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France and Netherlands


Political relations and latest visits

The two countries share many converging views, including on European issues. This resulted in the creation of the Franco-Dutch Cooperation Council (CCFN) or French-Dutch Initiative in 2003, the aim of which was to strengthen bilateral relations by involving civil society. The eighth session of the CCFN was held in The Hague on 21 March 2013 and co-chaired by the Foreign Ministers Mr Laurent Fabius and Mr Frans Timmermans. A conference on the “City of the future” was held in Paris on 20 and 21 November 2014 under the French-Dutch Initiative (former CCFN). Following the impetus given by the eighth session, a reform of the CCFN started with a view to greater mobilization of civil society and businesses so as to strengthen our bilateral relationship. In February 2015, Mr Jean-Marc Janaillac, CEO of Transdev and future CEO of Air-France-KLM, agreed to become Vice President of the French-Dutch Initiative. On the Dutch side, Ms Pauline Meurs, a French-born professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam and former senator and member of the Dutch Labour Party (Partij van de Arbeid - PvdA), was designated as head of the French-Dutch Initiative. Bilateral discussions between businesses on new technology, innovation and integration are among the first priority objectives identified by the two co-chairs.

The visit by the President of the French Republic to the Netherlands on 20 January 2014, the first presidential visit in 14 years, outlined prospects for further cooperation in several fields. Bilateral contacts are frequent and many bilateral consultations take place, either within working groups on drugs, innovation/SMEs, or in the form of interministerial contacts (Strategic Affairs, CAP, etc.). Common reflections are underway on development assistance, African issues, human rights, non-proliferation, and sport. The French Prime Minister Manuel Valls in turn visited the Netherlands on 30 October 2014. The French Minister of State for Foreign Trade, the Promotion of Tourism and French Nationals Abroad also visited the Netherlands on 15 January 2015. The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte visited Paris on 3 June 2015 and was received by the French President at a dinner on 12 February 2016. Exchanges have been especially intense since the start of the Dutch Presidency of the European Union. A meeting between the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders and his French counterpart Laurent Fabius took place in January 2016. The French Minister of State for European Affairs visited The Hague in connection with the joint meeting on counterterrorism hosted by Europol at The Hague on 11 January 2016, during which he also met with Bert Koenders. A State visit by the Dutch royal couple took place on 10 and 11 March 2016 and was an opportunity to spotlight the strong economic relations between our two countries, formally launch the French-Dutch Initiative and further strengthen our cultural cooperation in connection with the two jointly purchased paintings by Rembrandt by exhibiting them in the Louvre Museum.

Economic relations

Economic relations are strong, as reflected in the total trade volume of around €38.8 billion in 2015, and France and the Netherlands are major economic partners: France is the sixth-largest supplier and fourth-largest customer of the Netherlands. The Netherlands is France’s eighth-largest customer with 3.9% of our exports and seventh-largest supplier with 4.2% of our imports.

Bilateral trade has been growing steadily since 2010 (France is the Netherlands’ eighth-largest trading partner) and still posts a large deficit for France (it reached €4.05 billion in 2015, France’s fifth-largest trade deficit. This is the second-largest trade surplus for the Netherlands, which is a hub of European trade (with a 44% re-exportation rate), notably through the port of Rotterdam. Our trade balance has deteriorated over the past ten years, especially since 2007, owing to falling French exports to the Netherlands (0.6% since 2014), due to the absence of major contracts and lower domestic demand in the Netherlands. France, whose market share has stabilized at around 4%, seems to be suffering from an image problem, while French companies must adapt to an internal market which is more responsive to price than to quality. Although our imports have virtually stabilized since 2011, the performance of the Dutch agrifood sector, which accounts for more than a quarter of our trade and is our main loss-making sector, contributes to the widening of the deficit.

In the field of investment, France and the Netherlands are also major partners. France ranks third in terms of FDI stock in the Netherlands and the Netherlands is the second-largest stock investor in France. Reciprocal investment has led to several large-scale operations, as is especially apparent in the areas of transport and energy, including the Air-France-KLM merger in 2004, extended to partnership between Schiphol and Paris airports; the acquisition by Transdev of the public transport company Connexion in 2007; the acquisition by Total of Goal Petroleum and the purchase of the assets of the Dutch natural gas and oil company NAM by GDF SUEZ. French companies have formed fruitful synergies with their Dutch partners which sometimes give rise to world leaders in their fields of activity (Air France-KLM, Danone-Numico).

