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How to deal with the US in the coming years

MAASTRICHT. Dutch university campuses in Silicon Valley and Boston (near Harvard), a more European – and less US-dependent – approach to NATO, and an emphasis on the economic benefits of climate measures to US partners. These ideas should be part of the Dutch policy approach to the US, according to students at Maastricht University.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is writing a new four-year strategic plan on US policy, and is doing the rounds at Dutch universities to “pick students’ minds and get out-of-the-box ideas”, says Fennigje Hinse, senior policy adviser. Maastricht was the first stop, where about twenty students – brought together by UCM lecturer Roberta Haar – gathered at UCM last Tuesday.

Hinse starts off by explaining the current strategy. “The US is our most important military partner; we depend on them heavily. Our economies are intertwined. The US is the number one investor in the Netherlands and the Dutch are among the top five investors in the States. On a cultural level there is a great deal of mutual understanding – we have the same values.” In short: the relationship has been good and important. “Our slogan used to be ‘two countries, one spirit’.”

The question is whether it can remain this way. Although the plan for this new policy predates the election – the last four-year plan ended in 2016 – the ministry decided to postpone writing it until after the result was known. During the first part of the meeting at UCM the discussion mainly concerns president-elect Trump. Hinse agrees with the students that some of his statements are worrisome and his foreign policy still unclear. “He’s contradicted himself on several occasions – never before has so little been known about a president’s plans.” However, she emphasises that “we should be careful not to create self-fulfilling prophecies. Let’s see what happens. The US has a strong democracy; that’s not going to change. Also, when writing our US policy we focus on our own interests, and those haven’t changed.”

Hinse asks the students which topics they feel should be included in the policy, and puts them to work on those themes in smaller groups. The most popular one: the climate. The students believe the path to success lies in linking the climate to trade. “Be smart about sharing technology and resources. Emphasise the economic benefits.” Second on the list is security, focusing on NATO, which Trump has called ‘obsolete’. “The two per cent rule [that every member state should spend two per cent of its gross domestic product on defence –Ed.] doesn’t work. We don’t want to spend more money; we want to spend it smarter. Every European country should take one area and specialise in it. The Netherlands could take cybersecurity, for instance.” Hinse likes the idea, but points out that the desire of countries to be able to defend themselves by themselves will be an issue.

The third choice is education and innovation. The students want to promote the exchange of students and staff by setting up campuses near top universities like Harvard and CalTech. “It would be a display of what Dutch universities have to offer students, scientists and companies.” Lastly, the issue of trade is discussed. The students suggest setting up a trade event to show off all the latest Dutch innovations and inventions, and urging visiting ministers to show the US what the Netherlands has to offer. Their idea is to appeal to to the dealmaker in Trump, the business man.

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