By Bonnie Klap.
Dr. Bernard Bot is a career diplomat who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2003 till 2007. His distinguished career includes postings as Ambassador of The Netherlands to Turkey and Brussels, where he was the Permanent Representative of The Netherlands to the European Union. Prior to this, Dr. Bot was Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague. Dr. Bot receives us in his elegant office in the center of The Hague and is ready for his first question. What is more important in foreign policy: pursuing the country’s interests or pursuing its values? “I believe these are two issues that are intrinsically linked. On the one hand our interests: our prosperity, economic growth and the security of the citizens. 70% of our income comes from foreign trade, so we are dependent on good and transparent relations with the rest of the world.
Moreover we live in a 24-hour economy and a global society and we also want to safeguard our values, but this can best be done by combining interests and values. It is also important for us that these values : the rule of law, democracy and respect for human rights, are part of our foreign policy. Those values guarantee stability, which is in our interest. Human rights have always been a spearhead of our foreign policy. By respecting human rights turmoil and uprisings can be prevented, which otherwise could hamper trade and threaten our security. So it becomes clear that combining interests and values actually and indirectly also promotes our interests. Much is being made of the Dutch dilemma: Merchant or preacher? I would prefer the term ‘enlightened businessmen’. You need to combine these two issues in a changing world.
That is the backbone of a healthy society.” Is it important for The Netherlands to participate in foreign missions, such as Mali? “You have to be prepared to put your military boots where your mouth is. We did not take the decision to go to Mali purely out of self-interest.We can not leave the responsibility of promoting stability and democracy and fighting terrorism solely to the US. We live in a global society and we should feel and accept responsibility and translate that responsibility into action. Visibility is another very important issue.
We sent support missions to Afghanistan and Iraq. It promoted our image worldwide and at the same time we were inspired to do so by the suffering of the people. As for the Mali mission: it also sends a message to neighboring countries such as Niger or Chad not to attack, as there will always be countries which are willing to step in.” Will there be a coordinated European foreign policy in the near future? No. Not in the near future. At least once a month the Ministers of Foreign Affairs meet in Brussels to coordinate their foreign policy, but there is no obligation to follow this coordinated approach. For example: the UK has special interests in Asia and The Netherlands has interests in Indonesia and Surinam. With all these different interests it becomes very difficult to have a common policy.
The second reason why this can not yet work is that the EU member states are all commercial competitors of each other. Outside of Europe we are in fierce competition with each other. Commercial interests are closely linked to foreign policy, as we are inclined to promote our own interests, inside as well as outside the EU. Creating a Banking Union will hopefully also contribute to a better common policy influence, but if you want to implement things too quickly, you create revolt and unrest. In the past ten years integration has gone too fast. If you want it to be successful, you have to do it at a slower pace. An additional worrying element is the fact that many Members of Parliament have no international experience. So, coming back to your question, no, I don’t expect a truly coordinated European foreign policy anytime soon.”