“We are learning to connect with increasingly diverse players”
Text: Martina Hošková and M. Zisso; Photo: Pavel Matela
“Much of our profession will remain unchanged: representing our countries, promoting our interests, and facilitating contacts. However, the world out there is becoming more and more complex, requiring the same skills and more”, says H.E. Mr. Daan Huisinga, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. What does he find most fascinating about the foreign service? Does he think that Czechs and Dutch know each other well? And what do the two countries currently focus on in their relationship?
What made you become an ambassador?
My father was a captain with KLM. This brought him to exciting places, such as Anchorage and Tokyo, but also behind the Iron Curtain, to places like Moscow and Yangon (Rangoon). His stories about his travels awakened, from an early age, my interest in the big wide world outside of my own country. During my teenage years, I also had the privilege to accompany him to several of these faraway places. But the actual decision to join the Foreign Service only came later, after having considered becoming a journalist, and having worked with a gas company. I guess that, beyond the romantics of living in exotic places, my fascination with the continuing complexity of interactions between countries was the deciding factor. How to promote international cooperation, stability, prosperity in a very unequal world? It is a privilege to be part of this, shaping relations to serve the public interest of my own country, and, where possible, also that of our partners in Europe and elsewhere.
You have been in the Czech Republic for two years already. Can you share some of your impressions?
My last visit to Prague before being appointed as an ambassador dates back to the summer of 1990. The city had just emerged from behind the Iron Curtain, a sleeping beauty. It made an impression on me that has lasted to this day. Prague still carries the spirit of Havel that was so very much around in the early 90s. A place of elegance, charm, culture, splendour, radiating optimism and zest for life. A civilized place too, notwithstanding the unmistakable marks that were left by 40 years of communist dictatorship.
What also struck me is the determination of the Czech people to never allow dictatorship or oppression to happen again. I see that same determination driving Czechia’s support for Ukraine today. Especially in the first weeks after the brutal invasion by Russia, the city fumed with indignation. People were looking to vent their anger about such a brutal act, so very similar to what Czechoslovakia experienced in 1938, and again in 1968. This was expressed in demonstrations, but also in artwork, be it music, murals, or statues. Back home in the Netherlands, there is anger and indignation too, but in this country, the emotions are more intense and heartfelt because of the Czechs’ recent personal experiences.
How many countries have you served in up until now?
Actually, not all that many for a diplomat. My first posting was in 1997-1998, with the OSCE Mission in Tirana, Albania. I then had two consecutive postings in Brussels, with the Dutch Permanent Representation to the EU. From 2000 to 2002, I took part in the Enlargement Working Group, negotiating the accession of the candidate Member States from Central Europe, including Czechia. From 2013 to 2017, I was Deputy Head of Mission in Ankara, Turkey. In between foreign postings, I held various positions in The Hague, lastly as Deputy Director General for Migration at the Ministry of Justice.
What do you do in your free time?
I love water sports and sailing in particular. In that sense, I am in the wrong country. Luckily, there are many other enjoyable pastimes in Czechia, and some of these even come with the job, such as cultural events, exhibition openings, concerts, and movies. This also means that I find myself in many special locations in Prague. I keep being amazed by the abundance of monuments, palaces, and churches; by picturesque alleyways and charming courtyards. Closer to home, in Prague-6, I explore the neighbourhood by bike or while walking the dog – adopted during our time in Turkey. Also, whenever I have a chance, I try to visit the country outside Prague. When we lived in Turkey, we agreed as a family to spend all our holidays in the country to experience it to the fullest. In Czechia, we have pretty much stuck to this same rule. We went canoeing; from Vyšší Brod down the Vltava; skiing in Pec pod Sněžkou, and biking in Southern Moravia and Český ráj. There is certainly more to come.
Can you give a piece of advice to the next generation of ambassadors?
Much of our profession will remain unchanged: representing our countries, promoting our interests, and facilitating contacts. However, the world out there is becoming more and more complex. Developments are faster, there are ever more known unknowns, and so are the number of non-state actors that impact our relations. Even more daunting is the scale of future challenges: climate change and (other) environmental degradation, the instability on the EU’s southern and eastern borders, mass migration, democratic backsliding, and the rise of authoritarianism.
Most of these challenges can only be addressed by working together in the EU and NATO, and by continuing investing in the international legal order while also preparing for increasing rivalry and uncertainty. Moreover, it requires the involvement of not just governments but more and more other parties relevant to our diplomacy. These include NGOs, businesses, and the media, but for example also athletes, artists, and social media influencers. All of this implies that the next generation of diplomats will need the same skills as before, and more. A future diplomat must be a good analyst, read his / her surroundings, and have a sharp pen, but also think more in terms of power, interest, and strategy and know how to connect with increasingly diverse players, through increasingly diverse channels.
You served as Deputy Director-General for International Migration Management, at the Ministry of Justice and Security in The Hague. How can we solve the migration issue successfully?