There is a significant French presence in the Netherlands, with 1344 businesses employing more than 129,800 people. They have a total turnover of €50.1 billion. This presence is especially significant in the transport, energy, and agrifood sectors. On the other hand, with over 1690 businesses in France, accounting for more than 106,500 jobs, and with a total turnover of more than €51 billion, the Dutch presence in France is also significant.

The French-Dutch Economic Year was launched at the start of the Tour de France in Utrecht on 3 July 2015 in the presence of the Dutch royal couple and the French Minister of the Economy, Industry and the Digital Sector, Mr Emmanuel Macron. Many events took place during the Economic Year, such as the opening of the Dutch Workshop on 10 September in Paris; the 13th Erasmus-Descartes Conference on ecological transition and green growth on 29 and 30 October 2015 in Amsterdam; the visit of a delegation from the French Association of Large Companies (AFEP) and the French Business Confederation (MEDEF) to The Hague on 26 and 27 November 2015; and a trade lunch for French subsidiaries established around Rotterdam, in the presence of the Mayor of Rotterdam and the French Ambassador to the Netherlands, on 16 December 2015. In 2016, there were a number of high points in the second half of the Economic Year, which included a third meeting of the Strategic Business Dialogue between MEDEF and the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers (VNO-NCW) during the State visit of the Dutch royal couple to Paris; a round table on intellectual property as a factor for growth and competitiveness held in The Hague on 15 March 2016; and a bilateral meeting on innovation in Amsterdam to showcase French Tech.

Cultural, scientific and technical cooperation

These relations have developed under a 1946 bilateral agreement. The cooperation network is structured around the French Institute in the Netherlands, its Groningen branch and a dense network of about 30 Alliance Française teaching centres. Bilateral scientific cooperation is strong and diversified, and mainly takes place under the European Research Area; France is the Netherlands’ fourth-largest scientific partner. Academic cooperation is organized around the French-Dutch Network for Higher Education and Research (RFN) located, for the French side, at the University of Lille III. Most French research bodies (CNRS, INRA, IFREMER, INSERM, ANVAR) have signed agreements with their Dutch counterparts. Our activities, which fit into Community action, rely on the French-Dutch working group on science and technology, the RFN and the Hubert Curien Van Gogh Programme launched in 1997, which has made it possible to back more than 200 projects by facilitating researcher mobility. The Descartes-Huygens Prize has been awarded yearly since 1995 to a Dutch and a French researcher, and the Descartes excellence scholarship programme, set up in 2011, makes it possible to award nine or ten scholarships a year averaging €9000 to finance studies of students at master’s and doctorate level.

In the framework of educational cooperation between our two countries, despite a noticeable decline, French has retained its third language status and is still widely taught (18% of students in the final year of secondary education and 43% of pre-university science students take French as a baccalaureate subject). In addition, four universities have schools of French language and literature. A language assistant programme has been created. The French Institute in Amsterdam and the large network of 33 Alliance Française teaching centres teach French to more than 8000 students a year.

Cultural cooperation is based on Dutch operators (festivals, museums) to propose French creations to the public, including in cinema, architecture and sculpture. The Dutch authorities decided to close the 55-year-old Dutch Institute in Paris at the end of 2013 in order to replace it with a better-suited cultural representation of the Netherlands in France. Given the geographical proximity and the financial strength of major Dutch institutions (Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Concertgebouw, Dutch National Opera, etc.), this close bilateral cultural cooperation often takes place directly between the main institutions of both countries. In September 2015, the Ministers of Culture, Ms Jet Bussemaker and Ms Fleur Pellerin, announced the joint acquisition by the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum of two paintings by Rembrandt (portrait of Maerten Soolmans and of his wife Oopjen Coppit). The cultural cooperation agreement (Rembrandt treaty) was signed between our two countries on that occasion on 1 February 2016, to present both paintings in Europe in the two museums alternately. During King Willem-Alexander’s State visit to France in March 2016, the joint acquisition was officially presented to the two Heads of State at the Louvre Museum.

Other cooperation

French-Dutch operational anti-drug cooperation has been led since 1995 by a bilateral high-level Franco-Dutch working party on drugs, which theoretically meets once a year but has not convened since 2012. The Dutch police reform also raises the question of continuing our fruitful and close operational cooperation.

Cross-border cooperation also takes place on the Caribbean island of St Maarten/St Martin, which has been divided between France and the Netherlands since the 1648 Treaty of Concordia which introduced free movement between both parts of the island. This situation makes it a unique example of European territorial cooperation and requires cooperation between the two parts of the island, in particular as regards police cooperation and the fight against illegal immigration. An agreement on the demarcation of the maritime border was negotiated on 26 and 27 March 2015 and signed on 6 April 2016.

Updated: 19/05/2016

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