Marietje Schaake on Flight MH17

Marietje
On 22 July, Marietje Schaake spoke on the downing of MH17 in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament: On 22 July 2014 Marietje Schaake appeared on BBC Newsnight to speak about the downing of flight MH17: The article below, by Thomas Erdbrink, was published in the New York Times on 22 July 2014 . De original version can be found here. AMSTERDAM — In cafes across the Netherlands, a new Cold War with Russia had already erupted. “We have to draw a line somewhere,” said Meindert van der Kaaij, a silver-haired journalist, lamenting over beers those who died on Flight 17, 193 of them from the Netherlands. “We must say something.” Russia, everybody agreed, was the real culprit. “What can we do?” Niels Romijn, a civil servant, snapped back. “We must be realistic; there is just not much we can do.” It was a mirror image of the debate that unfolded in bland diplomatic language in Brussels, where foreign ministers of the European Union’s 28 member states were under pressure to display resolve and common purpose after the downing of the Malaysia Airlines jet over eastern Ukraine. In the end, there was plenty of tough talk, yet no real punishment for Russia despite calls from Australia, Britain and the United States, which have all accused Russia of supplying the missile that brought down Flight 17, to take a tougher line. Despite widespread anger over the plane’s downing, European nations have shied away from measures that would further isolate Russia. Dependent on Russian gas and oil, wary of confrontation on the Continent and alive to the fact of Russia’s proximity, Europe’s leaders have largely decided that they will have to live with a newly assertive Russia. “Almost every European state has voluntarily handed over power to Mr. Putin, allowing him to play countries against each other,” said Marietje Schaake, an influential member of the European Parliament, referring to the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. “We should choose for energy independency, for principles, human rights and rule of law. But that is not what we are doing now.” At Tuesday’s meeting, the foreign ministers agreed to draw up a new, broader list of targets for sanctions, including Russian individuals and entities, said Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief. But no new additional measures were imposed, reflecting fears among some Europeans that tougher sanctions would invite reprisals by Russia against countries dependent on its energy supplies, harming the Continent’s economic growth. Nowhere is the European conundrum clearer than in the Netherlands, a tiny nation of 16 million but one of the wealthiest in the European Union. For more than a decade, the Dutch have been forging closer ties with Russia, emphasizing a growing trade and economic partnership while pointedly ignoring Mr. Putin’s regional ambitions. Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, which has its head office in The Hague, is one of the largest foreign investors in Russian gas fields in Siberia. Shell is the largest corporation in the Netherlands, and its stock is widely held in the nation’s pension funds. If Shell loses money, the pensions of Dutch teachers, civil servants and many others suffer. As a result, the ties between Shell and the government are extremely close, and the company’s welfare inevitably influences policy, analysts said. “They have direct access to everybody in the establishment,” said Sweder van Wijnbergen, who was the secretary general of the Ministry of Economic Affairs from 1997 to 2000. A former boss, Hans Wijers, then the minister in charge of the economy, sits on the Shell board of directors. “Naturally, Shell will try to prevent any sanctions against Russia,” Mr. van Wijnbergen said. “Of course, the government ultimately makes its own decisions.” A spokesman for the company declined to say whether Shell would reconsider its investments in Russia after the downing of the plane. Four Shell employees died in the crash of Flight 17. After China, the Netherlands is Russia’s most important trading partner. The Russians and the Dutch have invested billions in each other’s countries. In 2012, the Netherlands imported about $27.3 billion worth of gas, reselling 95 percent of it to the rest of Europe, official statistics show. Russia imported $9.7 billion in office equipment, food and flowers. The port of Rotterdam saw the import of Russian oil rise fivefold over the past decade, making the country the largest importer of Russian gas. Shell has been a major investor in a huge Russian liquefied natural gas project in Siberia. The Dutch entanglement with Russia through Shell is emblematic of ties that many European nations have with Russia. In making the case for tougher sanctions to his Parliament, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain argued that Europe should use its economic leverage against Russia. “It is time to make our power, influence and resources felt,” Mr. Cameron said Monday. But other European countries have parried efforts to strengthen penalties on Russia. France has opposed proposed sanctions against arms sales to Russia, in part because it is building two Mistral-class helicopter carriers for Russia’s military. “For the time being, a level of sanctions has not been decided that would prevent this delivery,” President François Hollande of France said Monday. “The Russians have paid,” he said, and canceling the deal would require France to reimburse Russia $1.5 billion. