Speech at the opening of the CITES shadow conference of The European International Model United Nations

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me start by saying how delighted I am that you have organised this CITES shadow conference. I am particularly impressed that you needed no invitation from me – but organised this conference on your own initiative.

This is obviously an issue that you feel strongly about. I am glad this is the case, as I believe CITES is very important. Only through international cooperation, can we regulate international trade to prevent animals and plants from becoming extinct. Without the work of CITES, several species would already be extinct.

We in the Netherlands want to play an active role in shaping a sustainable world. We believe in CITES, and are honoured to be hosting this year's conference.

So why is today's shadow conference so important? Well, CITES can only work if it has the support of the people. Without this support it is little more than a kind of game for the rulers and politicians of the countries involved. It needs the support of the people – students such as you – who are committed to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

I always wonder how the public can be given a voice at international conferences like CITES. Support and commitment are essential. You can sign up to all the international treaties you like, but there's little point if the public can't relate to them. Not only because their votes shape the political agenda. But also because as consumers, they too are responsible for upholding these treaties, even if it means their own personal interests are affected.

As Hubert Humphrey, the thirty-eighth Vice President of the United States said: "There are not enough jails, not enough policemen, not enough courts to enforce a law not supported by the people."

You are the international policymakers of the future. Perhaps the next Ban Ki-Moon, Jan Pronk, or Condoleezza Rice is sitting among you. But you are also citizens and consumers. What do you do in your free time? Do you like to get close to nature? Do you talk to people who work with nature, with agriculture or with the international trade in plants and animals?

In the future you might have to work with international treaties on nature. How would you then keep hold of your connection with nature? And if you want to be elected to a position in government in this area, how will you attract voters? How will you make sure you know what people want? Who will you be dedicating your efforts to? Who is it you are working day and night for?

I sincerely hope that you are thinking about these questions. And that you are not here today simply because you get a thrill from experiencing the world of international negotiations.

And what about me? How do I maintain that connection? One way is by visiting my local farmers' market every Saturday. The farmers I meet there tell me about conditions on their farms, and their close relationship with nature. I think these discussions are immensely important.

At another level, I want to be able to explain to my neighbour why we have the conference, what we discuss, and what the consequences would be of not having a strong CITES treaty. That when we hand the world over to the next generation, we have to try to make sure we are leaving it in a better state than when we found it.

The only way to achieve this is through cooperation, by making agreements with other countries, and by convincing people of the need to do this.

If I can explain this, if I can deal with CITES in a way that reflects the mandate of the Dutch people, only then can I speak from my heart. And then I know why I'm doing this job.

But of course, when you enter politics, you enter a completely different world. A world of tough negotiation, of forging alliances, of give and take. A world in which the process itself is central. I certainly find it a very interesting and stimulating environment. It is one of the reasons why I went into politics.

This probably also applies to you. You've chosen to attend TEIMUN because you’re interested in international relations. But I advise you to keep asking yourselves "why?" How will it affect your own life? What will it mean for the people in your country and in other countries? How will it influence our world?

The loss of biodiversity is an issue that evokes strong emotions in people, and quite rightly so. It is a complicated matter, and opinions and positions may vary considerably, as you know.

I receive petitions on many of these subjects. One nice example is the school children who made me little origami elephants to express their concerns about endangered animals. Apparently, the CITES conference and the role of our country in it, is being discussed in the schools of these children. Something like this might seem unimportant, but I believe it is essential to involve people, particularly children, with a complex international treaty like CITES in such a pleasant and accessible way. It truly is a great opportunity to involve people.

I'm curious about the results of the TEIMUN conference. CITES negotiators sometimes have to bring a lot of baggage with them to the table, such as the need to follow the party line and to keep to agreements with partner countries on other issues. This is not the case for you. Your discussions will not be hampered by such restrictions, which is something the CITES partners could really learn from.

I think its even more important that you help us get people better involved with CITES, with the negotiations that take place and the resulting agreements. How do we reach the people it affects? I believe that is a key challenge, not only for this conference, but also for the future of international relations.

I'd like to end by quoting the Chinese philosopher Laozi, who lived two and half thousand years ago. "To lead people, walk behind them".

Thank you for listening, and I hope you find the next two days very rewarding.