By H.E. Mr. Dirk Lodewijk M. Achten, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium to the Kingdom of The Netherlands.
Being a bilateral ambassador in a neighbouring country with which one shares so much history and culture, is a very peculiar mission. Since the cooperation has reached an unprecedented level of intensity in many areas, it is more than a full time job. Belgium and The Netherlands cooperate in all fields of governance, too much to cover in any comprehensive article. Therefore today we will share some insights on two priorities in our bilateral security cooperation. Namely the defence cooperation and cross-border cooperation against drug related crime.
The past year was an historic testimony of our long standing security cooperation, as The Netherlands celebrated its 75 years of liberation. Belgian soldiers from the Piron Brigade and the Special Air Service liberated several areas, and my presence was required in many places (more places than there were days available).
One of the areas with very intense Dutch-Belgian cooperation is defence. This cooperation, especially in the naval domain, already dates back to 1948 just after the end of the Second World War. The cooperation intensified over the years and lead to the current situation where we have an integrated naval command structure operating from Den Helder.
Today Belgium and the Netherlands are developing and procuring important weapon systems together such as the new generation mine counter measure vessels and the new frigates. Each country has the lead in the procurement of one weapon system and all decisions are made in consensus and full transparency.
As ambassador, I try to facilitate these projects where I can. Last year the theme of the annual King’s Day reception in my residence was precisely this naval cooperation symbolised by the presence of both naval commanders, an exhibition and the musical tunes of an ensemble of the Belgian Navy band.
Of course there are other opportunities to intensify the cooperation as Belgium and the Netherlands have both procured the same airplane (F-35) to replace their current F-16 fleet. Although Belgium opted in the land domain for a strategic partnership with France and the Netherlands intensified its cooperation with Germany, there still are lots of opportunities available such as the cooperation of our special forces. All this was recognized by the decision of our Minister of Defence to open a resident Defence Attaché post in The Hague last summer.
Cross-border cooperation against drug related crime
The Belgian-Dutch cooperation in the field of drugs and crime is long standing, in-depth and exhaustive. A plethora of cooperation initiatives exist, ranging from cross border local police contacts, to structured strategic consultations by the top of both police forces.
The philosophy behind the cooperation is that national borders no longer exist when it comes to security issues. Hence, cooperation agreements were concluded for a more synchronized judicial approach to organized and subversive crimes related to drugs. This synchronisation is essential in countering the so called waterbed effect: to avoid stricter laws and regulations in one country, criminals hop the border and operate from the other side.
Illustrative examples of our cooperation are the international cocaine traffic network, which brings together public and private partners of the port communities of Antwerp and Rotterdam, including the sharing and exchanges of personnel. Police and customs services work together to better identify illegal flows of drugs. A multidisciplinary team composed of representatives of various public and private partners from both countries cooperate on the fight against illegal financial flows, money laundering and more practical issues with a big safety impact, such as the dumping of chemical waste from drug labs.
In 2018 a new Benelux treaty on police cooperation was signed, which offers far-reaching possibilities for cross-border action, including consulting each other’s police databases and setting up joint police patrols and controls. The new treaty even allows to deploy special police intervention units on each other’s territory, and it is a big step forward in the bilateral police cooperation.
As ambassador, I continue to build on this good cooperation through regular contacts with the Minister of Justice and Security and his ministry, and with the Dutch Embassy in Belgium. Simultaneously I maintain relations and facilitate meetings between crime experts from the academic, bilateral and multilateral institutions as well as the public and the private sector.
Ultimately, it is my goal that our continuous diplomatic efforts from both sides can contribute to the flourishing and dynamic security cooperation between Belgium and The Netherlands.