Tuesday

18th Feb 2020

Interview

Dutch PM: Islamic State can't change our way of life

  • Rutte: 'We are more people than they are and we have an older civilisation. We should not be scared' (Photo: Minister-president Rutte)

Mark Rutte, the Dutch leader, was at home on the evening of 13 November when his counter-terrorism chief called with news of the Islamic State attack in Paris.

“I got the message that something terrible was taking place,” he told reporters in The Hague on Wednesday (25 November).

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  • Rutte with EU Council chief Donald Tusk: 'I’ve never been part of that group of people which sleeps with the European flag' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

He said it touched him because he could imagine himself in the victims’ place.

“This was very close to people’s daily lives … I was at home this time. But I could have been with friends at a concert, or I could have been eating out somehere in The Hague.”

“My first thought, or, let’s say, after half an hour, when I started to grasp the sheer depth of the crisis … was to make sure we’ve taken all the steps we can [to prevent a similar attack] here,” he noted.

“My second thought was France, and offering all out support.”

“Thirdly, my main thought, was that, yes, we should be vigilant, but at the same time, we should continue our way of life. We are more people than they are and we have an older civilisation. We should not be scared,” he added.

“I mean that Europe is a democracy and has freedom of speech, freedom for people to decide who governs them, the fact that, black or white, gay or not, we’re all parts of society and have equal rights. These are fundamental values we should cherish.”

EU priorities

The Dutch PM, a 48-year old Liberal, will, from 1 January, help set the EU agenda when The Netherlands takes over the bloc’s rotating presidency.

His top priorties are to prevent other terrorist attacks and to “stem the flow of migrants”.

He said about 40 Dutch jihadists have returned from Syria and that he “cannot guarantee” that a Paris-type attack won’t happen in his country.

But he dismissed the idea of creating an EU intelligence service, because, he says, existing ways of information sharing work well.

“Our services … are working very closely with their sisters and brothers in their services in the European Union. A lot has improved there in the past three or four years.”

He added “there’s a risk” that terrorists could enter the EU posing as refugees.

He said Dutch services spend the first two days after an asylum seeker arrives on terrorist screening.

He also said Dutch society is a model in terms of migrant integration, noting that the mayor of Rotterdam, a Moroccan-born immigrant, is currently the most popular politician in the country.

He warned against combining jihadism and refugees to make "one big soup," in the manner of Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders.

He also said Dutch voters, as well as voters in other EU states, are unlikely to swing to populist parties if authorities deliver on security.

No more migrants

Rutte echoed French PM Manuel Valls in saying the EU cannot take in more migrants, however.

He also echoed the Dutch EU commissioner, Frans Timmermans, in saying the refugee crisis is an existential threat for the Union.

“We need to stem the flow of migrants coming to Europe. We can’t continue at the present level,” the PM said.

“The first step is to make sure the border is controlled. As we all know from the history of the Roman Empire, empires fall when borders aren’t well protected.”

Rutte said he’s short of housing for asylum seekers, with Dutch agencies now using containers and empty office space for homes.

Speaking ahead of the EU-Turkey summit on Sunday, he said the EU must get Turkey to “limit the numbers, moving in the direction of zero” of people coming to Greece.

He said he’s “reasonably optimistic” of a deal, which involves a €3 billion EU fund, including €70 million from The Netherlands, for Turkish refugee camps.

He also predicted that countries such as Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia will be happier to join the EU migrant relocation scheme if borders are secure.

But he noted the Turkey summit is unlikely to be the last step in the process: “It’s not like you close a deal on Sunday, and on Monday everything is solved.”

A very British disdain

Meanwhile, the next EU summit, in December, was supposed to tackle Britain's demands for EU reform ahead of its in/out referendum.

But with terrorism and refugees now top of the to-do list, Rutte said: “I’m not sure whether we’ll get to a conclusion [on UK demands].”

He said British PM David Cameron’s trickiest proposals are to curb welfare for EU migrants and to ringfence the City of London from eurozone decisions.

But he said The Netherlands has a special interest in keeping Britain in the EU because they see eye-to-eye on what the Union should be.

Rutte described himself as being pro-European, but for pragmatic, rather than ideological reasons.

Looking back to the banking crisis, he said: “If we’d still had the guilder in 2008, I think speculation would have killed our economy. One of the reasons we pulled through, while having a banking sector six times the size of our economy … is because we were part of the euro.”

He added, however: “I never personally got motivated by this idea of a European ideal … I’ve never been part of that group of people which sleeps with the European flag with stars on it.”

Asked if the EU budget for 2014 to 2020 should go up to pay for refugees, the Dutch PM voiced a very British disdain for the way the EU spends its money.

“We don’t want to increase the budget,” he said. “We’re still spending €300 billion, or €250 billion, on farms in France or whatever, so there’s a lot of scope within the budget, to be frank, for a better deal.”

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