Speech by Mayor Jan van Zanen during the meeting with EU Ambassadors, 11 November 2021
What a privilege it is to speak to you.
Just two days after I had the pleasure of welcoming many of you in Amare at the reception for members of the corps diplomatique and international organisations.
Thank you, Ambassador Stiglic, for the invitation.
I would like to congratulate Slovenia on its chairmanship of the Council of the European Union.
This being the second time since your country’s accession to the EU in 2004.
I would also like to thank you all for being here today.
Here, in the House of Europe.
In the centre of The Hague.
Just a stone’s throw from the Ridderzaal, or Knights’ Hall.
The place where, in May 1948, cooperation in Europe started to take shape.
The first steps along the road were taken that would ultimately lead to the creation of the European Union.
In those days, so soon after the Second World War, there were still shortages of everything and you needed coupons to buy many things.
But of one thing there was no shortage – and that was hope.
Hope for a better, more humane future.
To live in peace, freedom and prosperity.
It was this hope which inspired the Congress of Europe, under the leadership of Sir Winston Churchill.
Now, almost a lifetime later, The Hague is a city closely connected with ‘Europe’ in all sorts of ways.
To start with, you – the Ambassadors of the EU member states – are based here in The Hague.
As is the representation of the European Commission.
The Hague is home to some 31 European organisations, employing more than 7,000 people.
The Hague’s connection with the EU cannot be seen in isolation from its past, however.
The envoys, and later embassies, of foreign powers have been based here for centuries.
And, as you know, since the late 19th century The Hague has gradually evolved to become the international city of peace and justice.
The Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907 are among the milestones that led to that.
A well-known speaker at the second conference was Bertha von Suttner, the first woman ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
In an era of extreme nationalism she stood for the pan-European ideal: a united Europe as a guarantee of peace.
Unfortunately, the time was not yet ripe for that idea.
But her ideal of a Europe, united in peace, freedom and prosperity, lives on to this day here in this city.
In 2021, cooperation in Europe – between cities, regions and national governments – is high on The Hague’s agenda.
We attach great importance to that; we cannot create a better Europe without these partners.
And this is also why The Hague is a member of many European networks, to be able to share our knowledge and experience with others.
Last year the municipality set out a comprehensive strategy for its cooperation with European partners and the European Union.
This strategy focuses on three closely related themes:
Sustainability, digitalization, along with social impact and resilience.
All themes underpinning tomorrow’s Europe.
To start with: sustainability.
The summit in Glasgow has shown us once more just how urgent this topic is.
The Hague has committed itself to the Green Deal and set itself the goal to be climate neutral by the end of 2030.
To achieve that goal, we are working closely with numerous partners, including in the framework of Europe.
For example, in the URBACT programme and the EU Urban Agenda partnership on the circular economy.
The Hague also initiated the METREX SURE Eurodelta Network, which includes representatives of urban regions in the Eurodelta.
Cities have a pivotal role to play in the battle against climate change:
because cities are where most people live, where most businesses are based and, therefore, where the most results can be achieved.
Then there is digitalization.
Which should not be seen as separate from the first challenge.
Because new technologies will make it possible for us to create safe and sustainable cities which are pleasant to live in for the citizens of Europe.
In this area too, The Hague works closely with other cities, in Eurocities, for example.
The Hague has plenty of know-how to share, for example, on artificial intelligence.
And here I am referring to the presence of leading institutions in this field, such as UNICRI and CLAIRE.
The Hague further plays an important role in the field of cybersecurity, partly due to the Europol Cybercrime Centre.
As I already mentioned yesterday, there is, however, a downside to these digital developments.
In line with the goals of the EU, The Hague is committed to ensuring that new technology is accessible to and for everyone.
If it were up to us, The Hague would be the place to build the legal and ethical framework that this requires.
Building a better world is something deeply rooted in the character of our city.
Yet another reason why The Hague and the EU are so closely allied.
We share the same ideals.
Something which is again reflected in the third strand of our European strategy:
Social impact and resilience.
In The Hague, international city of peace and justice, people are hard at work every day to build a better world.
And by that I specifically mean both the world far away and the world on our doorstep.
Because the work done in the 480 international organisations based here benefits all of humanity.
And against this background, here in The Hague we also specifically focus on strengthening the resilience of cities.
Given that most of world’s population already live in urban regions.
The ability to govern a country in times of crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic, largely depends on how resilient cities are.
The Hague intentionally applies innovation to increase the resilience of both the city and its inhabitants, while at the same time promoting social inclusion.
And in the European context we share what we have learned in this field with other cities.
This brings me to the last part of my story.
But possibly the most important part: the role of citizens.
The European Union, national and regional government, as well as the municipalities, all have a common mission:
to represent the interests of their citizens and help them create a better life for themselves.
This is why The Hague has eagerly embraced the Conference on the Future of Europe.
The aim of this conference, after all, is to directly involve citizens in the discussion on the future of Europe and European policy making.
As the centre of Dutch democracy and an international and European city, The Hague is keen to facilitate the debate on Europe.
Together with various partners, we are therefore organising a number of events in the city until March next year at which the people of The Hague can make their voice heard on the subject of the future of Europe.
These events will focus on the themes of sustainability, digitalization, values and the rule of law, and culture.
Together with the NGO LINKS Europe, we will also be holding seven debates on the EU’s role in the world.
In March we will collate the findings from these events and pass on the conclusions to the EU institutions.
The European Union, its members states and the cities of Europe are facing major challenges.
The tasks that lie ahead of us are far from simple.
But we have little choice.
At the start I spoke of the hope that filled so many 73 years ago.
Back then Europe was willing to open a new chapter.
Or, as one of the founding fathers of Europe, Robert Schuman, described it:
“If an objective, a well thought over opinion based on the reality of facts and on man’s higher interest, leads us to new or even revolutionary initiatives, it is important for us to stick to them and to persevere even if they go against established customs, age-old antagonism and ancient routines.”
I sincerely hope that the European Union and its member states, led by the same spirit of hope, will dare to break new ground.
The generations to come in Europe will be grateful for that.