dutch Foreign Policy”.

The building of The Hague Institute for Global Justice

The building of The Hague Institute for Global Justice, copyright

The question under discussion was ‘in which way could Dutch foreign policy be made more effective’? Structurally how, based on which principles, and how with who?’

The members of the panel all had a decade long career at a large variety of organisations. but all having served the Dutch Foreign Ministry for a number of those years. For more on their individual profiles, please refer to the speaker biographies on the event program.

The first speaker was Herman Schaper, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the United Nations from 2009 to July 2013.

Herman Schaper, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the United Nations from 2009 to July 2013

Herman Schaper, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the United Nations from 2009 to July 2013, copyright

Herman Schaper: The loss of domestic consensus on foreign policy and its consequences

The hurdles to effective Dutch foreign policy

The greatest obstacle to the effectiveness of Dutch FP is domestic, as there is no clearly unified way of what this policy should be.

  • 2005: Public referendum NO vote on European integration
  • 2009: David’s report criticising Dutch government’s support on 2003 invasion Iraq
  • 2010: Breakdown of government on contributions to NATO in Afghanistan
  • 2012: Dropping the previously untouchable 0.7% of government budget on development cooperation was dropped.

Though, on the plus side: the Netherlands has been ranked as one of 5 most active in the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, and vocal on human rights in Russia.

On the topic of European Integration and military operations,

Dutch FP has in the recent years become less predictable, more hesitant and more dependent on domestic considerations, ad hoc events and media-driven hypes.

A new consensus is needed, “based on the recognition that our interests and values are best secured by an active FP, aimed at international cooperation, at which we are a constructive and dependable partner.”

The influence of the foreign ministry has never been as weak as now.  Budget cutbacks will lead to a 25% decrease of the budget of the MFA. The decisions were made with little debate or resistance.

Background lack of support for MFA by general public, other ministries and the government: “the problem is that the MFA is seen as standing with its back towards the rest of the government, and society as a whole.”

Building a new consensus

Taking the lead in organising an open dialogue with the world of politics, other departments, the business community, NGOs and so on therefore will not only be necessary to come to a new consensus on the main lines of Dutch foreign policy, but it would also anchor the MFA more firmly in the domestic context.

Initiatives the MFA should take:

  1. Reorganise itself and employees must have a firm understanding of the domestic and international context of working at the MFA.
  2. Diversification of staff to include civil servants from other ministries, but must have the same understanding of domestic and international contexts. Vice versa, MFA should stimulate its civil servants to apply at other ministries, leading to a growing interconnectedness of national and international politics and governance
  3. Reorient its personnel policy away from the present dominance of diplomats to being generalists, towards more diplomats experts in specific areas.

Advisory commission

On June 13, 2013 Foreign Minister Timmermans agreed to a number of recommendations by the advisory commission on modernising Dutch diplomacy (Dutch only).

Concluding statement

The [Foreign] Minister’s [(Frans Timmermans)] ultimate ambition is to transform Dutch diplomacy into a trend-setting, interactive, flexible network organisation. That’s setting the bar [for Dutch foreign policy] high. But with discussion on the effectiveness of Dutch FP, such as the Institute for Global Justice is organising today, I am not pessimistic of our chances of success.

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