The Netherlands: EU Must Take Initiative, Minister Hillen Says

EU Must Take Initiative, Minister Hillen Says

Not only must we tackle the pirates at sea, when they are ready to strike, but also on land, where their criminal networks are based. In that way, we – and not the pirates – will gain the initiative”, argued Minister of Defence Hans Hillen in Brussels during a meeting with his European Union counterparts on 22 March 2012.

The EU-ministers were meeting to receive an update on Operation Atalanta, the counter-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia. The operation has been extended to the end of 2014 and the Netherlands is considering making a further contribution. A letter on the matter will be sent to the House of Representatives in the near future.

Private Security

The Minister expressed his concerns to his colleagues regarding the discussion about allowing private security teams on board merchant ships. “It is my firm conviction that the armed protection of commercial shipping off the coast of Somalia is a matter for the armed forces.” For that reason, the Minister has assigned the Royal Netherlands Navy the task of protecting between 50 and 100 ships per year. “That is a large enough number to cover the protection of vulnerable ships sailing under the Dutch flag. The armed forces can certainly do it and it is one of the government’s core tasks. The navy was originally established to guarantee freedom of the seas, and it is still capable of doing so. Giving up the monopoly on the use of force and allowing privatisation of this task is a recipe for disaster.”
More tanker aircraft

The talks in Brussels centred on the progress of European Defence cooperation, so that the EU will be able to present a concrete contribution at the NATO summit, to be held in Chicago in May.

The talks also moved onto the shortage of tanker aircraft, which was recently highlighted during the conflict in Libya. The European fleet currently numbers about 40 of such aircraft, whereas the US has approximately 650 tanker aircraft at its disposal. France and the European Defence Agency took the initiative for European cooperation in this matter, which affords the prospect of a future role for European Air Transport Command at Eindhoven Air Base. The Netherlands fully wishes to participate, also in view of the fact that 2 Dutch tanker aircraft could be replaced after 2020.

Combined field hospital

Mr Hillen also signed a declaration of intent for the development of a rapidly deployable field hospital. 12 countries are participating in the project, which is under Italian leadership. The Netherlands is also prepared to play a bigger part in a forensic laboratory, to be set up in Afghanistan under French command. The laboratory will be used to gather intelligence on the use of IEDs, which will in turn be used to uncover and disrupt the networks supporting the bomb makers.

Naval Today Staff , March 30, 2012; Image: defensie