Dutch minister under fire for skipping service

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The defence minister’s remark that he was pleased to have been excused from conscription has irked members of parliament and the armed forces.

24 September 2008

THE HAGUE -- The news that Defence Minister Eimert van Middelkoop was glad to be excused from military service in the 1970s has been greeted with indignation, both inside and outside the armed forces.

In an interview with a Dutch magazine, the minister said that when he went to take his military intake inspection, he felt that military service was not for him, and would make him miserable.

In the Netherlands, military service was compulsory in the 1970s

Van Middelkoop said he was extremely pleased to be allowed to waive serving in the army as a young man between 1973 and 1978 till he turned 30. At the time, he was registered as an indispensable party worker for the GPV, one of the forerunners of the Christian Union, a member of the present governing coalition.

AD reports that conservative VVD MP Arend Jan Boekestijn said he was dismayed when he read the interview, and doubted whether Van Middelkoop could stay on as defence minister.

The paper wrote that Socialist Party MP Krista van Velzen says she understands Van Middelkoop was pleased he did not have to join the army, but added: "This is not something you should say out loud when you're a minister. You need to believe in your own people. He has a lot to explain to the Dutch soldiers in Uruzgan".

Wim van den Burg, chairman of the AFMP military union has described Van Middelkoop's comments as confirming a long-held opinion that the minister is "the wrong man, at the wrong time, in the wrong position." Many others have expressed similar views.

Van den Burg added that the rank and file of his union feel that the minister's statements "have widened the gap between soldiers and their defence minister. He does not come across as confident in the eyes of his people. Soldiers are expected to accept authority and follow orders. How can he say he has a problem with authority?

However, according to a report in the free newspaper De Pers, many senior officers reportedly appreciate ministerial ignorance of military affairs because it makes it easier for them to get what they want.

Few of Van Middelkoop's recent predecessors could pride themselves on impressive military credentials. The paper writes that Henk Kamp (defence minister from 2002-2007) left the army after a brief period due to a knee injury. Frank de Grave (1998-2002) rose to the illustrious rank of corporal, but his job was purely administrative in nature. Joris Voorhoeve (1994-1998) and Relus ter Beek (1989-1994) never served at all. Benk Korthals Altes (2002) was the exception to the rule. He served as a naval officer, but the cabinet he was in lasted only 86 days.

Reportedly, most politicians charged with forming a government value political loyalty in a potential defence minister much more military expertise. According to De Pers, it is also apparently feared that a defence minister with strong ties to the military might be tempted to stage a coup.

[Radio Netherlands / Expatica]

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