Central European Time Zone UTC-04:00
Capital City Amsterdam
National Day 27 April
NEW AMBASSADOR OF the Kingdom of the Netherlands Karel J.G. van Oosterom has been delighted to move from Zoom diplomacy to more face-to-face meetings since his arrival in the capital. “Now I can be in a room with more than two people for the first time in six months. All safely distanced of course!” he remarks. He and his wife Anna arrived in London back in August, straight from a posting at the UN in New York. Unlike the Embassy in London, their UN offices were completely open plan, so working from home was essential. The Ambassador has been thrilled to interact with his team at the Embassy and attend a few outside events, such as the launch of the translation of the book My Name Is Selma, by holocaust survivor Selma van de Perre at the Dutch Church; and going to Plymouth for the launch of the modern Mayflower.
On a personal level Mr van Oosterom is glad to be posted to London. “My father worked as an interpreter for British troops. He received life-long membership of the British Council, and even changed his name from Teun to Tom. Being Ambassador in the UK for my final posting makes everything come full circle.” On their first weekend after quarantine, he and his wife walked to Buckingham Palace to see the Grenadier Guards. As a former platoon commander for the Grenadier Guards, this was especially poignant.
Since joining the MFA in 1985, Mr van Oosterom and his family have built their lives around his various diplomatic postings around the world. “My wife has reinvented her job at least six times over; she’s been a teacher, a trainer, an artist, a relocation consultant, an interior designer and even had a radio show in Amsterdam.”
Appointments included four years at the Nato directorate in the Netherlands, four years in Damascus, six years in the European Department in The Hague, then in 2002 to China as Deputy Head of Mission. A posting in the Prime Minister’s Office was followed by one as Political Director at the Dutch MFA.
But it was his last appointment as the Netherlands’ Permanent Representative to the UN (2013-20) that was so career-defining that he published a book: With an Orange Tie, a year on the Security Council. He was summoned by Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans to go to New York with the tasks of leading a campaign to get the Netherlands a place on the UN Security Council, and if successful to join the Security Council for 2017-18. “Success meant a six-year tenure in New York. If we weren’t successful, he said he would personally put me in a rowboat in the East River and I would have to find my own way home!” The most memorable date of his career came with the elections on 28 June 2016. Ultimately, it went to a nerve-racking fifth round of votes, and the end result was agreeing to a split-term Membership of the Security Council with Italy. “We had our hand in making the world a better place – a little bit more safe, secure and sustainable.” A timely example of European collaboration, right after the UK had voted to leave the EU.
Now, he returns to Europe with “a concrete bilateral agenda.” Naturally, Brexit and its outcome are top of the Ambassador’s agenda. He continues: “It’s an interesting moment in the bilateral relationship. I’m pleased that my government has entrusted me with the task of setting this relationship on a new footing.” He observes, “I have seldom seen a negotiation process that is so well negotiated, structured and coordinated as on the European side. The final agreement and events on 1 January 2021 will define what happens going forward.” Given that so many issues that have been dealt with in Brussels now return to the Embassy in London, he’s been welcoming various new team members. “We have a wonderful mix of people, which totals up to a lot of experience. We have a lot of work to do, but we are well prepared and will have some fun in the meantime.”
Mr van Oosterom is also quick to highlight the common agenda between the two countries. “We will continue to be strong allies in a multilateral context – in NATO; the OSCE and the UN in New York. And we are still North Sea neighbours and geographically as close as we always were. I am confident that our relationship will be fruitful after Brexit.”
On Covid-19, he refers to a metaphor he was quoted saying in a Dutch newspaper: “‘It’s like playing soccer on a wet beach. You can still score, but it takes much more energy.’ It’s still possible to get things done, it’s just more complicated.”
An avid collector of works from the Dutch artist Jooste Swarte, the Ambassador’s other hobby has been to watch his son Gustaaf play football. “He lives in Holland, and we haven’t been able to see him since the start of the year. Next week, we will be reunited and that feels good.”