Toespraak minister Ollongren bij congres EU Strategisch Kompas

Engelstalige toespraak van minister van Defensie Kajsa Ollongren bij het congres voor de implementatie van het EU Strategisch Kompas op 6 april 2022 in Brussel.

Good afternoon, to my Belgian counterpart Ludivine Dedonder, Honourable guests, And a thank you to the Clingendael and the Egmont Institutes for organising this conference.

When the first letter of the Strategic Compass was written to paper, we could not have imagined how urgent its implementation would be today.

Putin has brought war back to Europe by an unprovoked and brutal attack on Ukraine. Tomorrow, we will be entering the sixth week of this war and the suffering is immense. We have all seen the horrific images and heard the reports from Bucha and Irpin, from Stary Bykiv from which Russia has retreated. Atrocities committed against the innocent people of Ukraine.

War crimes must be documented and investigated so that those responsible can be held accountable. We support the work by the ICC and the EU in this regard. Sadly, the Netherlands already has experience with a Joint Investigation Team in Ukraine following the downing of MH17. We stand ready to contribute to the investigations wherever we can. Justice must prevail.

Over the past few weeks, we have all seen the astounding strength and resilience of the Ukrainian leadership, the Ukrainian army and the Ukrainian people.

We stand together with the people of Ukraine and the international community. We must continue its united response, by expanding our sanctions on Russia and by increasing our military aid to Ukraine. Like many other countries, the Netherlands has supplied a substantial amount of weapons and we will continue to do so.

However, our strongest weapon against Putin’s aggression is our unity. The EU’s response was quick and decisive: unprecedented sanctions and large-scale political, financial and military support to Ukraine. For the first time ever, we financed military aid to a country under attack, using 1 billion euros from the European Peace Facility.

In a way, the war has catapulted the EU into its role as a geopolitical actor, working closely together with the US, the UK and other allies.

The current crisis reminds us of the founding narrative of the European project: peace, prosperity and security. It has made clear that we cannot and should not take freedom and peace for granted. That freedom comes at a price that we should be willing to pay. And that we should do so together at the European level. By equipping and enabling the EU to protect its citizens. In addition, this will be the best way to reinforce trans-Atlantic solidarity. Our Allies also want to see Europe take a bigger role in the area of defence. Europe must be able to act and protect our freedom, our democracy and our values. A stronger Europe will also strengthen NATO. It is not either the EU or NATO. It’s both the EU and NATO.

The Strategic Compass will lead the way on EU Defence. Together, we will invest more in defence capabilities, strengthen our resilience, reinforce our capacity to act in crisis situations and strengthen our partnerships. This calls for a 360 degree approach, as we will face a broad spectrum of threats in the years to come. Some visible, others hidden in the grey zone between peace and war. Hybrid threats, cyber-attacks,
disinformation to name but a few.

Now, I can imagine that some people in this room may be sceptical and question whether the EU will live up to the expectations this time round. Some of you may be thinking: “we have heard this before” or “we tried before”. Closer European defence cooperation was already on the table in 1952. And after the Yugoslav wars in the nineties, EU leaders agreed on ambitious military goals. But these failed to materialise.

This time we have no choice. War has returned to our European continent on a scale that we haven’t seen since the Second World War. Putin is not only attacking Ukraine. This is also an attack on our values, principles and the international legal order. The European security architecture is therefor at stake. Bucha is closer to Brussels than Bucharest.

In short, this war has generated an increased sense of urgency. We have to step up and take a leap forward in terms of European defence. A striking example is how the German Chancellor Scholz – 3 days after the start of the war - announced an investment of € 100 billion, rightly calling it a Zeitenwende… a turning point in history. The biggest EU Member State has dramatically changed course. This will undoubtedly have an enormous impact.

Looking at my own country, the Dutch have for a long time felt that our country was safe and not under threat. This has now changed. A recent opinion poll shows that the Dutch people want Europe to get into shape on security and defence. There is a renewed appreciation for the military. The number of applications to be part of the Netherlands armed forces has gone up considerably in recent weeks.

As Minister of Defence, I underline the need for a stronger EU and a stronger NATO. To this end, the Dutch government has already decided to increase defence spending by 25%, increasing the budget by € 3 billion annually. Furthermore, soon after the invasion of Ukraine, a majority of the members of Dutch parliament asked the government to consider ways to increase the defence budget even further, aiming at 2% of GDP.

We see the same trend taking place in other European countries. As I have already mentioned, Germany is leading the way and many other countries have decided to increase their defence budgets. We have to seize this momentum. The response to this crisis provides an opportunity to work more closely together. We should fight fragmentation in the development and acquisition of new defence systems. This will improve the interoperability of our armed forces. We have to enable our servicemen and women to effectively and safely cooperate on the ground.

Improving the capabilities and the readiness of our armed forces will make both NATO and the EU stronger. The EU’s € 8 billion European Defence Fund should act as a catalyst to stimulate the defence industries in Europe to work together.

Our aim is that the EU and NATO work as closely together as possible, and we know they can, as they are currently doing in the Ukraine crisis. At the same time, the EU should have the capacity to act independently, especially when it comes to security risks in its own neighbourhood.

This is the rationale behind the new EU Rapid Deployment Capacity of 5,000 servicemen and women, which is to be fully operational by this year. Germany has announced that it will be the lead nation in 2025. I can announce today that the Netherlands will is contributing a 150-strong manoeuvre unit  that operates with Boxer fighting vehicles and has its own medical support capability. This is a concrete step in implementing one of the key elements of the Compass.

Another concrete step is that the Netherlands is planning to increase its participation in certain existing EU military missions and operations.

The EU will also need to strengthen the EU military headquarters in Brussels, since we need proper command and control structures to plan and conduct EU military operations. The Netherlands will provide the military staff officers required when we expand the tasks of this Military Planning and Conduct Capability.

The war in Ukraine has also highlighted the need for improving military mobility in Europe. We should be able to move from Rotterdam to Tallinn smoothly and swiftly. As a gateway to Europe, the Netherlands is taking a leading role in this issue.

In parallel, we are bolstering European defence through strong and practical cooperation with our neighbours. One example is the Dutch integration in a German armoured division. Our cooperation with Belgium is also extensive: together we protect Benelux airspace and our navies are highly integrated; we procure and maintain ships together and have integrated our training programmes. This all make sense. We are now in the process of acquiring new anti-submarine warfare frigates together. Furthermore, with our Benelux partners we are jointly acquiring reconnaissance drones. This is literally what it means to join forces.

Dear guests,

The past has shown that the EU can emerge stronger from every crisis. The answer is never less, but rather more, integration. We are taking big steps on European defence, with the Compass leading the way. We need to strengthen our capacity to act and protect.

Because we cannot take our freedom for granted. If we want to pass it on to the next generation, we have to fight for it. We have to fight for it together.

Thank you.