Dutch Ambassador Visits Davidson on Public Diplomacy Trip

Olivia Daniels and AJ Naddaff – On April 19th, His Excellency Henne Schuwer, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United States visited Davidson. Schuwer, accompanied by Advisor for Infrastructure and Environment at the Embassy of the Netherlands in Washington D.C. Jan Peelen and Economic Minister of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Washington D.C. Remco Zeeuw, visited Davidson as part of a larger trip to North Carolina, specifically Charlotte. In this act of public diplomacy, Schuwer represented Dutch political and economic interests after being invited to the area by Mayor Jennifer Roberts earlier this year.

The visit was particularly relevant to the Davidson community. According to Dr. Chris Alexander, Director of the Dean Rusk International Studies Program, ten Davidson students (more than any year prior) will be studying abroad in Amsterdam next semester.

Schuwer explained his visit to Davidson through a short anecdote. Upon creating a Twitter account a year and a half ago, Schuwer was initially contacted by the Davidson German Studies Twitter handle with a request to speak with Davidson students if he were ever in the area.

This spring, Dr. Besir Ceka, a professor in the political science department and an expert on European politics, received the news that Schuwer was planning to visit Davidson during his time in North Carolina. Ceka quickly arranged for Schuwer to eat lunch with interested students and faculty members and to visit Ceka’s West European Politics class that afternoon.

The Davidsonian also obtained an exclusive interview with the ambassador through Ceka, which led to an insightful discussion about the future of the European Union (EU) and how the EU relates to issues currently facing the Netherlands.

Schuwer initially clarified his reasons for visiting Charlotte, explaining that he was in the area to discuss environmental and sustainability concerns (especially pressing for the Dutch, as much of the Netherlands is below sea level) and Dutch business investment in Charlotte due to its status as a rapidly growing American city. He lauded Charlotte, labeling it a livable, environmentally conscious metropolis.

Schuwer emphasized that there are two large issues facing the Netherlands currently: one is economic and the other, political. In terms of the economy, he explained that, following a “deep economic recession,” the Dutch government has worked to provide structural support in the market, workforce, healthcare sector, and more.

Last year’s budget surplus in the Netherlands, however, was evidence that the Dutch “have really reshaped [their] economy and budget.” The decline in international trade during 2008-2010 made economic development “difficult” because the Netherlands is an international trading nation. Despite this, the ambassador assured, “We have managed to work our way up, and we are doing very well right now.”

Politically, Schuwer described his nation as being in a “more and more unstable neighborhood.” Citing Russia’s involvement with Syria and recent annexation of Crimea, he described Russia’s sphere of influence as “one of great concern.” South of the Netherlands, the ambassador expressed worry over the conflicts in the Middle East and Northern Africa. “The Arab Spring did not bring us what we thought it would. We are surrounded by almost an arch of instability.” Particularly relevant to his concern is the influx of refugees into Europe via Turkey and some Mediterranean member-states of the EU (e.g. Greece and Italy).

In March 2016, the EU struck a deal with Turkey to ameliorate the economic and social consequences of the refugee crisis on individual member-states. Through this partnership, the EU will resettle more Syrian refugees who are currently in Turkey; in exchange, Greece will be able to return all new, irregular migrants to Turkey.

Schuwer explained that relations with Turkey are currently under new “pressure,” given the recent Turkish referendum that increased the authority of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This expansion of power jeopardizes Turkey’s classification as a democracy, and many fear it is becoming more of an authoritarian state.

When asked about the Netherlands’ response to the refugee crisis, Schuwer was quick to distinguish economic immigrants from refugees “who cannot go home.”

“The idea is that you give [refugees] temporary shelter, and in the end they will return [home]. So you have the challenge: What do you do? Are you going to invest or are you not going to invest? We [the Netherlands] have said we are going to invest, and we are going for an integration approach.”

Schuwer explained that the integration process in the Netherlands begins with an assessment of whether a refugee is actually someone who cannot return to his or her home. Next, the challenge is to integrate refugees into Dutch communities. Those who wish to stay in the Netherlands are required to take an exam testing their Dutch language skills and ability to integrate into Dutch society.

Schuwer explains that “[Many refugees] come from a society which is mainly Muslim with different rules and different ways of approaching people than we have [in the Netherlands]. The idea of the exam is that [if] you want to live in the Netherlands, please abide by our rules. They live in their families and in their communities; we don’t want to upset their communities; they have their freedom of speech and of religion. If you want to participate in the workforce and live in the Netherlands, you take this certain set of rules, and you have to abide by it.”

How effective has this policy been? Schuwer explained, “I don’t think we have succeeded yet, but we are working on it. I think we have a better integrated community than in France or Belgium. We have a number of very successful immigrants.”

The ambassador pointed specifically to Ahmed Aboutaleb, the Moroccan-born mayor of Rotterdam, the Netherlands’ second largest city. “He talks to his people of Moroccan descent. He says to them, ‘I became a successful Dutchmen. I’m still a Muslim, and I’ve never walked away from where I’ve came from. I’m proud of being born in Morocco, but I abide by Dutch rules.’”

Schuwer answered more student questions at lunch and during his time with Ceka’s class. Sammy Syed ‘19, who attended both events, said of the experience, “I really enjoyed meeting and conversing with the ambassador; he was much more engaging and easy to talk to than I would have thought…I was very impressed by his background and experience in diplomacy and politics in general; he’s been active in the field for a long time.”

Caroline Roddey ‘20 also cherished the opportunity to learn from someone with so much experience. “I thought [Schuwer’s visit] was a really valuable addition to the class, as it brought home a lot of points that we talk about in class but don’t actually get to engage with on a real level, such as the immigration crisis and problems with the EU itself.”

Ceka spoke of the significance of the visit to his class and the political science department in general. “It was particularly fitting to hear the ambassador articulate the importance of the European integration project for peace and prosperity in Europe to my West European Politics students who are currently studying the EU. Many of our students end up pursuing careers in public service, so Ambassador Schuwer’s outreach is an important gesture that helps strengthen transatlantic ties and foster interest in Europe.”