Eurointegrators’ with Tetiana Popova. Interview with Netherlands Ambassador Eduard Hoeks (23.10.2018)

In “Eurointegrators,” media expert and ex-Deputy Minister for Information Policy of Ukraine Tetiana Popova sits down with diplomats, heads of international organizations, and Ukrainian power brokers to discuss Ukraine’s European integration.

In this episode, the guest is Eduard Hoeks, the Netherlands ambassador to Ukraine. Read the Kyiv Post interview with Hoeks here.

The show is produced by a Ukrainian NGO Information Security and Oboz.TV.

The text version of the interview:

Tetiana Popova: Hello! I present today a new episode of my program “Eurointegrators.” Our guest today is the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Netherlands in Ukraine Mr. Eduard Hoeks. You are a new Ambassador in Ukraine. What do you like specifically about our country?

Eduard Hoeks: I have been in Ukraine for more than one year and I am delighted with Kyiv. And of course, I have traveled also in the country. I have visited many cities like Dnipro, like Charkiv, like Odessa, like Lviv. I can say that I am impressed by the beauty of your country. I really love your country. Nature is beautiful, cities are magnificent. It is a country of course in transition. A country, which had many difficulties in the past, but a country, which is really in progress. If you ask me, what is anything specific about your country, I will say, that it is a people. Because I think that people are very friendly, very open. And I feel very well come here in Ukraine. And I think that’s very important.

Popova: Are there many Dutch companies working in Ukraine? In which fields? What kind of problems do they have?

Hoeks: I am happy to know that we have quite a lot of interest from Dutch companies in Ukraine. We have approximately 250 Dutch representatives here, in Dutch companies in Kiev. They are basically interested in the field of agriculture, agroindustry which of course is a specialization of the Dutch. But there are the fields also like water management. You know the Netherlands is a country below sea level. So the sea has always been a hard enemy. And we are developing the sea into our friend now. But we have developed quite a lot of water technologies and water management. And that is why we can help Ukrainians to develop also in the field of river transport. Logistic is a subject, which the Netherlands is specialized. We are an open country, neighboring the sea, so we are specialized in transport. And logistics is a subject, which is also important for Ukraine.

Popova: Some wins or problems of Dutch companies?

Hoeks: The possibility of our cooperation is certainly there, so that is why we have such of huge representation here in Kiev. At the same time, of course, our challenges are basically: the predictability, the accountability, the system rule of law, the system of arbitration. But at the same time, I see that a lot of progress is developing in these fields. And that is why the interest from the Dutch companies is increasing.

Popova: What should we change in our country to attract more investors from Western Europe to Ukraine?

Hoeks: To attract even more investments from the Netherlands and from other European countries. I think it is important for Ukraine to continue with these developments of the rule of law and business climates. Of course, there were some cases, where Dutch companies, Dutch farmers (we also have quite of farmers actually living in Ukraine), who were subjects to raids for instance. I think this is a very bad phenomenon. I think Ukraine should help us infight in this. The predictability of your investments should be guaranteed that you are sure of the money you have been the investing in the country. I think there are subjects, in which progress is possible, development is possible. And we are preparing to help Ukrainians in this also.

Popova: Is the Government of Ukraine helping to solve these problems experienced by Dutch farmers living in Ukraine?

Hoeks: Certainly, we of course with the embassy have been talking with Ukrainian authorities on this subject with the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but also with Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine. And we found in certain cases some good solutions. We see a lot of cooperative attitude from the Ukrainian side.

Popova: In 2016, the Netherlands blocked Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the EU as a result of the referendum on this topic. Why did this happen?

Hoeks: Thank you for your question. It is true that in 2016 there was a referendum in the Netherlands and the ratification of the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine. In the Netherlands, there were some doubts as for whether the Dutch Parliament should ratify this Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine. But at the same time the result, which you know, was negative. It was also influenced by other factors. One of the elements was also strong antipathy in the Netherland against bureaucracy in Brussels. So there are no purely directed against Ukraine message. But it also had to do with a feeling and sentiments in the Netherlands about the Brussels bureaucracy of the European Union.

Popova: It was a kind of euro-skepticism?

