Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine
Verbatim: An Interview with Netherlands Ambassador Boudewijn van Eenennaam and his wife, Jellie

Netherlands Ambassador, Boudewijn J. van Eenennaam
Netherlands Ambassador, Boudewijn J. van Eenennaam

During the recent “Meet the Dutch” week here in D.C,Washington Life sat down with the gracious NetherlandsAmbassador, Boudewijn J. van Eenennaam, and his fianceé-nowwife, Jellie, in their flower-filled residence, to chat abouttheir country and its relationship with the United States.

Washington Life:The Dutch/U.S. relationship has been a close one for many centuries. The Netherlands was thefirst nation to recognize America as an independent nation, and the Dutch languagealmost became the U.S. national language, but was defeated by onevote. And yet, many Americans think of wooden shoes, windmills, and tulipswhen they think of the Netherlands, but Holland has fashion, food, art and culturethat rival all other European countries. Tell me a little more about what isspecial about the Netherlands, and why Americans are missing out if they don’tconsider it for a holiday?

Ambassador Boudewijn J. van Eenennaam (BE):Yes, that’s true that we supported you before the revolution, andthat in fact we are your oldest supporter with a very strong bond in politics, economics,and culture. We indeed have more to offer than wooden shoes, windmills and tulips,like fashion for example.

Jellie A. van Eenennaam (JE):Yes, well known designers and lots of boutique shopping in every town. There are beautifultowns to visit each season of the year. In the winter, you can even ice skate from one cityto another for 100 miles. Oh, and the food and fresh asparagus.

WL:French food is regarded in the U.S.as being superb, but Dutch food is incredible too and very refined.

JE:It’s more like Belgian food.

BE:With a touch of Indonesian. Indonesia was a colony for many years. But we alsohave a lot to offer in art and music, architecture, opera, ballet, really in all fields. Wehave had seminars on biotechnology, and smart growth and the environment, whichwe are advanced in, something we find the American audience has taken a keen interest in.

WL:The Dutch have been supporters of the U.S. for many centuries and viceversa. The Marshall Plan was crucial in the economic reconstruction of theNetherlands after World War II, and since 1939 the Netherlands has been thethird largest foreign investor in the U.S.

BE:That is correct. There are over a half a million people employed in the U.S. by2,370 branches of Dutch companies. We are the third largest foreign investor in theU.S. behind the U.K. and Japan. But we are a tiny country, the size of New Jersey,with only 16 mi l l ion people and on a per capita basis our investment is about $9,700as compared with the U.K. at approximately $3,600 and Japan at $1,200. Some otherinteresting statistics are that we are the second largest investor in California, the topinvestor in Louisiana, Rhode Island, and D.C., and among the top three investors innine other states. Giant (the supermarket), for example, is the largest civilian employerin five of your states.

JE:Sometimes we’re not the best at PR. A lot of the time you don’t realize that it’sa Dutch product. For example, few people know that Phillips produced one of the firstCD players.

WL:What other commonly used products in the U.S. are Dutch owned?

JE:“I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” and Shell Oil.

BE:Yes, and Vaseline, Ragu, Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, and the Hollywood tradepublication Variety.

WL:Opinion polls in the Netherlands have traditionally supported the U.S.However, since the war in Iraq, what have the polls been saying?

BE:First of all, there is strong fundamental support for the U.S. that goes back to thehistorical bonds, and to the flavor for business which we share. Then, with the war inIraq, public opinion response has been negative, but our government maintained strongcoalition support for the U.S., and I think that is the principle of a good democracy.Governments should lead, and take responsibility to do what they think is right, andthen hopefully the people will follow.

WL:Or they will vote you out!

BE:Well, that is the risk, and of course, Tony Blair is the case in point here. It is notthat extreme in Holland, but basically it’s the same thing.

WL:According to a study by the University of Leiden (Netherlands) therewere as many as 109 official and academic definitions of terrorism that werecommon until 1988. Do you think the majority of U.S. and Dutch people agreeon how America defines terrorism? How are they different?

BE:Well, it is a problem that there is no commonly shared and accepted definitionof terrorism. Indeed, Leiden is famous for its studies in international law, and the basicconclusion is that we will have to reach a more concrete agreement on the definitionif we want to effectively work on counteraction solutions.

WL:The concept of a preemptive first strike in self-defense was primarily anintellectual debate for rhetorical purposes in the U.S. for years and years.Now a preemptive doctrine in the U.S. is a reality. What is the Dutch opinionon this? Might this open the floodgates? Who’s to say then that Pakistan, India,Japan, or North Korea won’t use the same arguments to justify a first strike againstperceived enemies?

BE:Yes, it could be a problem for Europe if you make it a principle and even if thereare suspicions, whether they are right or not, it could lead to the United States attackingother countries in self defense. Over the past couple of days, there has been a lotof talk about a preemptive strike on Iran, and of course you have Syria which may behiding the leadership of Iraq or weapons of mass destruction, and then you have NorthKorea. We in Europe are rather reluctant to be supportive of a first strike, because if wearen’t careful, it could easily lead to more military action than we would like to see.

WL:Is the U. S. support of the death penalty creating problems with Dutch cooperationin handing over suspected terrorists? How do you see this playing out? TheDutch are anti-death penalty, right?

BE:Absolutely. I always have difficulty explaining to Americans why. Becausemy feeling is that if you don’t instinctively understand it, then it is difficult to argueabout. However, this is one of the basic human rights. And human values. The reason whyyou punish people is to show an example of not seeking revenge but teaching.There’s of course, the second argument that mistakes are always possible. We have seenmany of them in hindsight with people who are already convicted and executed. This isone of the few strong differences between most of Europe and the U.S.

WL:What are some of the other differences?

BE:Well, we have a problem with the International Criminal Court that we hopeto resolve. President Clinton and his administration had a lot of influence in the formulationof the treaty and signed it, but this administration does not want to ratify it.We believe that it is a setback for the leader of the free world not to be prepared to bringcriminals of very serious war crimes to justice. The fear is that American military orpoliticians might have to appear before the court.

WL:The fear is that very prominent politicians might have to appear in court.

BE:Yes, but the basic system is that the people that commit war crimes first have tobe tried in their own judicial system. This whole treaty is, of course, not written forthe United States, but for rogue states who do not have a viable judicial system. That’swhat this court is for--not for the United States of America. But I have difficulty gettingthat message across here. We attach an enormous importance to the rule of law. Weknow it’s not a perfect world and that military power is another important factor, butwe want law and order as the system that organizes world community rather than militaryforce. We’ll always need military force, but we should shift the emphasis to a legalapproach, whenever possible.

WL:There are a lot more similarities, and agreements than differences between ourtwo countries, wouldn't you say?

BE:Yes, there are.


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