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Dutch EU Leadership Seeks Implementation of Security Policy, Closer Ties

January 8, 2016 (Photo Credit: Koen Van Weel/AFP)

The new Dutch presidency of the European Union will prioritize "closer partnership" among European countries in the defense area during its term in office.

Speedy implementation of the EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy is another priority of the six-month presidency.

According to a spokesman, the Dutch also aim to give the issue of capability development more prominence on the EU agenda.

The Netherlands began its stint at the helm of the EU Council on Jan. 1, replacing Luxembourg. The country's previous mandate was over a decade ago.

Much has changed in the EU in the last 12 years; in May 2004, the EU had just undergone the biggest expansion in its history. Ten new member states had joined, many of them from the former eastern bloc.

Each member state takes its turn to head up a presidency during which it can steer the EU agenda, and the Netherlands now has the chance to address the issues it considers most important.

Outlining priorities in the defense field, a presidency spokesman said the Dutch will attach "particular importance" to strengthening the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), adding: "The EU has a vital interest in effective joint external action and in pursuing a CFSP that enables it to respond effectively to today’s considerable security challenges.

"The Netherlands firmly believes in taking an integrated approach to complex issues like the migration crisis, terrorism and cybersecurity."

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders says the EU needs a CFSP that "allows the bloc to engage with a single voice to support EU-level solutions," but he recognizes the potential difficulties this poses. 

"We cannot do this all alone," he said. "All of us must engage more with the national parliaments in this endeavor.

The Dutch spokesman went on: "The European Council’s Strategic Agenda is aimed at effective joint action in the world. A stronger CFSP is in the interest not only of the EU but also of NATO and the individual member states.

"The presidency will endeavor to ensure that the themes of security and defense are firmly embed­ded in the new Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy, the enhanced CSDP and the future of European defense cooperation."

The presidency will coincide with the announcement in June of the new EU Global Strategy by Federica Mogherini, the high representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The strategy aims to help spur development of military capabilities.

"Once the new strategy has been adopted, the Netherlands hopes to see the high representative translate it into concrete goals and adequate civil and military capabilities," the presidency spokesman said.

The spokesman also said the Dutch presidency wishes to narrow the distance between the "various bottom-up" EU defense cooperation initiatives and "top-down" EU security policy.

"To this end," he said, "the presidency will continue to raise the matter of giving defense cooperation a more binding character."

Dutch efforts will also be geared toward speeding up political and other decision-making by national parliaments, he said, adding that close partnership among the European countries in the defense area is a "prerequisite for the development of necessary defense capabilities and tools."

The European Defence Agency (EDA), according to the Dutch, will have an important role to play in encouraging member states to cooperate with each other in terms of capability development ,and the presidency will support ongoing defense projects, including satellite communications and air-to-air refueling. The spokesman said it also favors strengthening the European defense market and industry.

"An open, transparent and well-functioning defense market, to which SMEs, as well as major players, have access and a competitive defense industry are vital prerequisites for a stronger CSDP," the spokesman said.

Overall, he said the presidency will focus its efforts on contributing to a "safer, more just and future-proof world."

"The Union’s strategic context has been changed by globalization and the growing instability around its borders," he said. "To the east, this is characterized by geopolitical tensions resulting from the failure to respect the principles of international law and territorial integrity.

"To the south, conflicts and human rights violations are major factors in the instability affecting the region, and are causing challenges in the area of security, the humanitarian situation and socioeconomic development. The current migration issue is a consequence of this."

In an interview with the EDA magazine, "European Defence Matters", Jean Pierre Van Aubel, head of Task Force Netherlands EU Presidency, said: "We expect to see a clear, realistic level of ambition for the CSDP along with a description of the way ahead for the next ten years or so, particularly on the military side."

"The Netherlands will support projects directly addressing shortfalls in capabilities but the ongoing projects agreed by the EU Council in 2013 and 2015 deserve our utmost attention," he said.

The start of the Dutch presidency comes just ahead of a key EU summit (Feb. 18-19) in Brussels where British Prime Minister David Cameron hopes to seal his renegotiation deal before an "in-out" referendum on UK membership of the EU.

Dutch center-right Member of the European Parliament Peter van Dalen warns that a so-called Brexit, or British withdrawal from the EU, would be a "disaster" for the EU and the Netherlands, adding: "The Dutch should do everything they can to stop the UK — a good ally — from leaving the Union."

Another Dutch MEP, Agnes Jongerius said: "It seems British demands on labor migration for its upcoming EU membership referendum have delayed the European Commission's presentation of its revised labor mobility package, with no new launch date. It would be unacceptable that the shadow cast by David Cameron's bluff prevented the commission from delivering tangible results for citizens across Europe."

As part of their presidency, the Dutch have scheduled an informal meeting of defense ministers, a defense policy director's meeting and five seminars over the next months and, like all EU presidencies, the Netherlands aspires to delivering a lasting legacy that benefits the EU. 

However, it also recognizes the inevitability that new EU legislation can take a long time and cover several presidencies before arriving at any substantive decisions.

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