Hoeks: Absolutely. This is certainly an effect which plays an important role in this result of the referendum. Then also there were some sentiments against the Dutch Government. And these sentiments found a way in a now word against Association Agreement. So generally speaking the result you are right, it was negative. But it was not only in Ukraine, it was against Brussels and even against our government. When I touched upon the elements against Ukraine the feeling was that Ukraine is not yet far enough in combating the corruption, because the feeling in the Netherlands in that time was that Ukraine was the victim of future corruption. And that still progress had to be made in order to combat this. In the end our Prime Minister found a solution by going to Brussels see his colleagues of the European Union and to come with the proposal that the Netherlands could ratify this Agreement under the condition that the Association Agreement would not be steppingstone to watch an EU membership of Ukraine that the Association Agreement would not be in article 5 in NATO protection for Ukraine and that this Association Agreement finally would not imply an increase of financial means flowing into Ukraine. So under these conditions, which were legally banning Annex to this Association Agreement, our Parliament, in the end, ratified the Agreement. And we are happy that now the implementation of the Association Agreement between European Union and Ukraine is in full think.

Popova: In 2015, before the preparation for the referendum officially started, we saw billboards, posters, direct mail campaigning against the European integration of Ukraine targeting Dutch voters. Who do you think was behind it?

Hoeks: Only during the referendum, of course, there were many activists operating in the political arena of the Netherlands. We had several groups who were campaigning for and several groups who were campaigning against the ratification of this Agreement. We know that of course some of these groups were been influenced by thoughts of actors, possibly even from outsides. And I will certainly not exclude that not include that a neighboring country, a large neighboring country of Ukraine, you say – Russia, was having some interests in the outcome of the referendum. This interest might have been influencing also the activities trying to influence and targeting, as you say, the Dutch voters.

Popova: Thank you for your answer. MH17 was a big tragedy not only for the Dutch people but also for the Malaysian people, the Ukrainian people, for the whole world. Now the investigation is almost finished. What have been the results?

Hoeks: Thank you for this question. Let me in the first play say that MH17 tragedy had a very deep emotional and serious impact in the Netherlands. And also that we are very happy that cooperation in the criminal investigation between Ukrainian authorities and the Netherlands is developing very successfully. We are very happy that President of Ukraine decided to transfer jurisdiction of this criminal case to the Netherlands. We see this as an element of trust, which President has put in the Netherlands. You know that this criminal investigation at this moment is going on and on the responsibility of General Prosecutor in the Netherlands. And the Netherlands General Prosecutor is completely independent. He is operating independently from the government. So for me, as the representative of the government, it is difficult to indicate as to where we stand at this moment with regard to the conclusions. The only thing I can say is that the team is working day and night on this case to bring this case to the Dutch court. We are hoping that the case can start as soon as possible. You know that at the same time on the basis of some evidence from this criminal investigation the Netherlands Government together with Australia’s Government has started, has invoked a state complaint against the Russian State. This is a complaint from governments: from Netherlands and Australia, which has the aim to start consultations with Russia on the acknowledgment of Russia, of its accountability and responsibility for this tragedy. So we have two tracks, we have two criminal cases. And this is provision and responsibility of the independent General Prosecutor. And we have to start a complaint against Russia. And we expect consultation at these moments between the Netherlands and Australia and the Russia Government on the other hand.

Popova: Before the war, the Scythian gold was sent on loan from Ukrainian museums to a Dutch museum exposition in Holland. It still has not been returned. Why?
One guest will be joining our interview now. It is Emine Dzhaparova. She is the first deputy minister of information policy and personally participated in the Scythian gold trial. Emine, hello!

Dzhaparova: Scythian gold. Two sides in this case are: Ukraine and Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam. So the gold was kept in Crimea before the exhibition in Allard Pierson Museum. And when the occupation started, Ukraine started to claim that it should be returned to Kyiv to Ukraine, but not back to Crimea where it was kept before, because it is Ukrainian property. So it can not be returned to Crimea. This is occupied territory. The Agreement regarding the exhibition was signed between Crimea and Amsterdam. So the Crimea says it should be returned to Crimea, but it is not right. But now I will support the position of Crimea authorities regarding the Scythian gold, as it belongs to Ukrainian people. And Ukraine has its lost. And we cannot transfer the Scythian gold to Crimea. So the court decision was: all the artifacts should be returned to Kyiv to the National Museum of History of Ukraine. After that decision the Russian Federation in Crimea, the representatives of the Crimea, they claim, they would appeal to the court about that decision. But the Ukrainian side has its own position: it should be returned just to Ukraine. As you know, Ukraine pays for the keeping Scythian gold in Amsterdam Museum. We will have a new court in March of next year. I hope Ukraine’s position in the court will be strong. So we stay for the good chances to win the case. I think Russia wants to make this process longer. I was in the museum a month ago. I hate fake news about the artifacts. The Russian sites told that some artifacts were stolen from the museum. It’s not true, it’s still kept in the museum. So the Ukrainian position is quite strong. So we have a good chance in this case.

