Keynote speech over militaire mobiliteit

Aukje de Vries heeft als voorzitter van de vaste Kamercommissie Defensie op 8 maart 2019 een keynote speech gehouden over militaire mobiliteit tijdens de interparlementaire conferentie over EU buitenlands-, veiligheids- en defensiebeleid  in Boekarest. Nederland is ‘leading nation’ van het PESCO-project militaire mobiliteit. Militaire mobiliteit is van groot belang om ervoor te zorgen dat troepen en defensiematerieel snel verplaatst kunnen worden.

Dear colleagues and guests,

"When we Europeans go on holiday in Europe, we usually don’t need to apply for a visa. We usually don’t even have to go through passport control. We just pack our bags, jump on a plane, or a train, and go. But if the military wants to move personnel, ammunition or equipment through Europe… it’s almost impossible. There are numerous obstacles, in the form of laws, regulations, procedures and infrastructural standards. How can it be that those who protect our freedom are themselves not allowed to move freely..?! This has to change!"

"When we Europeans go on holiday in Europe, we usually don’t need to apply for a visa. We usually don’t even have to go through passport control. We just pack our bags, jump on a plane, or a train, and go. But if the military wants to move personnel, ammunition or equipment through Europe… it’s almost impossible. There are numerous obstacles, in the form of laws, regulations, procedures and infrastructural standards. How can it be that those who protect our freedom are themselves not allowed to move freely..?! This has to change!"

This call was made by the Dutch Minister of Defence last year, during an EDA symposium on military mobility. And with success. Enormous steps have been taken since the Netherlands placed military mobility high on the international political agenda at the beginning of 2017.

The immediate background was a major NATO exercise, Bison Drawsko, held in Poland in January 2017. During this exercise, huge obstacles were encountered transporting troops and equipment from the Netherlands to Poland. Some convoys were stopped at borders for days on end before they were allowed to cross. 

Since then, military mobility has been identified as a strategic priority for EU-NATO co-operation. An EU action plan is now in place, containing numerous measures to improve mobility, and 25 EU member states are working together on military mobility as part of a PESCO project.

Best of all, last summer the EU member states and NATO allies reached political consensus on this issue at the highest level. It has been agreed that major cross-border troop movements need to be made significantly faster and more efficient by 2024, at the latest. The first results should already be achieved by the end of 2019.

The challenge now is implementation. How do we ensure that what has been agreed is actually put into practice, and on time? How do we maintain the momentum? And how do we ensure good co-ordination between the EU and NATO in the implementation?

Military mobility can only be improved with the full dedication and commitment of all the EU member states and NATO allies. After all, the great majority of agreements have to be implemented at the national level.

This requires active involvement on the part of national parliaments. As the bodies which scrutinise the work of government, we have to ensure that what is agreed is actually put into effect. If legislation or procedures need to be adjusted, we must agree to that. If money is needed to raise bridges or widen roads, we have to decide on that.

I am therefore very pleased that the Romanian Parliament, following the example set by Austria, is once again addressing this important theme.

But where do we stand in the Netherlands at the moment? What is going well and what obstacles do we face? I think it is important that I go into that here today. After all, only by sharing experiences and best practices, can we make progress together.

For the Netherlands, a ‘whole of government’ approach is paramount. The Dutch government is trying to involve as many stakeholders as possible in improving military mobility: various different ministries, Parliament, local and regional authorities, but also private companies and airports.

One specific example of this approach is the interministerial co-ordination forum that has been established in the Netherlands. Through this structure, all the ministries involved consult and agree on how to implement the various EU and NATO agreements in the Netherlands.

The ministries of Defence and Infrastructure are currently working closely together to map all Dutch strategic routes – rail, road and waterways – and check how compliant they are with the military requirements as laid down in the context of the EU last autumn. This analysis will reveal which routes in the Netherlands need upgrading and what the financial consequences will be. The results will then be shared with Parliament.

Another priority for the Netherlands is reducing red tape. In this context, the Netherlands is working on the development of an Interactive Host Nation Support System. This is a digital system to handle applications for military support from countries wanting to use or cross Dutch territory. Currently, such requests are still received by fax or in complicated Excel spreadsheets. This is not only cumbersome, but also error-prone and insecure. The new system will put an end to that.

The Netherlands also looks at other countries with great interest. Sweden, for example, has now decided to grant permanent diplomatic clearance to Norway, Finland and Denmark. That saves a huge amount of time and bureaucracy. Within the Dutch-led PESCO project on military mobility, there is a focus upon sharing such best practices.

The Netherlands is on track to achieve the targets set by both the EU and NATO for the end of 2019. A national point of contact for military mobility has already been established, the gap analysis of the Dutch transport infrastructure is under way and we are working hard to ensure that permission for military movements through Dutch territory is granted within five working days. The Netherlands is also working on a national plan for military mobility.

Despite all these efforts, however, unfortunately there are still plenty of examples demonstrating that we are not there yet.

Take the situation in Eygelshoven, for instance, a small Dutch village just two kilometres from the border with Germany and home to a military base where US equipment is stationed. Due to the different safety standards in place on Dutch and German railways, it is practically impossible to transport that equipment directly across the border. To reach Germany, a huge detour has to be taken, sometimes taking up to six extra days.

And there are still obstacles in the co-operation between NATO and the EU, too.

One is the exchange of information. Important information needed to improve military mobility in Europe is often classified and therefore cannot be shared, or only in a very limited form, between the two organisations. An example of this are the lessons learnt from the largest NATO exercise since the Cold War, Trident Juncture.

Moreover, the progress of greater EU-NATO co-operation in the field of military mobility is difficult to monitor. At present, it is discussed only in general terms in a biannual report covering all 74 areas of EU-NATO cooperation, the ‘joint proposals’. In the latest report, just one short section is devoted to military mobility. This can and really must improve. Only then, can we also properly fulfil our scrutinising role as parliamentarians.

In short, we are not there yet. But by talking to each other, by exchanging experiences and by sharing best practices, we are making progress one step at a time.

I am therefore glad that the Romanian Presidency is organising a high-level conference on EU-NATO co-operation in April, at which military mobility will be discussed. I would also like to appeal to the Finnish Parliament to return to this important theme at the next IPC in Helsinki. As national parliaments, we must play an active role and continue to urge our governments on.

Because only together will we make a success of military mobility.hank you for your attention.