Benelux Seminar: 60 years of cooperation celebrated in Ireland

On the 18th of October the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade oF Ireland hosted a seminar, in collaboration with the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg Embassies, celebrating the 60th anniversary of Benelux cooperation, on the topic ‘Amplifying the voice of smaller Member States in the EU’

Keynote Speaker Ms. Caroline de Gruyter

The seminar was hosted at the beautiful Iveagh House, the home of the Department OF Foreign Affairs and Trade. Renowned Dutch journalist and writer Caroline de Gruyter gave the keynote address, focusing on the joint interest of smaller Member States OF the European Union, post Brexit. Smaller countries, in her view, will need to rely on each other more and, realising their common interest, have started building new coalitions. Caroline de Gruyter's engaging keynote speech initiated an exchange of views between panel members and the audience, astutely moderated by Ms. Noelle O’Connell, Executive Director of the European Movement Ireland.

The panel consisted of, alongside Ms. De Gruyter, Mr. Thomas Antoine, Secretary General of the Benelux Union, Dr. Mario Hirsch, Visiting Senior Research fellow of the EU Institute for Security Studies, Prof. Alexander Mattelaer, Director of European Affairs at the Egmont Institute and Mr. Bobby McDonagh, former ambassador of Ireland to the UK, Italy and the EU. Tellingly, Ms. O’Connell opened the discussion with the followig quote from First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans: “there are two kinds of Member States in Europe: small ones, and those who don’t know yet they are small”.

The seminar panel

Mr. Antoine said that both the Benelux and the EU should strive to be more than simply the sum of their Member States. The Benelux is, in his view, an example of successful, intensive cooperation between different countries, working on concrete projects for combating euroscepticism and hostility to the EU. The panel shared the lessons that they take from 60 years of Benelux. It reiterated the value of networking amongst EU Member States and how cooperation between groups of Member States only serves to strengthen the EU. In the ensuing discussion with the audience the importance was stressed of keeping the Benelux pilot light burning.

Belgian Ambassador to Ireland Pierre-Emmanuel De Bauw concluded the seminar, which was followed by an engaging reception. Secretary General of the Irish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Niall Burgess, spoke some words of thanks to the guests, amongst whom was our own SG, Ms. Yoka Brandt. Throughout the seminar and subsequent reception, the late Ambassador of the Netherlands to Ireland, Mr. Peter Kok, who recently passed away, was also fondly remembered, not only for having initiated this event but also for his enthusiasm for continued Benelux and European cooperation and close Irish relations.