Leiden University: Students in informal conversation with leaders Trudeau and Rutte

Hordes of photographers, students trying to catch a glimpse and take selfies, and cheering people at the entrance to Wijnhaven. Like true pop stars, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Prime Minister Mark Rutte were received at the end of this Friday at Campus The Hague of Leiden University.

In an informal setting, leaning against the desk with their jackets off, the two political leaders entered into conversation with students from Leiden University, The Hague University of Applied Sciences and Erasmus University. ‘Very special that I was allowed to ask Trudeau a question.’

Rolled up sleeves
It was noticeable that the two had been hanging out together all day. At the same time they put their coats on the table, the sleeves of their shirts were rolled up in synchrony and even the boxing to Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in the front row was done in the same way. Before their visit to Campus The Hague, Rutte and Trudeau had a consultation and a delegation meeting. The topics discussed included the good relationship between Canada and the Netherlands, developments in the field of trade relations and investments, cooperation in the field of defense and security and climate.

Pushing hard on climate change
‘We agree very often,’ Rutte laughed. ‘Wonder what that’s going to be like here.’ Students could send in questions about climate change and global issues. The room was full of students who wanted to ask questions, but only a few actually got their turn. Like student Josephine who looked ahead to the climate summit COP26 in Glasgow next week where Rutte and Trudeau will both also be next week. She wanted to know what actions Canada and the Netherlands will show to live up to their commitment to the Paris Agreement. Trudeau indicated that setting goals is not everything, it’s about making plans. ‘You have to have a plan that you can actually meet, is realistic. When I was elected in 2015, I made a promise to take on climate targets. And that’s what I’m going to tell the summit, let other countries know that we have ambitions. Pushing hard on climate change! Every country can and must do more.’
Rutte emphasizes that governments cannot take on this battle alone, but that help from the private sector and NGOs will certainly be needed. ‘We certainly need the companies and we will continue to talk to them, but as Justin also said we are working hard to meet our targets.’


Impressed
Omar Al Sadeh asked a question about how the Netherlands and Canada continue to promote the international rule of law. The student was impressed by the atmosphere of the conversation and the ease with which the two prime ministers said what they wanted to say. ‘That is so clever of them. And yes, it was very special that I got to ask Trudeau a question. You certainly don’t experience that every day.’
At the end of the hour, three more questions were allowed in the ‘Dare to Ask’ category. What career the two would have had if they had not gotten into politics. Again, the two had the same answer. Being a teacher, standing in front of the classroom. Trudeau did it, Rutte still does it, volunteering one morning a week.

Words of praise
With the final question of what advice the men would give to the aspiring politicians who might be in the room, Trudeau took the floor at length. He made a warm closing plea to, above all, define your core values. ‘What do you want to fight for, what are your values. As a politician you have to make such difficult decisions, you don’t need people around you who agree with you 100 percent. As long as they have the same values and want to achieve the same thing. That’s what it’s all about.’
Mark Rutte had nothing to add to that. With words of praise for Trudeau as an inspiring politician and a heartfelt ‘we’ll be back’, the two left for the final part of their day together; a dinner in The Hague. But of course not before hundreds of photos, videos and selfies were taken at the exit of Wijnhaven on the Spanish Steps.

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