Toespraak European Defence Agency – Annual Conference 2012

31 januari 2012, European Defence Agency, Brussel

*** Only the spoken word counts ***

Mrs High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy,


Distinguished members of the international defence and security community,

Admirals, Generals,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is a pleasure to address you today on a subject which is crucial to the future of Europe’s place in the world and one in which I am personally very much engaged.


It was during the Belgian Presidency of the European Union, just over a year ago, that the “Pooling and Sharing Initiative” was first launched at the Informal Defence Ministerial in Ghent.


My fellow Ministers and I had the objective to improve European military capabilities in a difficult financial climate. That requirement is all the more pressing today!


The policy of the European Union requires more effective military capabilities in order to become a more capable and coherent global actor. Without them, we are not credible. This is what the European citizens are entitled to: a strong and efficient European security policy. We share the same challenges as far as security is concerned: the fight against piracy, terrorism, cyber terrorism, arms and people trafficking and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We are a Union of countries with the same standards and values, a Union that has the same interests to defend.


The problem remains that Europe’s ability to deliver effective military capabilities is at risk of erosion from budget cuts. The financial crisis continues to haunt most European governments and the road to financial stability looks like being a long one. We need to act accordingly and take this as an opportunity to continue to set up effective and pragmatic cooperation programs. The time has come to re-align our notion of modern defence in a joint framework together in the light of the budget austerity ahead.


At Ghent, and subsequently, Defence Ministers have demonstrated that there is a real will at political level to change the way we do business. I quote from an article by the EDA: “Ghent initiative is recognised as a starting point for Pooling and Sharing, being the “wake-up call”, the origin of a “political momentum” for Pooling and Sharing”.


There is now a widespread understanding that the “pooling and sharing” of military capabilities – doing more together – is an effective response, if not the only possible response, to the financial and military pressures we face. It allows us to deliver more with less. It has become a must, rather than an option.


It is far much better to have collective capabilities rather than unsustainable or non-existent national ones.


We must be prepared to search for innovative ways to deliver more performing military capabilities collectively.


Since Ghent, a number of us have also had the experience of the air operations in support of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 in Libya to reflect on. On one level, Europe has done very well. However, cooperation between Member States could have been better.


Several European countries deployed F-16 aircrafts. Yet despite an existing and permanent multinational cooperation between Member States that use this type of aircraft, each country operated from a separate air force base.


Having at least two, or preferably more, countries operating from one and the same airbase would have led to an interesting saving, both in personnel and resources.


What’s even more, the operation reminded us of our continuing reliance on the USA for so many important military capabilities: Air to air refuelling, comprehensive command and control, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, battle damage assessment – the list is long. It raises serious questions over Europe’s ability to act with appropriate autonomy. Without the sustainable cooperation of the USA, operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR would never have achieved its goal.


Europe should be able to take a quick, powerful and joint stand against both internal and external threats to the stability in our region.


A better sustainment and development of military capabilities are imperative!


We have to avoid having hollow forces. What we need is that each individual Member State is fully able to contribute to our Common Security and Defence Policy and NATO and United Nations operations.


During the last year, I noted a lot of activity in Brussels and in other capitals. Staffs have produced and considered numerous good ideas - hundreds of them. Yet the outcome in terms of new projects launched appears, until now, quite modest.


The fact is that the European Defence Agency can only implement those initiatives that we – the Member States – support. So the focus must be on the prospects for a systematic approach to bringing forward further projects.


In this context, I would like to acknowledge the excellent work of the European Defence Agency. Last November’s steering board was an important step forward and my fellow Ministers and I were able to give EDA ‘s work programme enthusiastic support.


Although, the European Defence Agency can do a great deal to facilitate the way forward, the move from national approaches to cooperative ones – like pooling and sharing – are to a large extent about changing culture in administrations. About giving up national control and learning to cope with interdependence on a systematic basis.


It takes time, among other things, to remove technical or administrative obstacles, and it requires confidence. The Agency will help facilitate the way forward.


Yet, we should always remember that this is a Member States driven process and that the fundamental change in how we do business, first articulated in Ghent, depends on our collective willingness, effort and in finding, in each Member State, the courage to do things differently.


Cooperation seems never to be easy.


Member States have raised concerns about a loss of sovereignty or operational autonomy if they were to “Pool and Share”. These are legitimate concerns. But there are answers.


I speak from personal experience. Belgium’s armed forces are among the most integrated with partners in Europe. The most far-reaching example is the Admiralty Benelux, the integration of the Belgian and Dutch navies which have operated since the 1990’s under one integrated command.


Belgium furthermore is a part of a wide range of other cooperative ventures: the European Air Transport Group, Eurocorps and pilote training with France being important examples.


Therefore, the Belgian Ministry of Defence will actively participate in any initiative aimed at establishing a credible European policy. At the European level, we will continue to seek standardisation of equipment, which also includes keeping its configuration management.


Also in the future, we will optimize our cooperation with our neighbours, just as we recently did with the NH-90 program, when we decided on common configuration, training and maintenance.


It is essential that we maintain a strong political dynamic in this process. Member States have to participate in real projects.


This has to be done in a structured way that ensures that the projects are sustainable. An open approach is mandatory for a successful cooperation expandable to new partners. Based on lessons learned from existing forms of cooperation, the best practices and criteria for success have to be identified.


In these hard financial times, it would be all too easy to conclude that we have no option but to cut in military capabilities. Difficult times call for imaginative politics and new approaches. Through benefits generated by Pooling and Sharing, Defence Ministries will be able to match national and international objectives with limited targets.


The purpose of the “Pooling and Sharing” concept is to provide an answer to the paradox between these growing operational needs on the one hand and the falling defence budgets on the other hand.


We need to exploit it to the full. Today’s conference can be a positive force in moving the “Pooling and Sharing” agenda forward. It is obvious that the main purpose of this conference should be to reflect on new concrete proposals for a closer cooperation between the European Member States. It will be of practical assistance to our efforts to implement best practice solutions.


I encourage everyone here today to play their full part in helping making it a success. 


Like Henri Ford once said, who by the way has Belgian roots:


“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, working together is success”.


To conclude, I wish to express my sincere appreciation for the work the Agency has done so far and also my appreciation for the work of Mrs Arnould, who is exactly one year in office now. I wish you all the best for the future challenges for which you can count on my support.


I thank you for your attention.


Pieter De Crem

Belgian Minister of Defence


*** Only the spoken word counts ***


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