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“Pragmatic, mutually beneficial solutions”: Germany and the Netherlands sign the Ems‑Dollart Treaty Netherlands

29.10.2014 - Article

Foreign Ministers Steinmeier and Koenders used their first bilateral to sign the Ems‑Dollart Treaty and “draw a line under an old conflict”.

On 24 October Foreign Ministers Frank‑Walter Steinmeier and Bert Koenders used their first bilateral to sign the Ems‑Dollart Treaty and “draw a line under an old conflict between Germany and the Netherlands”.

Signing ceremony on the ship
Signing ceremony on the ship© Photothek/Trutschel

On 24 October Foreign Minister Steinmeier met his Netherlands counterpart Bert Koenders in the German‑Netherlands border region. During a crossing from Emden to Delfzijl on the vessel “Neuwerk”, the two Foreign Ministers signed the Ems‑Dollart Treaty, which regulates the commercial use of the coastal sea between three and twelve nautical miles from the coast.

Foreign Minister Steinmeier issued the following statement on the signing of the agreement:

Today we were able to draw a line under an old conflict between Germany and the Netherlands. The Ems‑Dollart Treaty provides the maritime economy with legal certainty on both sides of the Ems estuary.

This will promote investment and growth in the region. Instead of becoming caught up in questions of border demarcation, we are providing shipping, wind park constructors and the port industry with pragmatic, mutually beneficial solutions.

Here in the Ems estuary it is possible to see in concrete terms how cooperating rather than closing oneself off provides better results. Germany and the Netherlands are demonstrating how conflicts can be resolved through good neighbourly relations.

Before the signing ceremony on the “Neuwerk”, the two Ministers had met over a working luncheon in Emden for political talks focusing on relations between Germany and the Netherlands and on current international issues. This was the first bilateral between the two Foreign Ministers since Mr Koenders took office on 17 October.

Treaty with a long history

Steinmeier und Koenders in Emden
Steinmeier und Koenders in Emden© Photothek/Trutschel

The border demarcation between Germany and the Netherlands in the Ems estuary has long been disputed. The Ems‑Dollart Treaty of 1960 and its additional instruments previously regulated all practical questions relating to the stretch of sea between zero and three nautical miles from the coast. However, these rules do not refer to the sea between 3 and 12 nautical miles from the coast. This gap has led to problems, particularly following the construction of an offshore wind farm in the disputed sea area.

Following preparatory talks which took place between 2011 and 2013, a practical compromise was reached in August 2013 at a meeting of the chief negotiators in Delfzijl. In five negotiation rounds in Berlin and The Hague, this political compromise was then converted into an international treaty, which was signed by Foreign Ministers Steinmeier and Koenders at a ceremony on the high sea on 24 October. Open questions and issues which arise in everyday affairs will be discussed and resolved within the format of joint, cross‑border cooperation, such as the Westerems Commission.

Resolving conflicts in a spirit of good‑neighbourliness

The Ems‑Dollart Treaty governs the most important points of practical relevance:

(1) The construction of the Riffgat wind farm will be provided with a firm grounding in terms of international law.
(2) The authority to issue permits for submarine cables, pipelines and wind power plants as well as rights of exploitation and use is accorded following the line stipulated in the 1964 treaty between Germany and the Netherlands on their continental shelf border.
(3) Access to the high seas from the ports of Emden, which is an important terminal for the German car industry, Delfzijl and Eemshaven will not be affected.
(4) Overall management of maritime traffic will be brought together and conducted by a joint transport control centre on the basis of jointly‑agreed principles.

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