King's Day speech by HE Joanne Doornewaard

It is my great pleasure and honor to welcome you here tonight, on the occasion of our national day, to celebrate the 51st birthday of His Majesty King Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands.

Koningsdag! Kingsday! A national, festive day widely celebrated in the Netherlands. Everything orange. As a child I remember I would decorate my bike in orange for the big parade and we would eat orange ‘tom poucen’, something that we will serve here tonight as well! 

As you know, we Dutch always try to do things differently, no traditional ball rooms for us. Every year we try to find a new location to host our event and I think we have found again an exciting place: Trace Expert City. It’s a historical place where innovative minds come together to develop new products and services.

A very appropriate place for the Dutch, as innovation is part of our DNA. Innovation is what fuels our economic development, be it in agriculture, logistics or water management.

Besides finding an attractive location, we also have a tradition of highlighting a specific sector during our annual King’s Day celebration. And you might have guessed that by today’s decorations: this year the theme is flowers, or floriculture.

The Netherlands and flowers are inseparable from each other. At this time of the year the Keukenhof, a famous flower park, will be in full bloom attracting millions of visitors. But flowers have brought us more than just tourism. The Netherlands is the world’s largest exporter of tulips. More than 60% of the world trade in flowers takes place through Dutch flower auctions. Dutch companies sell flowers and bulbs all over the world, including Sri Lanka.

This morning we hosted a colorful flower event with both experienced florists and newcomers. They had the chance to show us their flower arranging skills. Some stunning bouquets were arranged. I would like to thank all the participants, including the two Dutch professionals, and congratulate the winners who are with us here tonight.

In addition to flowers, there is much more happening in the agricultural sector: dairy, poultry, and horticulture. Areas where the Dutch have a lot of expertise to share and where we work together with Sri Lanka.

So, our economic relations are blossoming and Sri Lankan export to the Netherlands has been on the rise for several years in a row. The Netherlands is currently one of the biggest investors in this country and in this context I would like to express my gratitude towards our sponsors, both Dutch and Sri Lankan companies, that contributed to making this a wonderful evening. Let me mention our main sponsors here, in alphabetic order: Access Group, Ballast Nedam, Janson Bridging, KLM, Philips Lighting Lanka, Rabobank, and SAGT. THANK YOU!

We have many more projects besides economic activities that I could mention here: our cooperation with CSR Lanka on sustainability, with the Galle Heritage Foundation on cultural heritage, maritime cooperation between our navies and the upcoming Hague Talks early June. The list is long, too many to mention all here. However, as a female ambassador,  I would like to say something about gender and women empowerment.

Women empowerment is a core value of Dutch foreign policy and as a female Ambassador I feel privileged to have the opportunity to speak up for equal rights at numerous events. Even though progress has been made in Sri Lanka, there is still room for improvement.

We encourage the government’s efforts to improve the position of women. Passing a law to have at least 25% women representatives in local governments is laudable. But now that they are in, they need support, to make their voices heard, to prevent them from  being sidelined. Together with SAPRI, we try to help here, by training the elected women in becoming capable politicians. Voices of women should be heard if we want to make this world a better place for everyone.

This brings me to the topic of sustainable peace. In order to move forward, the past should not be brushed aside. Voices should be heard and pain should be acknowledged. The OMP is a valuable mechanism in this process. Hopefully other mechanisms such as  reparation and truth-seeking will follow soon.

Dear Honourable Ministers, ladies and gentlemen.

Let me conclude. Our Embassy’s slogan is “Sri Lanka- The Netherlands: Old Friends, New Trends”, which for me, perfectly summarises our history with a clear indication towards the future. 

I would like to invite you to raise your glass to toast to the health of our King Willem Alexander, His Excellency President Maithripala Sirisena, to the excellent relations between our countries and to the well-being and happiness of all people in Sri Lanka.

in Dutch we would say “proost!”

Thank you. Bohoma stutti, nandri.