Holland-America Friendship Foundation

Toespraak bij de Holland-America Friendship Foundation door Frans Timmermans (BZ) op 15 April 2013 in Den Haag (alleen in het Engels beschikbaar).

Thank you very much for this kind introduction. And a warm welcome to all of you to the Hall of Knights, this wonderful room where Parliament is opened every year. Seeing all of you here this evening convinces me that the Hall is being put to excellent use. Unfortunately, in the past, this was not always the case: Napoleon thought it was a good idea to stable his horses here! I feel sure that our having dinner here tonight is a much better use of the facilities... I’ve had the honour and pleasure of being here 15 times in a row in different capacities. This year will be my 16th and I’m very much looking forward to it.

Cliff and Barbara, your baby is 10 years old today. Congratulations! I think you did a wonderful job in creating it. You also ensured that other people took it over and assumed ownership so that it was sustained after you had moved on to pastures new – in Brazil. In that sense, I think, your legacy is very much a lasting one.

I also want to extend a very warm welcome to Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet. She’s suffering from a touch of flu, so I really appreciate her being here tonight. Thank you so much for joining us. I know how dear the Holland-America Friendship Foundation is to your heart, and it is a great tribute that you should honour us with your presence tonight.

I’m sure Her Royal Highness will forgive me if I now turn to her husband, Professor Van Vollenhoven, and say that I’m a great admirer of his. He already knows that. I admire the contribution he’s made to this country. Professor Van Vollenhoven, you’ve made us a safer country with your thinking and activities on security. It wasn’t always appreciated in politics, but you didn’t care about that, because you had a mission – one that you accomplished very successfully. We all know, because we read the newspapers, that you’ve recently been struggling with your health. But you are such a great fighter. And I’m so happy to see you here tonight, in great shape, as always. Please, let’s give him a warm round of applause – he deserves it!

Tonight I have the honour to be sitting at the same table as the Lieutenant Governor of Michigan, Mr Brian Calley. And I have a family connection with Michigan, which I’d like to tell you about very briefly. Limburg, the place I’m from in the south of the Netherlands, was liberated by American soldiers in September 1944. And in Heerlen, the town where my mother lived at the time, we had a huge American garrison. One of the GIs in that garrison was a man of Polish extraction, called Peter. He took a fancy to my Aunt Clara. They got married and she went back with him to Troy, Michigan. Sadly, after suffering for many years from Alzheimer’s disease, Aunt Clara died earlier this year. But she had been taken such good care of by the kind people of Michigan. In many ways, they are comparable to us, the Dutch. Especially in the way they take care of people of older generations. I want to thank the Lieutenant Governor and his wife for making my aunt feel American – all the way. Her children and grandchildren are now American citizens and are never addressed as foreigners or immigrants but simply as Polish-Dutch Americans. So thank you very much for that.

We are all hoping for your contributions tonight because it is necessary, more than ever before, for us to know more about each other. To learn, to study, and to have an open mind. The worst thing that can happen to us is to close our Dutch or American minds. It will diminish us, and make it more difficult to withstand global competition on our doorstep. Both the Dutch and the Americans can profit from open minds and knowing more about each other.

I want to end with a quote by one of my favourite poets, Walt Whitman. It’s about the United States, but it applies equally to the Netherlands. Whitman wrote ‘The genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges, or churches, or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors, but always most in the common people.’

Thank you very much.