July 20, 2019

Closer than ever: North Rhine-Westphalia’s relations with the Benelux region

 By Dr. Stephan Holthoff-Pförtner, Minister of European and International Affairs of North Rhine-Westphalia.

The Netherlands and North Rhine-Westphalia are like twins: with around 18 million inhabitants each, they are about the same size and, with a gross domestic product of around 700 billion Euro, about the same economic strength. As one country, they would be the fifth largest economy in the European Union.

The entire Benelux region and North Rhine-Westphalia taken together constitute one of the most populous and economically strong mega-regions in the world. We form the continental centrepiece and the economic backbone of Europe, which stretches like a ribbon of densely populated metropolitan areas between northwest England and northern Italy.

In many respects, North Rhine-Westphalia is closer to the Benelux region than to other parts of Germany: Our most important seaports, for example, are not Hamburg or Bremerhaven, but Rotterdam and Antwerp. North Rhine-Westphalia’s trade volume with the Benelux region is correspondingly high. In 2018, it amounted to over 90 billion Euro and was thus about as large as that with France, the USA and China combined.

The state government of North Rhine-Westphalia appreciates the countries of the Benelux region not only as good neighbours and friends. Together, it regards North Rhine-Westphalia and the Benelux countries as a common economic, trade and living space that must be cultivated and further developed.

NRW and Benelux cooperation – Premier of NRW Armin Laschet greets Luxembourgish PM Xavier Bettel, Minister Dr. Holthoff-Pförtner and Ambassador Dr. Kreft in attendance – Land NRW, Mark Hermenau.

When new governments in both the Netherlands and North Rhine-Westphalia took office in 2017, they committed themselves politically to making the relationship with their neighbours a priority, and consequently cooperation intensified considerably:

The first trips abroad took Minister-President Armin Laschet to the capitals of the Benelux neighbours. In November 2018, the first intergovernmental consultations between the Netherlands and North Rhine-Westphalia took place in Düsseldorf. A joint cabinet meeting with Flanders followed in January 2019. In April, North Rhine-Westphalia and the Benelux Union renewed and broadened the Political Declaration that associates North Rhine-Westphalia with the Benelux-Union. Most recently, in May 2019, a new cooperation agreement was concluded with Wallonia.

These political milestones are embedded in the trusting exchange and close cooperation of people across borders. Civil society involvement is therefore particularly valued and taken into account in celebrating the first „Benelux Year“ in the history of North Rhine-Westphalia in 2019. As part of the „Benelux Year“, more than 200 events bring people together on both sides of the border: from school trips to art exhibitions to citizens’ festivals.

North Rhine-Westphalia and the Benelux region are more closely connected than ever before. And never before has the consolidation of these links been as important as it is today. It is my conviction that here, in the ‘small’ cross-border cooperation between countries like the Benelux and NRW, it is also decided whether the ‘big’

European idea has a future. For it is here in the border regions where Europe is lived and breathed – and where the European idea must and will pass its test.

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