Blog post | 04-11-2022 | Meet our ambassadors and their work
Jan Versteeg has been employed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for thirty years. He has been the Dutch ambassador to France since 2022. Previously, he was ambassador to Greece and Spain. He talks enthusiastically about what it’s like to be an ambassador in a country he already visited as a student. And about the strong bond between France and the Netherlands, which is growing stronger and stronger thanks to geopolitical developments and shared challenges.
What is it like to be appointed ambassador to France?
“Being ambassador in France is a great opportunity to do something useful for the Netherlands. For the next four years I will lead the team at the embassy in Paris and work with Netherlands Business Support Offices (NBSOs) in Lyon and Nantes and our thirteen honorary consuls across the country to further deepen and expand the political, economic and cultural relationship between France and the Netherlands. I’m looking forward to it.”
Do you still need to get to know France well?
“I am busy familiarizing myself with the ongoing files and the diplomatic, business and cultural network in France. Thanks in part to my team at the embassy, it’s going quickly and well. France is not unknown to me. Like millions of other Dutch people, I went on holiday here with my parents as a child. And as a student, Paris was the closest metropolis. I have been here many times by hitchhiking and by train. And for work there were also regular reasons to visit the French antipodes because France plays a key role in many international decisions. The latter has only become stronger: We are increasingly working together in the EU, but also, for example, in NATO.”
What did you do in the summer before your appointment to refresh yourself?
“I have always kept up to date with my knowledge of the French language. By reading French books, listening to podcasts and watching virtually all French series and recent films on Netflix, I have picked up both the language and the knowledge of the country well.”
What period of French history do you find interesting as a diplomat?
“The 19the and 20tea century was super exciting. For example, the period 1852 to 1870. This is the time of the Second French Empire, when Napoleon III was in control. Like the great Napoleon half a century earlier, this Bonaparte was very active both at home and abroad. Among other things, by leading the alliance against the Russians during the Crimean War. The war led to the defeat of Russia and in 1856 to the Peace of Paris. Napoleon III was also active domestically. Under his leadership, France underwent an important period of industrialization. Paris was also thoroughly renovated. The city planner Georges-Eugène Haussmann was put to work by Napoleon III, after which Paris was rebuilt with wide boulevards and large squares. The cityscape today originates from that time.”
How strong is the bilateral relationship between France and the Netherlands?
“Very strong and intensive. I have noticed it from day 1 at the embassy: there are constant comings and goings of delegations that come to talk about the most diverse topics and do business. France, along with Germany, is one of our most important partners . The Netherlands works closely with France in all possible areas. Bilaterally in the political, economic and cultural fields, but also within international partnerships such as the EU and NATO.”
Is the bilateral relationship ‘finished’ or is it still dynamic?
“The mutual trust between the two countries is high and the relationship is good. Both countries are convinced that we can best meet the great challenges of our time, such as the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis, preserving growth and jobs, but also challenges such as climate change on a European level. Therefore, there is every reason to expand and strengthen that relationship.”
Is it politically good to cooperate with the French?
“Yes. I will give two concrete examples of why it is good to work together. Like the Netherlands, France realizes that the current times call for a strong European Union (EU). The EU is not only an economic bloc, but also a bloc of common values. This bloc has to survive in a force field where countries like the US and China are active and Russia is causing geopolitical unrest. What also helps is that President Macron and our Prime Minister Rutte know each other well. Their political and economic ideas have similarities, and they get on well in person, too.”
What can the Netherlands learn from the French?
“What I find admirable about the French is that they can often combine a beautifully articulated long-term vision on certain subjects with a pragmatic approach. A story, but also action. I think that’s fantastic.”
What are the French curious about when it comes to the Netherlands when you talk to them?
“The parliamentary landscape in the Netherlands, where different political parties have traditionally had to work together, is becoming increasingly interesting for many French people. How a multi-party government can govern effectively. Build coalitions and secure support. This curiosity does not come out of the blue. Until recently, a French president’s political party always had a majority in parliament, but since this spring, France’s largest party has also had to form coalitions for a majority.”
French painters, writers and cooks. The list is endless. French culture is internationally known and loved. How do you as an embassy draw attention to Dutch culture?
“Among other things with Atelier Néerlandais, which was founded by the embassy in 2014. This is a platform for cultural entrepreneurs for Dutch design, art and the book. Entrepreneurs, institutions and the self-employed in the creative professions use Atelier Néerlandais for meetings, product presentations, fashion shows, courses and meetings. They can turn to the embassy for advice and our services, both financially and culturally. The activities of the Atelier Néerlandais, together with the cultural program of the embassy, contribute to the awareness of Dutch culture in France.”
The 2024 Olympics will take place in Paris. Is the embassy involved in this?
“The Games are of course a huge project for the French. Preparations are in full swing. As an embassy we are also involved in this. We mainly play a role in connecting Dutch companies with the French organization. France wants to organize the most sustainable Games ever. Dutch companies started early on to see sustainability as an opportunity. For example, we had a Dutch company here that would like to supply the toilets during the Games. They are self-cleaning and energy-efficient toilets that stay clean and fresh for a long time. The Olympic Games also get a very special touch: the Olympic swimming pool was designed by a Dutch architectural firm. It is very special.”
As an ambassador, what do you want to achieve with your team in the next four years?
“That France and the Netherlands always look to each other when a problem needs to be solved. We will not always immediately agree with each other, but by working together and consulting, we will often arrive at good solutions that many other countries can also agree to. And of course contribute to major Olympic Games with a good load of great Dutch sports performances and enthusiastic spectators.”