How the Dutch press reports EU military union

It appears to be easier to tell the truth about EU military union in Rotterdam than in London.

The following is a translation of an article by Frans Boogaard which appeared in the mid-market Rotterdam newspaper Algemeen Dagblad on Sunday regarding EU military union on the eve of the sleety-grey Monday morning when it became reality.

There hasn’t been much fanfare about it, but Europe really is on the threshold of yet another massive leap forward: at least 23 member states, including the Netherlands, will tomorrow sign up to a European military in Brussels. It is intended to give extra firepower to the sum of national armed forces within it, and, what’s more, to save the taxpayer €25 to €100 billion a year.

No, it’s not going to be a European armed forces under European command, foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini insists stridently, but the development of materiel and new weapons systems, procurement policy, and even operations will shortly be undertaken community-wide. [This is because] doing it that way is cheaper and more efficient. 

Anyone who simply looks at how many different types of weapons systems, tanks, frigates and fighter aircraft the Europeans [currently] have, and how immensely more powerful the Americans are with a fraction of that much, will find it incomprehensible how very long it has taken for ‘permanent structured co-operation’, or PESCO, to come into being. 

Fear of loss of national autonomy, of the hollowing-out of NATO or of annoyed reactions from the United States held the project up for decades. In late 2014, when Juncker took up his post as President of the Commission, he fished out of the dustbin the plans which the French Assemblée Nationale had thrown away in 1954(!), and this summer, Chancellor Merkel and President Macron gave it a big push [by declaring that] from now on, [France and Germany] would be doing all their major military projects jointly, including the development of a future fighter plane. Since that moment, it has been all systems go.

A European Defence Fund and a [European Defence] Industrial Development Fund are in the offing. By shuffling allocations around, Brussels has already made the first €500 million available for 2019 and 2020. And the first forty projects are already on the drawing board. Participation does not come without commitment, though: by signing, Foreign Secretary Zijlstra and Defence Secretary Bijleveld have pledged our country to allocate at least 20 per cent of our defence budget to investment; to submit an annual defence plan; and have undertaken to take part, if not with troops then at the least financially, in all missions and operations which PESCO decides to launch.

So it might be a relief to know that PESCO will only be doing so where the decision is unanimous. “The Netherlands will at all times retain its say over the commitment of Dutch troops,” Zijlstra has promised the Dutch Parliament in writing. And we can just leave it to Prime Minister Rutte to ensure that Dutch corporations profit to the full from the Community procurement policy. 

There will, however, be some changes for [defence] industry. The [Dutch] defence market, which is currently 80 per cent domestic, is going be broken open. Brussels intends to foster Europe-wide procurement by using a fund that will soon amount to €5 billion. Before long, [defence] companies, just like troops, are going to have to work together a great deal more. In fact, Dutch troops already very much are: with Belgium (naval and air forces) and Germany (land forces). Soon, all member states will have units which are ‘interoperable’ and which can be used for either NATO, EU, UN or other operations.

So Juncker, who has said that ‘if we don’t take care of our own security, no-one else is going to do it for us’, will be satisfied. It was in late November 2016 that he tabled these plans, and tomorrow is signing day. Diplomats in Brussels have been taken aback by this speed of decision-making, so unlike the EU, but the truth of the matter is, of course, that the unrest and instability on our eastern and southern frontiers and the assertive or unpredictable leadership in Moscow, Ankara and Washington have greatly helped [to crystallise matters]. Much as one might wish otherwise, some of the glory for tomorrow’s [milestone] has to be shared by Putin, Erdoğan and Trump.

What can we learn from this Dutch version of events?

First and foremost, that the true purposes of the EU's military union, in all its alphabet soup of protocols, processes and funds, are perfectly apparent to any competent Continental journalist, who merely needs to listen to what Juncker and Mogherini say in public, let alone study the publicly-available papers published by the EU's institutions. In British coverage of the subject, only the likes of David Ellis, Mike Robinson and Lee Rotherham appear to bother to do so.

Second, that the key constitutional phrase 'national sovereignty' is a taboo in the European Union of 2017. Even the press in a member state with such a pragmatic attitude, high degree of understanding of the British, rapidly increasing euroscepticism and a tradition of blunt speaking as the Netherlands is not able to speak of it in the context of EU developments, but instead uses the euphemism 'national autonomy'. This is all the more concerning given that the Rotterdam paper in question has a patriotic, down-to-earth business readership and is a far cry from the postmodern, Euro-integrationist liberalism that prevails in the Amsterdam press.

Third, that David Ellis' repeated warnings are entirely borne out that behind the treasonous enough intent to blend forces lies an even deadlier determination to merge defence industry and procurement into a single, nation-breaking blob, now already foisted with financial handcuffs upon the Continental rump EU member states (all of whom have signed up to PESCO barring island Malta, neutral Ireland, opted-out Denmark and broke Portugal). What does not appear to be so readily apparent to Continental journalists, however, is that the stockholders in this 'one blob to rule them all' are not going to be residents of the eurozone but rather based in Switzerland, the City of London and Wall Street.

Fourth, that national governments and parliaments of the EU's core member states with no opt-outs or exits have had no more 'ownership' (as today's terminology has it) of the process than Her Majesty's Government has. This is, as David Ellis has so rightly and consistently termed it, an EU-owned process; more particularly, a Mogherini- and Juncker-owned process. Ministers and MPs, perhaps even MEPs, of the participant nations are bystanders and Johnny-come-latelies.

Such conclusions, although the evidence for them now stares us in the face if only we look outside the British mainstream for our reporting, should not perhaps shock us much. After all, the UK Column is not the only observer to have such a low opinion of Britain's 'correspondents' on military affairs, whom we often accuse of parroting Ministry of Defence lines to take. No less a figure than former Ambassador Peter Ford recently told the Media On Trial event that "defence correspondents are the worst of the worst". Pity the nation so ill served by its fourth estate on such a vital matter of national survival.