Saturday 3 June 2007
Ladies and gentlemen,
May I extend a warm welcome to you in The Hague. I am extremely pleased that this time you have chosen The Hague as the place to hold your conference.
Since I gather that many of you are visiting The Hague for the first time, I should like to tell something about the past and present of our city.
Unlike other Dutch towns, The Hague cannot boast of Roman origins. But it was here, according to the legend, that Count William the Second of Holland, galloping through the dunes somewhere in the year 248, came across a pleasant lake at the crossing of two brooks. Here he decided to found a hunting lodge. That hunting lodge was later extended to become a castle. That castle is to be found this very day in the form of Knights' Hall in the Binnenhof, where the parliament of the Netherlands is housed. And the dune lake is still here, too, in the form of the Hofvijver Lake.
In the turmoil of the religious and political conflicts of the mid-16th century, not only a new page was turned in the history of the Netherlands but also in the chronicle of The Hague. The Hague became the political centre of the Dutch Republic and the residence of the Stadholders, the Princes of Orange. The coming of foreign envoys and diplomats added a certain charm to the rather rural town by the sea, as much as the ever-present officialdom gave rise to a very courteous, but slightly reserved and formal class of citizenry.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Neutrality has been our nation's time-honoured policy, dictated by well-understood commercial self-interest, if nothing else. Yet, as a natural consequence, The Hague only rarely found itself pitched into the hurly-burly of international politics. However, this neutrality became the trump card for both the Netherlands and The Hague, when Czar Nicholas the Second opted for The Hague as the venue for the First Peace Conference in 1899.
The decision had far-reaching consequences. The Peace Conference put The Hague on the world map and heralded its present position as International City of Peace and Justice. Eight years later, a follow-up conference initiated by USpresident Theodore Roosevelt was held, also in The Hague. During that conference, the construction of the Peace Palace began.
The new century was not only going to witness two world wars, countless other hostilities and large-scale, sometimes even monstrous violations of human rights. Partly as a reaction to these events, it also saw the further development of international law. The Hague, hosting more and more international judicial organizations, turned into an International City of Peace, Justice and Security. In 1946, the International Court of Justice, the highest judicial body in the world was established here.
Notably in the last 10 to 15 years The Hague has moved fast. Together with the Netherlands Government and in particular the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the municipality has become host to several new, and in part pioneering, international institutions - like the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Europol or the International Criminal Court, to mention just a few of them.
You will realise that the presence of so many legal institutions, staffed by leading lawyers from all over the world, has turned The Hague into a veritable international crossroads of legal knowledge. And the local authority is fully aware of this and is more than willing, obviously in cooperation with third parties, to expand and strengthen this knowledge network.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The presence of all these international organizations is of course extremely important for The Hague economy, for our city, for the people who live and work here. A recent research report concluded that more than 15,000 residents in The Hague have a job thanks to the international organizations in The Hague region. Almost three and a half thousand people are employed in one of the international organizations, while more than 12 thousand people earn their living in companies providing services to these organizations. And I can assure you that these estimates are on the conservative side.
Of course, a city is not just there to be worked in, but to live in as well. Our special attention is being devoted to a number of issues, like hospitality, the accessibility of the city, the supply of housing, international education and all the other things that make living in a city attractive, like a rich cultural life and ample opportunities to play sport and relax.
Let me perhaps begin with the most important of all, hospitality. An international city, of course, is not created just by the institutions which have their home there, but also by the people who work there. They, too, are residents of The Hague, albeit often temporary ones. But I think it is very important that they also feel at home in our city.
As an international city The Hague naturally has to meet the demand for education in foreign languages. In and around the city there are international schools as well American, British, French, German schools, all at both primary and secondary level. The local authority devotes a lot of attention to international education. For parents, after all, a good education for their children is absolutely vital alongside suitable living accommodation and good health care. So it is equally vital, for us too.
An international city must offer more than just a good service for expats, easy accessibility, pleasant neighbourhoods to live in and a sound international education. It has to be a pleasant place to live in, for all its residents. And what attracts people to the cities, among other things, is their cultural life. Towns have traditionally been cultural centres. And that applies to The Hague as well.
The Hague today has a rich cultural life with museums like the Mauritshuis, world famous for its Vermeers, Rembrandts and other Dutch masters, and the Gemeentemuseum, famous for its Mondrian collection.
However, cultural life in The Hague is by no means confined to European culture alone. The Hague has developed in the past decades into a real multicultural city. A city for example where you will find temples of all the major religions in the world. A city for example where the Hindustani culture flourishes like nowhere else in western Europe. The Hague is proud of this cultural and religious diversity whose roots lie in the century-long Dutch tradition of tolerance.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I hope I have given you an impression of some remarkable aspects of The Hague, the city that has the honour to be your host these days. Maybe you will have some time to discover The Hague yourself. I can advice you to make a walk through the centre or along the beach. Or pay a visit to the market, the biggest in Europe.
Above all, I hope very much that you will have a fruitful meeting and a pleasant stay in The Hague.