Subscribe to Newsletter

Enter your email and get newsletter from Greg Shapiro

3 Ways Dutch Summits are Different

Date: Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Category: Blog, News

This week’s ‘United States of Europe’ update:

Meet the new hosts of the EU Presidency: the Dutch! They’re responsible for microscopes, wifi, the fact that carrots are orange – and for some of the most convoluted decision-making the world has ever seen.

For the first half of 2016, EU summits will be hosted by the Netherlands, a culture based on the paradox “How can a meeting start out so productive, but then end so differently?” Here are my 3 reasons Dutch summit meetings are different.


JPG 11 - Rutte on bike

The Netherlands is a country is so flat that even a town called Zevenbergen (‘7 Mountains’) – is a meter under sea level. But it’s not just the land – it’s the management culture. Most countries are rather hierarchical: the boss says it; you do it. Not the Dutch! Here everything is up for debate. Remember when the Dutch were occupied by the Germans, the French, the Spanish? No? Well the Dutch sure do. In fact, Ever since their revolution against the Spanish Catholics in the 1500’s, the Dutch don’t like taking orders from anyone. This also applies in many Dutch restaurants.


Since they’re so non-hierarchical, everybody at a Dutch meeting gets to debate every decision. A French manager once put it like this: 
’For most cultures, a decision is the end of the discussion. For the Dutch it’s just the beginning.’

European summit meetings will sometimes invoke the phrase ‘let’s agree to disagree.’ Dutch meetings are more like ‘let’s DISAGREE to agree.’

JPG 22 Agree-to-Disagree

And the more meetings the better. It’s not uncommon to see emails like: ‘I know what we agreed at the meeting, but I had some new thoughts about the meeting, so I think we should have another meeting to see if everyone still agrees with the meeting, and then a follow-up meeting to change what we agreed at the meeting, and then another meeting to review the meeting about the meeting.’ …And the email is from the intern who has only been there a week.

Why so many meetings? As it was explained to me, it’s because of this Dutch tradition: ‘Iedereen moet z’n plasje er over doen.’ Or: ‘everyone gets a chance to piss on your idea.’ And if your idea can still stand up after that, maybe we have a winner.


Jpg 5 Decision-Making

Dutch meetings are from Mars… and Brussels meetings are from Venus. All summit meetings are a bit like sex. You have to seduce your negotiating partner. In that sense, Brussels meetings are more women-friendly:

‘How was your journey? How are you feeling? Would you like some wine? Perhaps a chocolat? A conference room? Non! No one’s thinking about that right now. Tell me, how are you doing? Take your time, what’s the rush? What’s on your mind? “Business,” you say? Oui, oui! Let me take you to my conference room…’

On the other hand, Dutch meetings are like foreplay for men:
’Here’s some coffee. Let’s get to business! Business! Business! (cheese sandwich) Business! Ahh… That was good business. Want a cigarette? The smoking area is outside. Doei!’

Subscribe to ‘United States of Europe’ -?
And check my book: ’How to Be Orange,’ chapter 13