Dutch Official State Visit: Dimplomacy, Pomp and Etiquette

As the official state visit to Luxembourg of Their Majesties King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands drew to a close, we reflected on what had taken place – what was the purpose of the visit, what was its importance? After all, The Dutch king and our own Grand Duke Henri are distant cousins, count themselves as good friends, and indeed, Luxembourg was the first country that they visited after his inauguration in April 2013.

That visit was a courtesy visit, on this occasion it is a state visit. There is an etiquette to such visits, which includes that the invitation is extended by the longer serving head of state (in this case Grand Duke Henri) to the more recent incumbent, thus Luxembourg welcomed the Netherlands on this occasion, and not the other way round. Attached to the state visit was a diplomatic and business mission which concerned itself particularly with sustainable development and the circular economy.

The Dutch government attached a lot of significance to the visit and its efforts included giving Luxembourgish journalists the opportunity to meet senior government figures and the king himself, to discover more about how, even after over 200 years under the same unified house of Orange-Nassau, and 60 years since the official launch of the Benelux Customs Union, there could still be any meat to pick from the bones of such a state visit.

Since 1964, the Netherlands has represented Luxembourg’s diplomatic and political interests in many countries where Luxembourg has no permanent diplomatic presence. The state visit aimed to underline the closeness and warmth that exists between not only the two royal households, but also the two countries, with Luxembourg having a consistently high positive image within the Netherlands. King Willem-Alexander himself emphasized the importance of nurturing this close and special relationship between the two countries, which he referred to as old friends and old allies, and as two highly educated countries with a shared history and a common future. The king also spoke of the opportunities that having a parallel trade and political mission could have for opening doors for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that might otherwise remain closed.

The accompanying political and trade mission itself looked at a number of issues around sustainable development and the circular economy. While sustainable development is now well entrenched in the political and social vocabulary, the circular economy is less well understood. Effectively it refers to the planning, use and re-use of resources, including construction and fabrication materials, non-fossil energy and even food, so that a bare minimum of the economy is ever truly discarded.

Environmental matters such as water pollution have also been very high on the agenda, as many of the major river flows of western Europe exit into the North Sea in the Netherlands, so such issues become regional rather than simply national. Luxembourg itself, according to Jean-Marc Hoscheit, Luxembourg Ambassador to the Netherlands, is trying to re-invent its business model, and the state visit has been an opportunity to recognize that these types of projects need international co-operation, multilateralism and research and to identify common grounds and common values that the two economies can build on together.

One such example is the small restaurant chain “In Stock”, with three outlets in Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. They claim that approximately one third of all food put on sale is wasted, amounting globally to some 1.3 billion tonnes, and their contribution to the circular economy is to take fresh food that the supermarkets would otherwise have thrown away (blemished fruit and vegetables, day old bread, meats at the end of their shelf life etc) that are still entirely useable, and create their daily menus based on whatever waste products they “harvest”. They have a particularly close relationship with the Dutch supermarket chain “Albert Heijn”, who supply them with much of their raw materials. Chronicle.lu asked Dutch State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management Ms. Stientje van Veldhoven, who met with Luxembourg government ministers François Bausch (Sustainable Development and Infrastructure) and Carole Dieschbourg (Environment) during the state visit, to try and persuade her Luxembourgish counterparts to promote such measures against food waste here in Luxembourg. She said she would do so … watch this space!

Chronicle.lu also took the opportunity to ask King Willem-Alexander, a keen pilot who has flown “incognito” many times for KLM commercial flights, whether he had ever flown a plane into Luxembourg before, and whether he would be doing so on the occasion of the state visit. He confirmed that he has, as a pilot for KLM, flown into Luxembourg on many occasions, but, as his type approval is currently only valid for Boeing 737s, and that he may only fly for KLM, he would not be able to do so this time.