Popova: Emine explained the Ukrainian position. Can you now explain, please, the position of the Netherlands on this issue?

Hoeks: At the moment, after the annexation of the Crimea, the artifacts of Scythian gold found itself in the Netherlands, where they have been exhibited. A large part of these artifacts was also coming from four museums of the Crimea. And another large part coming from the history museum in Kyiv. When the issue came up as to return of the artifacts, the museum of the Crimea made a claim. And of course, the Ukrainian state did a claim immediately. We then submitted this to the Dutch judge. And the Dutch judge decided that the property of the Ukrainian state should be returned to the Ukrainian state. But the museum of the Crimea wanted to appeal. And we are now waiting for the decision on the appeal, which will be served only I think in 2019. And pending this case, we have to wait and see what the final decision will be. But I have to underline that the largest part, the most precious part of the Scythian gold belonging to the history museum in Kyiv was already returned to Ukraine before the judge made the decision. So, the large part has already been returned to Kyiv. The part coming from four museums of the Crimea is still under this investigation.

Popova: Mr. Hoek, with regard to Dutch state projects in Ukraine, which directions do you support?

Hoeks: As I said, Ukraine is a country in transition. Many development processes are going on. And the Netherlands are in the position to help Ukraine in this process of transition. So, we have several projects in the field of development of rule of law and fighting corruption – anticorruption and human rights field also, for which we have budgets, and for which we are in contact with several NGOs, who are active in this field. So, our budgets of cause are not very big. We are a small country. So, we have limited budgets. But we think that without experience we can contribute to the successful transition of Ukraine. Ukraine finds itself in a very important historical stage of its existence. And we have seen that in 2014 many reforms have been implemented. And some people think the implementation is going slow. And other say it is ok, everything is on track. But, nevertheless it is important that there is some dynamics, there is movement. And we as a country from Western Europe are happy that we can help. And as I said, the budgets are limited, but some of them are effective and very appreciated.

Popova: In this case, I have a question. What kind of anti-corruption projects are most prominent?

Hoeks: I think, at this moment anticorruption it is institutional overall work to combat the corruption has almost reached its effects by the anticorruption high court, which will be established in Ukraine. We have been talking on this with many members of parliament. We have given them advice. We know that such a court exists in a very few European member states, I think only in Croatia and in Slovakia. But on the basis of this experience, the institutional overall work now is more or less ready. It is now about implementation. And also, in the field of implementation, the Netherlands is trying to contribute to Ukraine. It’s difficult to say where we were not prominent and where the success was not prominent. We have to wait and to see how in the future it will develop.

Popova: Good luck! I have one last question to you. What else should Ukraine do to encourage Dutch voters to vote in favor of Ukraine’s accession to the EU in future?

Hoeks: We know that Ukraine has this ambition to integrate to the European structures (the digital markets, the energy markets). And we, as the European Union member state, acknowledge this Ukrainian ambition. We see that Ukraine is a country in transition. And that is why we are so happy that we could ratify this Association Agreement between EU and Ukraine, because this leaves us a lot of homework to be done in Ukraine on its implementation. So, what I think we should do first now is to concentrate on the implementation of the Association Agreement. The EU member states and the delegations of EU are following this process more closely. And we are making progress on the day to day basis with technical ministries, with the Ministry of foreign affairs. And the ambition of Ukraine is getting closer and closer to reach this final stage. But as I say we have to first concentrate on the implementation of the existing mechanisms, before we think on the future.

Popova: Do you think we are not enough fast in implementing Association Agreement?

Hoeks: This is a matter of judgment. I think that in general, the implementation of the Association Agreement is covering quite well. I mean we should not forget that Ukraine is coming from a low way. It is the past of Ukraine has always been full of difficulties. The reason – past especially. And we have to take this into consideration, when we judge the progress. Excellent people are working on this implementation. We have good weel, we have strong ambition. And together ambition and weel can lead Ukraine very far.

Popova: Thank you, ambassador Hoeks. Thanks to all, who watched our program. See you next week!

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