Meet the Ambassador - United States

Meet the Ambassador

Birgitta Tazelaar

Birgitta Tazelaar is the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United States of America and the non-resident Ambassador to the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.

What do you notice the most as ambassador to the United States?

Ambassador Tazelaar with Prime Minister Rutte visiting the DeFremery House in Oakland, CA
‘That everywhere in this enormous country you can find connections to our small one.  You can see it in how well American and Dutch people work together and how much mutual respect and appreciation we have for one another.  That was something I saw in the warm welcome given to Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy Micky Adriaansens during their recent visit to Arizona and California. We’re not just seen as a country, but also as an important player and important partner for the Americans in a wide array of areas, including political and economic. That’s one thing in theory, but it’s different again when you see it in action. The relationship between our countries is deeper than I first thought: semiconductors, water management, agriculture, logistics, education, culture, history – there are links to the Netherlands everywhere you look.’

The Dutch first set foot in North America 400 years ago. Historical fact or living history?

‘Living history. I was amazed when, during a walk in New Brunswick (New Jersey) I saw Rutgers University and then suddenly saw a statue of our own founding father, William the Silent! The long and rich history our countries share can still be seen and felt today. And it goes further than the names of boroughs in New York, like Brooklyn (Breukelen) or Staten Island (which takes it name from the Staten-Generaal; the Dutch parliament). Before he became the second president of the United States, John Adams spent time in the Dutch Republic as an American envoy, and after he convinced the Dutch Republic to recognise American independence in 1782 he became the first-ever US ambassador to another country. Previous to this, the Dutch were the first to acknowledge the American flag in 1776. Whether the soldier on St Eustatius who initiated that first foreign salute had just had a few too many jenevers, we’ll never know. But we’ll claim it nonetheless. 2024 marks 400 years since the first Dutch colonists, in 1624, landed on what is now Governors Island. Throughout the year, we’ll be organising a range of ‘Future 400’ activities that involve looking back as well as forward. And we won't shy away from the painful aspects of our history in this country. The Dutch played an active role in the slave trade, and their treatment of the Native Americans already living here must also be recognised as a part of this shared history.’

Ambassador Birgitta Tazelaar offers credentials to US President Joe Biden
Ambassador Tazelaar at the Anne Frank Award Ceremony

What challenges are the Netherlands and the United States working on together?

‘We Dutch have long been known for our knowledge and expertise in the areas of water management and agriculture. Climate change is making water management and sustainable cultivation of fruit and vegetables increasingly important, since we have to tackle both water shortages and floods. So we’re working together closely in these areas. In recent years we’ve also been cooperating more on topics like cyber and cybersecurity, quantum technology and space technology and its applications. These collaborations are of significant economic value. Trade and investment between the Netherlands and the US support 1 million jobs in the US. ’

What are the most important issues for you as ambassador?

‘Everything the Dutch embassy and consulate network does in the US is important. It’s not an exaggeration to say that. The diplomatic and economic ties between our countries are so deep and varied that every topic counts. One week it might be Schiphol Airport, the next there’ll be a big water management mission to the Netherlands from Annapolis. Last week, Prime Minister Rutte and a major business delegation visited Arizona and California to discuss semiconductor technology. And politically, issues like Ukraine and Israel are a focus every day.’ 

How do you oversee all this as ambassador?

‘I have a wonderful team of about 100 people in Washington, DC. They keep me up to date on practical matters and things that are relevant and urgent. In addition, we have the consulates in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta and Miami; and the Netherlands Business Support Offices in Los Angeles and Houston; and an Innovation Office in Boston. Texas is becoming an increasingly important partner, among other things due to our need for hydrogen for the energy transition. This network enables us to promote Dutch interests and continuously maintain and further strengthen our relationship with the US.’

What issues are you focusing on at present?

‘For me, the transatlantic relationship is a priority. In an uncertain world full of geopolitical challenges, the Netherlands and the US need each other. We’re stronger and smarter when we work together on big challenges in the areas of climate and the energy transition and on protecting the global democratic legal order. And although the transatlantic relationship is a solid one, it can’t be taken for granted at a time when governments sometimes put national interests above international cooperation. Support for Ukraine is also high on my agenda. It’s essential for global peace and security that this conflict doesn’t end the wrong way. The EU can’t ensure this alone; we need the help of the US. And finally, I’m also focusing on the Dutch semiconductor industry. We promote Dutch businesses in this industry and also talk to the government about ensuring national and international security when it comes to exporting this technology.’

Any capital city is a bubble all of its own. As ambassador, do you manage to escape it very often?

‘Certainly! Since I started here I’ve been to New York, Arizona and California. And in the months ahead I’ll be visiting our consulates in Chicago, Atlanta and Miami to get to know our network there. I’d also like to experience a primary election, preferably in a swing state. But I don’t just leave town on official business. In my free time I love to hike, and the US, with all its wonderful national parks, is perfect for that.’

What meetings and events have left an impression on you so far?

‘My talks with congressional representatives and senators are very interesting. Mainly because the US system of government is so different. There’s a lot of focus on the district or state they represent; all politics is local. The often impressive number of jobs in their state or district that can be directly traced back to Dutch businesses are a good icebreaker, and can lead conversations to topics of mutual interest like Ukraine, the defence industry or the Middle East.

Another very interesting conversation I had was with Russell Shorto, historian and author of the book The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America. We had a really in-depth talk about the relationship between the Native Americans and the Dutch colonists. That's something we still know far too little about. At an event at the residence, representatives of Aruba, Colombia, Ghana and New Zealand had a panel discussion on higher education at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which was also very insightful. HBCUs are not something we have in Europe and it was good to learn more about this important part of American society.’