Ukraine is also an ideological battlefield for Hoekstra, Europe is defended there

“We will continue to help Ukraine for as long as necessary.” A visibly emotional Wopke Hoekstra (CDA) stood among the ruins in Irpin, near the capital Kiev, on Tuesday, promising that Dutch aid to Ukraine will continue undiminished and, if it stands to him, will even intensify. According to the Foreign Minister, the chaos, the Russian army, “which does not care about the law of war and the civilian population”, speaks for itself. He already knew the pictures from TV, but the reality was much worse. “It’s awful to look at.”

The extent to which the war in Ukraine has shaken the Netherlands was also clear in Maastricht on Monday. Hoekstra offered a heartfelt prayer for “European unity and determination”. In a speech on the occasion of Europe Day, Hoekstra described the war started by Russia as “a showdown between democracy and autocracy.” Hoekstra spoke of ‘our lifestyle, our view of the world’, which ‘has been fundamentally disputed for several years now’. In other words, it is about much more than just supporting an ally in Eastern Europe. In Ukraine, the future of a community of values ​​is at stake: not a struggle for a political or military strategic, but an ideological goal.

End of optimism

Hoekstra rejected the optimism of the years after the Cold War, when it was still believed that autocratically led countries like Russia would democratize by themselves. “For far too long, we have wanted to believe that countries like Russia and China were simply in a transitional phase. That economic growth would in fact always lead to democratic development and free market thinking. ” In other words, Hoekstra has no hope that things will go well and suggests that the showdown with authoritarianism should be concluded in one way or another with the EU and NATO as safe havens.

Also read: When did the West lose its grip on Putin?

“If you compare it to two and a half decades of European politics, there is definitely a change of course,” said Mathieu Segers, professor of European contemporary history at Maastricht University. Because pro-European rhetoric is not usually sprinkled so generously in the Netherlands. “You see the EU being seen less as a threat and more as an opportunity.”

According to Segers, the contours of this new course could already be seen in the coalition agreement reached in December. Here it says that the Netherlands must play a ‘pioneering role’ in the EU. “Now butter is added to the fish,” Segers says. In March, Minister Sigrid Kaag (Finance, D66) also gave a major European speech in Maastricht. Hoekstra is doing just that now. “So many speak in such a short time: it’s unprecedented.” On Thursday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD) will also speak to the Ukrainian parliament via video link.

Gap between words and action

Yet the gap between what the Netherlands says about Europe and what the Netherlands does is still clearly recognizable in Hoekstra’s speech. The Minister refrained from controversial issues such as the reform of European financial rules and the strengthening of the euro, which could also contribute to the EU’s geopolitical impact.

He promised Ukraine in Maastricht “more weapons, more sanctions, more diplomacy, more humanitarian aid, more investigations into war crimes”. But the minister did not comment on Ukraine’s most burning desire – membership of the EU. And although the Netherlands has already announced new investments in the defense, they are not very concrete yet. “Hoekstra was still talking a bit with the brake on,” Segers says.

Member of Parliament Sjoerd Sjoerdsma from coalition party D66 believes that Hoekstra “could explain a little more clearly that Ukraine is part of the European family”. “The Ukrainians who are fighting and dying are doing it for our values. It is the front line of our way of life. It includes concrete actions.”

European outer ring

According to Sjoerdsma, an “interesting idea” is French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to create an outer ring of countries that can not yet join the EU. Macron said this during a speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. He spoke at about the same time as Hoekstra and overshadowed him somewhat in terms of intensity.

Macron called for a new parallel “European political community” that would allow countries such as Ukraine and Georgia to become much more involved in the EU, without becoming members immediately – the process of becoming full members takes at least a decade. Even with the United Kingdom, which recently left the EU, ties could be re-established through this construction. Macron also spoke in favor of a major treaty change that would streamline the functioning of the EU.

Also read: Macron wants EU portal for countries like Ukraine

While Macron was very specific, Hoekstra did not know how to deal with questions about the French proposals in Maastricht. According to Segers, this shows that the Dutch steps in the European debate are particularly significant “by Dutch standards”. “And those steps are also very necessary in order not to fall behind in the European debate, which is clearly going much faster.”

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