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Interview with Christoffer Jonker, Director International Affairs and Operations, Ministry of Defence, The Netherlands.

ESD: What do the Netherlands expect from the recent European CSDP initiatives PESCO, CARD and EDF? What are the (first) lessons learned 15 months after the kick-off?
Jonker: The Netherlands is fully committed to take European defence cooperation to a next level. Given the security situation and the inefficiencies and duplications in the capability programmes of all EU member states, there is an absolute necessity to do so. The Netherlands expects CARD, PESCO and EDF to be of added value in relation to this ambition.

As for the lessons learned the following can be stated: now that the architecture is in place, it is time to implement and yield concrete results, showing a Europe that protects. In this context the Netherlands believes that the EU needs:

  • More focus/prioritising in the operationalisation of the defined EU level of ambition, taking into account the EU’s unique strengths and that of its strategic partners, especially NATO (also see the answer to question nr. 2).
  • A coherent “translation” of priorities into capability development initiatives, to ensure focus and to generate the needed output when it comes to PESCO and EDIDP/EDF projects.
  • A more output oriented approach: introducing concrete deliverables and timelines by means of specific FAC conclusions, could be a modus operandi to be applied more broadly in the EU context. This is especially relevant in relation to the issue of capability development and in achieving more interoperability between EU armed forces, which are essential when it comes to Europe’s capacity to act.

Furthermore the Netherlands believes that a strong role for the Council (including Defence Ministers) and linking internal and external security are essential in making CDSP more effective. The Council should be leading efforts to enable a more effective CSDP and the HR and Commission should facilitate a truly integrated approach. These efforts should also be reflected in the future agenda and format of the meetings of the Council and its preparatory and decision making procedures.

ESD: What is the Dutch point of view towards the “worksharing” of NATO and EU in ensuring security and peace in Europe? Do we need more European “strategic autonomy” or should the focus be primarily be on strengthening the European pillar of a continuing Transatlantic alliance?
Jonker: Given the geopolitical situation the Netherlands does believe that Europe needs the capacity to decide and act with partners wherever possible, but also on its own when and where necessary. In short: Europe has to take up its responsibility to secure and defend its citizens.
Thereby the Netherlands is convinced that addressing today’s challenges requires collective responses, and organisations like the EU, NATO and the UN have unique strengths. Combining strengths and comparative advantages is especially necessary knowing that nations have a single set of forces and limited defence budgets.
In our view NATO is and should remain the primary actor when it comes to deterrence and collective defence.
The EU’s combined civil-military toolbox and the EU’s integrated approach in which focus on the internal-external security nexus and the deployment of a broad range of instruments are essential, are to be seen as EU strengths that should be developed further. In this context the Netherlands believes that the focus should be on the operationalisation of the Stabilisation and Support to Capacity Building scenario within the EU level of ambition.

ESD: What are the PESCO initiatives the Netherlands is currently involved in?
Jonker: The Netherlands currently participates in 9 out of 34 PESCO projects as a project member. These projects are the following:

  1. Military mobility
  2. Maritime (semi-) Autonomous Systems for Mine Countermeasures (MAS MCM)
  3. Network of Logistic Hubs in Europe and Support to Operations
  4. European Secure Software defined Radio (ESSOR)
  5. Cyber Rapid Response Teams and Mutual Assistance in Cyber Security
  6. European Medical Command
  7. European Union Training Mission Competence Centre (EU TM CC)
  8. Co-basing
  9. Integrated Unmanned Ground System (UGS)

Of course, the Netherlands was and is also fully involved in the initiatives concerning the “architecture” of PESCO (e.g. PESCO governance, PESCO commitments, sequencing, third party participation etc.)

The European Council adopted an updated list of projects to be undertaken under PESCO on 19 November 2018. It included 17 new projects in addition to the initial 17 projects agreed on in December 2017 and formally adopted on 6 March 2018. (Photo: EU)

ESD: What are the perspectives PESCO and EDF offer for the Dutch defence industry and/or for their partnerships with companies from abroad?
Jonker: Both PESCO and EDF, especially EDF which is focussed on industry, potentially offer significant opportunities for Dutch defence industry (and not just Dutch defence industry) and partnerships with companies abroad. Thereby a footnote is that third party participation in EDF is limited and that third party participation in PESCO is still being negotiated. In general, the Netherlands believes that working together with third parties is crucial. In our view an outward oriented PESCO is needed to make it work. In general working together with strategic partners is in our view necessary to make Europe stronger, realism thus being an important reason to look for strategic partnerships. Related to the EDF, the Netherlands has recently set up a coordinating body (Interdepartmental Coordinating Group on European Defence Cooperation – ICG EDC) in order to coordinate the national effort regarding EDF. In the ICG EDC the Ministries of Defence, of Economic Affairs and Climate, of Foreign Affairs, of Finance and of General Affairs participate, as well as a representative of the NIDV foundation (representing the Dutch defence and security-related industry). Working closely together with all stakeholders, nationally and internationally, is paramount to make the EDF a success.

ESD: In most NATO and EU countries, the changed security-political situation in Europe has induced governments to allocate additional funds for defence and armament. To what extent and in what way has this trend influenced things in your country?
Jonker: In December last year the Netherlands formulated its National Plan on the Defence Investment Pledge and informed the Dutch Parliament. In the plan it is stated that the Netherlands has reversed the declining trend of the national defence budget, leading to substantial growth in absolute terms. Between 2013 and 2017, additional budget was added in a series of annual steps, leading to a structural rise of the defence budget of €929M in 2017. Planned cuts have been halted and several areas of shortfall have been addressed. In 2018 new measures were taken to expand the defence budget further, with up to €1.5Bn per year. Because of these investments, the Dutch defence budget has grown with more than 25% since 2013.

Furthermore a Military Investment Fund for the purchase and maintenance (including midlife update) of major equipment has been set up. This fund allows for making long term commitments, thereby making the investment budget more robust and future-proof.
Going forward, the Netherlands will continue its step-by-step efforts to keep an upward trend in its defence spending outlook.

The interview was conducted by Peter Bossdorf.