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Pieter's (transatlantic) fly

F35 JsfEnvol@Lockheed(BRUSSELS2) The Belgian Defense Minister, Pieter De Crem, is a busy and conscientious man. Discreetly, but intelligently, he plows the spans of the Alliance to make his way as a possible recourse to the head of the Alliance, next year. Certainly to replace a Prime Minister, the Danish AF Rasmussen, a (simple) Minister of Defense, it can be a bit cheap. But as the Alliance is in withdrawal (e), a little everywhere, better a good profile of minister is worth an adventure. This is how de Crem carves out the portrait of the perfect challenger of the genre: if you can't agree on a number 1, I'm here.


The multilingual that he is (German, English, Spanish, Portuguese...) knows how to use his charm. Relatively discreet in the media until now, his new role as Deputy Prime Minister, which came a little by surprise, allows him to have a certain stature that he did not yet have. However, discretion only has a time. When it comes to defending an American project, Pieter knows how to do it. With overflowing enthusiasm, he thus campaigned for the American JSF / F-35. Long gone are the days of Ghent where the Minister of Defense praised the Europe of Defense. The Minister's well-known transatlantic feeling has taken over.

A The Hague / Brussels / Washington axis

The rapprochement with the Netherlands, in several fields, in particular air, gives him a golden opportunity to slip that there is a certain logic in having the same type of aircraft in the south and the north of what once formed a single territory. And The Hague, which has decided to reduce the scope of the order by taking only 35 aircraft out of the 80 expected, would not be unhappy to provide an alternative solution across the Atlantic. Does this laudable position serve the interests of his country or his campaign? We can doubt it. Does it serve the European cause? Certainly not...

Slight departure from European rules

According to information obtained by B2, Minister De Crem would indeed favor State-to-State relations (see article on the Club). An argument that barely hides the desire to circumvent the obligation to make a call for tenders according to the new European procedure for public procurement (State-to-State contracts are in fact an exemption). There are currently three models of European fighter aircraft: the Eurofighter (or Typhoon), the Swedish Gripen and the Rafale. It seems surprising that none of the three aircraft does not meet both Belgian military requirements (air surveillance and engagement in multinational operations).

A cost that weighs...

A competition could however be quite useful for Belgian public finances (which are not already in good shape). The JSF/F-35 is not really a model of virtue. In this regard, we can even say that the plane of the American future is a champion of inflation. A flight such that if we compared it to a lyrical role, we would go from a baritone to the role of soprano. To the point that even Canadians (whose Americanophile leanings cannot be criticized) are seized with doubts and ask to see the copy again. We are currently at a budgeted price of more than 110 million euros per device, and more than half a billion euros per device over its lifetime if we include support and operational costs, according to a study KMPG. In fact, we are well above the costs announced by the Minister of Defense to the Chamber of Deputies a few days ago.

Europe passed by starboard

A few weeks before a European summit devoted to defence, Belgium is not giving the best example of European solidarity. Certainly nothing obliges a country to take a European device rather than an American device. But this choice appears irrational both in terms of economic logic and political logic. The US device is, for the moment, the most expensive on the market. Its reliability is not yet fully assured, as a Pentagon report demonstrates. And Belgium has not negotiated any benefits for its national industry.

A European plan would be appropriate

Consolidating European industry means making choices, not just speeches. Choices that do not depend on short-term or personal concerns but on long-term, consolidation work. And this is the European problem. Today, several countries are faced with the same choice: to replace their fighter aircraft. A coordinated European joint purchasing plan would be more appropriate. If Belgium, known for its European convictions, drops the European train itself, who will believe it tomorrow...

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

One thought on “Pieter's (transatlantic) fly"

  • Jürgen Margraff

    Can anyone tell me why we need a stealth aircraft? The Taliban or Al Qaeda do not have radar to see the hunters arriving to my knowledge. The Swedish Gripen is easily half the price and also has the ability to “supercruise”, so it can achieve more than the speed of sound without putting the afterburner on. It is partially stealthy, the Swiss who are known to be close to their penny, probably buy it knowingly. The Rafale or the Typhoon is a superior class, they both have a double engine, and I don't know since when the Belgian Air Force has had no more twin-engine fighters, it must have been decades, the Gloster Meteor should to have been the last. But Sieur Zwarte Piet must be reminded that there are rules in force concerning public procurement and that even a minister is required to comply with them...

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