Migration itself is not the problem. Most of it is legal, involving people moving for work or family reasons.
But irregular, uncontrolled migration is a problem. After the peak during the migration crisis of 2015-2016, the number of irregular migrants entering the EU briefly returned to a more manageable level. However, since last year numbers are on the rise again, reaching a level that is hard to cope with in destination countries such as the Netherlands. In the case of Ukrainians, who get temporary protection, the situation is under control.
In the case of some other nationalities, in particular those from so-called safe countries with little chance of receiving asylum, the situation is problematic.
The main key to a structural EU-wide solution is a mandatory screening and border procedure. Under this procedure, asylum seekers are required to apply at the entry points on the EU’s external borders, ensuring access to an asylum procedure for all, while allowing for the processing of unfounded asylum claims in an accelerated manner. It would also put an end to the phenomenon of secondary (asylum)migration, whereby 3rd country nationals misuse the Schengen area of free movement to travel from the Member States in which they first arrived to Member States of their choice to apply for asylum. If individual Member States experience disproportionate migratory pressure, a solidarity mechanism should provide help in the form of relocation, operational, or financial support, with contributions based on a fair share principle.
Not long ago, their Majesties the King and Queen of the Netherlands visited Slovakia. Can we expect a royal visit to the Czech Republic soon too?
A State Visit is considered to be the highest expression of friendly bilateral relations between two sovereign countries. Although currently a State Visit to the Czech Republic is not planned, our excellent bilateral relations would certainly warrant one. All the more, since no such visit by our heads of state has taken place during the Czech Republic’s 30-year existence, incoming or outgoing. Having said this, there were official visits, by Queen Beatrix to Prague in March 1994 and by President Klaus to The Hague in April 2008. A State Visit, though, would be the cherry on the cake.
What is the current status of Czech – Dutch relations?
Our relations are excellent, although they could always be intensified. We have many similarities that we recognize in each other, ranging from a certain Protestant soberness and a love of the outdoors to the dark and absurd humour of the movies of the Czech New Wave. We also share the heritage of Comenius and other refugees that came to the Netherlands, after 1610, 1948 and 1968. These refugees and their children made important contributions to our society as artists, journalists, politicians, scholars, and athletes. But our separation for 50 years by Nazi and Soviet aggression left its marks. We are still, to a certain degree, unknown to each other, even though we are less than 1,000 kilometres apart. Many Dutch people still do not realize that Prague is located to the West of Vienna, instead of the other way around. I am happy to note that, for the younger generation, this historic interruption plays much less of a role. More and more Czech students are studying in the Netherlands, and vice versa.
Earlier, Dutch companies already found their way to Czechia, making this the 2nd export market in the group of 10 Member States that joined the EU in 2004, after Poland and more or less on a par with Sweden and Switzerland. The Netherlands is the number 8 export market for Czechia. At a political level, we see an increase in like-mindedness, in particular following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Netherlands helped Czechia reduce its energy dependence on Russia by making capacity available for landing LNG, amounting to more than a third of Czechia’s needs. Czechia helped the Netherlands with the purchase and upgrade of Soviet weapons, including 45 tanks that were supplied to Ukraine to defend itself against Russian aggression.
We also see a Czechia that is more engaged with the EU, as exemplified by its very successful Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2022. This allows for increased cooperation, both at the bilateral level and within the European Union and NATO. The key shared themes are the rule of law, press freedom, human rights, the internal market, free trade, sustainable public finances, good transatlantic relations, and support for Ukraine. During the Presidency, we received 72 delegations from The Hague, including our PM and other members of the government. Although delegations came primarily for the EU Presidency, several visits also had a bilateral focus. This included the visits of our ministers of Agriculture, Transport, Legal Protection, Migration, and Digitization. The visit of Minister of Defence Ollongren actually led to aforementioned cooperation with Czechia to provide weapons to Ukraine.
This interview is done on the occasion of King’s Day, your National Day. What does this special day mean for you?
King’s Day marks the birth of our sovereign as well as our national unity. When Queen Juliana was head of state, this day (Queen’s Day) was celebrated on 30th April. Queen Beatrix, herself born on 31st January, maintained this day out of respect for her mother (with Spring weather as an added benefit!). With the reign of her son, King Willem-Alexander, the date was moved to 27th April, his actual birthday. Traditionally, the King and his family visit a different Dutch municipality every year, which allows the locals to show off their city and the surrounding area in their own unique, festive way. King’s Day is also an opportunity for the monarch to honour citizens for their service to the Netherlands.
As an Embassy, we mark this day by sending a personal message of congratulations to the King on behalf of the Dutch community in Czechia. In addition, we organize a reception to celebrate this festive day with our Czech and diplomatic contacts and the Dutch community. This is also a moment when we extend our best wishes to the Czech Republic, as a trusted partner and fellow member of the Euro-Atlantic community of democracies.