Despite the challenges, the Dutch flower festival continues
As Ukraine prepares for a massive Russian assault on its eastern region of Donbass, Dutch authorities are preparing for a much friendlier invasion by thousands of visitors to its floriculture exhibition known as Floriade.
Held this year in Almere, about 30 kilometers from Amsterdam, the 62-year-old event seeks to show horticulturists around the world not only the best way to grow tomatoes, but also solar tiles and cutting-edge vertical facade of technology. gardens, Andre Haspels, the Dutch ambassador to the United States, told VOA.
The theme of this year’s expo is literally what happens in building sustainable cities, Haspels said, adding that Floriade will provide the opportunity to study the special building material known as cementless concrete that Dutch have developed and now use for roads and bridges.
And while the tulip also blooms in times of war, the unfolding conflict in Ukraine rings a special bell for the Dutch men and women who suffered the sudden and tragic loss of loved ones in 2014 when Malaysian Flight 17 Airlines was shot down by what investigators say. was a Russian-made missile as the plane flew over eastern Ukraine, which was controlled by pro-Russian forces.
The flight was en route from Amsterdam to Malaysia. All 298 people on board were killed.
“The death of 298 civilians, including 196 Dutch, cannot and must not remain without consequences,” Deputy Prime Minister Wopke Hoekstra said in a recent statement. “Current events in Ukraine underscore the vital importance of this.”
Russia has categorically denied any involvement in the incident known as MH17.
Outside the residence of the Dutch Ambassador in Washington, the Ukrainian flag is displayed in front near the Dutch national flag. Indoors, Haspels recently hosted “Tulip Days,” an annual spring event that was used this year to promote Dutch-American friendship, Floriade and to express support for Ukraine.
The war in Ukraine is not the only concern that has given pause to organizers of the flower show, which opens Thursday and lasts six months. They have had to deal with the more than two-year-old COVID-19 pandemic, which is only loosening its grip in Europe.
“They had times when they had to decide, ‘Go ahead or not,'” Haspels told VOA during the Tulip Days event, which had been suspended since 2019 due to the pandemic. “Ultimately, they decided to go ahead with the festival, in part because the event would be mostly outdoors.”
The Netherlands, like the United States and most European countries, has lifted many of the strict COVID-19 measures, including mandatory masks, “except on public transport and airports,” Haspels said. , who tested positive twice, despite having been vaccinated and boosted.
Impact, lessons of war
As the threat of COVID-19 wanes, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has forced Western European countries to face new challenges to their security and economies.
“First of all, we took sanctions against Russia. That means our oil prices and our gasoline prices are going up. Our food prices are rising. So there is inflation,” he said.
“Secondly, there are a large number of refugees coming from Ukraine to Europe. First to neighboring countries, mainly Poland, but also to other countries, including my country. As of April 11, 31,340 Ukrainian refugees were registered in the Netherlands, according to the embassy.
As Ukraine’s applications for membership of the European Union and NATO are being considered, the so-called Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU is proving essential when it’s about helping fleeing Ukrainians resettle, Haspels said.
Among the privileges granted under the agreement, Ukrainians can enter the EU to live, work and find accommodation.
“Children can go to school in the Netherlands or any other European country” without seeking asylum. “That’s what we’re focusing on right now,” Haspels explained.
“This is going to be a watershed moment for Europe for a very, very long time for a number of reasons,” the Dutch ambassador told VOA. “You saw as a result that many European countries increased their defense spending – the Netherlands did, under the new government. But our neighbor Germany has also increased its defense spending to 100 billion euros, which is huge if you also look at Germany’s history. Thus, they will become a stronger actor within NATO and European defence.
The war is also forcing European countries, including the Netherlands, to rethink their dependence on Russian energy sources, seek alternative sources of fossil fuels and accelerate the shift to renewable energy.
“Norway is an oil and gas producer. Even in my own country, the Netherlands, we still have gas, but we have decided not to use it because of the environmental risks. But now we understand that in this emergency situation we might also need to explore this gas reserve in the Netherlands,” he said. “Thus, our energetic relationship will change. I think we will have a much faster transition to a green economy. So solar, wind and hydrogen will also get a huge incentive.
Haspels noted that the war in Ukraine has taught allies and their adversaries another valuable lesson.
“What we have learned is that alliances are very important. The alliance within Europe and the unanimity that we have, which I think is a great achievement, but also the alliance between Europe and the United States,” he said. .
Asked how the diplomatic scene in Washington has changed due to the war and reduced fears over COVID-19, Haspels said most EU missions in the US capital have started organizing bigger in-person events.
“Diplomacy is a contact sport,” he joked.
But the Dutch ambassador has not been in contact with his Russian counterpart.
“At this stage, I don’t see what added value it would have,” he said, explaining that relations between his country and Russia were already strained due to MH17.
Although Ukraine is not a member of the EU, kyiv’s top diplomatic representative was invited in February to attend an official meeting of EU ambassadors, where “she briefed us on the situation in Ukraine and expressed appreciation for the steps taken by the EU, Haspels said.