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany on Monday said that communication lines with Russia needed to stay open. Juurd Eijsvoogel, a foreign affairs columnist for one of the leading Dutch newspapers, NRC Handelsblad, said, “Germany does not follow the U.S. blindly.” In Ukraine, Europe is widely seen as waffling. “It looks like they will not impose any strict sanctions,” said Svitlana Khutka, an associate professor of sociology at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Kiev. “Why? Because they say they are very concerned, deeply concerned, very, very concerned, very much concerned, so very deeply concerned,” she said in an interview. “You just don’t believe that they are concerned, because it is quite evident that they have their own interests.” The Dutch have declared Wednesday, when the remains of passengers on board Flight 17 are expected to arrive in the Netherlands, a day of mourning. At the same moment, Dutch leaders are carefully trying to balance the open anger — an increasing number of people are calling the episode a war crime — with the country’s deep economic ties with Russia. In full-page advertisements in major Dutch newspapers, the government offered condolences, but described the downing of the plane as a “disaster” rather than a missile strike. In recent days, Prime Minister Mark Rutte has made sure to keep his lines of communication with Mr. Putin open, to “bring the bodies home,” he has said repeatedly. Behind the scenes, Dutch investors in Russia are also consulted, former insiders said. “Of course representatives of Shell are discreetly talking to the government throughout the plane ordeal, in order to minimize damage to the company,” Mr. van Wijnbergen said. Many Dutch people said they hoped for a tougher stance toward Russia from Mr. Rutte. “His real test will come after the bodies have arrived here, and after we have mourned,” said Mr. van der Kaaij. “I think many people in the Netherlands expect him to take a tougher stance. What kind of country are we if we just smooth this over?” The article below, was published in The Economist on 24 July 2014. The original version can be found here. JULY 23rd was a day of national mourning in the Netherlands, the first since the death of Queen Wilhelmina more than 50 years ago. Broadcasters dispensed with advertising and game shows; the windmills stopped turning, their sails set slightly off-kilter in a way that has betokened grief for centuries. At Eindhoven airport two Hercules transport planes were met on the tarmac by 40 hearses and over 1,000 relatives desperately hoping their loved ones were in one of the wooden coffins. The country came to a solemn standstill. The Dutch lost 193 of their fellow citizens on MH17. As a share of the Netherlands’ population that is greater than America’s loss in the attacks of September 11th. All the bodies, Dutch and otherwise, that have so far been taken by train from the crash site to Kharkiv will have been transferred to a medical facility in Hilversum by July 25th. It will take weeks, if not months to identify them. An unknown number, perhaps as many as 100, remain unrecovered. The nation’s grief did not, for the most part, break out into anger. The Dutch are pragmatic, and both parliament and people knew that an aggressive stance was unlikely to achieve their most pressing goal, the return of the dead. Ko Colijn, who runs Clingendael, the Netherlands’ leading foreign-relations think-tank, says that keeping discussions with Russia businesslike was a good way for Mark Rutte, the prime minister, to achieve the nation’s goals: “Let Washington, London and Melbourne do the shouting.” But faced with images of disrespect and looting, the calm demeanour of the Dutch was stretched to breaking point and, in the popular press, beyond. Another reason for an unwillingness to blame Russia openly and definitively is that, in 2003, then-prime-minister Jan Peter Balkenende ignored his own intelligence services and relied on Tony Blair’s word when lending the country’s support to the invasion of Iraq. Since then the Dutch have been distinctly iffy about relying on American or British spies. And as home to the International Court of Justice the country takes some pride in seeing things done by the book. Once all the bodies are home, though, the mood may change. “People have a hard time matching balancing acts with atrocities,” says Marietje Schaake, a Dutch MEP for the liberal-democrat D66. The government has cuddled up uncomfortably close to Vladimir Putin in search of ever better trade relations; at the Sochi Olympics the king shared a cool Heineken and a photo-op with him while others offered only cold shoulders. There may be a backlash. With the Netherlands now leading the investigation into who is to be held accountable for the outrage Mr Rutte will have to keep balancing the need to channel public anger and the need for “justice to be served”. It will be a struggle for him and his country to keep cool heads when their hearts hurt so badly.