The Role of the Representation of the European Commission in the Netherlands
By H.E. Mr. Didier Herbert, Head of the Representation of the European Commission in the Netherlands.
The European Commission has Representations in the 27 countries of the European Union. The role of the Representation is to be the ‘ears, eyes and voice’ of the European Commission in the Netherlands. What we do is listen, inform and report. The Embassies of the European member states in the Netherlands have similar tasks, among others, and with them, we naturally maintain narrow contacts through our regular meetings of the Heads of Missions of the EU Member states in The Netherlands.
The first aspect of our task consists in connecting with Dutch citizens and authorities at different levels on expectations and questions regarding European action. Secondly, we discuss and inform about European policy in general and important European policy topics that affect the Netherlands as a whole or Dutch regions and cities in particular. Last year, one of the main topics was about EU actions and cooperation in response to the coronavirus. Few people know how in the first months, when all borders were closed, we joined forces in the EU to bring back over a 100,000 citizens stranded outside the EU to their home country and created “green lanes” through which lorries could bring Dutch vegetables to clients in neighbouring countries. Our work also means dispelling misconceptions in some cases. Some time ago, the newspapers reported that the EU was planning to force cat owners to keep their pets on a leash, because cats were said to be dangerous for biodiversity and for the survival of birds. There was, of course, absolutely no intention to do that – apart from whether the proposition is correct whether cats are dangerous for the survival of certain bird species. So there we clearly indicated that the Commission did not intend to submit anything on that.
In addition to listening and informing locally, we provide country-specific knowledge, analysis and advice to the President and all Members of the Commission. So that they are able to consider these elements at an early stage. Just imagine if the discussions about a common European Recovery Programme could have led so quickly to such an ambitious result had the negotiators not been aware of the expectations and sensitivities in each European country.
How to involve Dutch citizens
We engage with citizens in several ways – we are active on social media, we organise trips and events, and we work together with our network of Europe Direct Information Centres throughout the country. Citizens’ dialogues and visits to various cities and provinces are also a fixed element of the Representation’s menu. In recent years, for example, the Commission and the Representation have organized a large number of citizens’ dialogues. A Commissioner, often Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans, comes to visit one or multiple places in the Netherlands. For example, we went to Emmen, Breda, and Leiden to talk to citizens about European policy. That gives you a good sense of what is going on in the Netherlands. I see it as part of my job to regularly visit various provinces and cities. Coming here in 2019, I intended to go to all the Dutch provinces; I still have that intention and I am planning to do so as soon as restrictions will ease. In The Hague, you only have one view of the Netherlands. As Brussels is not representative for Belgium, Paris not for France and Madrid not for Spain, I think it is essential to learn more about different aspects of the Dutch country and culture.
Our diversity is a plus in Europe. But explaining why and what we do together in the EU is equally important: in that vein, I want to draw your attention to the bi-lingual (Dutch and English) newsletter on the latest European policy developments, which we send out on Friday every week. People can register via this link.
What is next on the agenda for the Representation?
Due to the corona crisis, some of our priorities temporarily moved to the background – health was the main priority for all of us the last months – but we are now also changing our focus towards the recovery after the pandemic. But essential issues, such as global warming have not disappeared. We managed to come to an unprecedented agreement on NextGenerationEU: based on the National Reform Plans that each country will draw up, this instrument should help to repair the economic and social damage caused by the pandemic. As well as catering for future challenges: this important Programme is to help ensuring a sustainable and inclusive recovery that promotes the green and digital transitions.
We furthermore look forward to the start of a vast exercise agreed on by all European countries, the European Parliament and the Commission. The aim is to reach out and engage with citizens in a wide-ranging debate on how they see and what they suggest for the future of the European cooperation project in the coming decade and beyond. We hope many Dutch people will participate and join this Conference on the Future of Europe.
About the author:
Didier Herbert, started his career in business and law and went on to spend the vast majority of his career working for the European Commission in Brussels. After being Director for Internal Market & Competitiveness and Chairing the Regulatory Scrutiny Board of the European Commission, he is now serving as Head of the Representation of the European Commission in the Netherlands.