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Flemish military equipment faces new export regulations

The government of Flanders has relaxed export regulations for Flemish military equipment and technology to other EU countries, but tightened the reins on exports to countries outside the European Union. The draft decree is currently under discussion in the Flemish Parliament. Although the new regulation seems clear and concise, it seems to ignore certain issues, a hearing in Parliament with various representatives from the Peace Movement, Amnesty International and businesses like Barco and OIP revealed. Barco manufactures screens for military aircraft. OIP manufactures optic equipment such as night vision goggles for firearms and earns more than two thirds of its 50 million turnover from defence. “We are probably the only ‘true’ defence business in Flanders,” says CEO Freddy Versluys, reiterating that this sector is in favour of clear rules and also would like to see a more unified regulatory framework for the whole of Europe. Businesses in general insist on more attainable rules that keep the Belgian businesses competitive in the market. The Peace Movement on the other hand wants more information and control. But the extent of the information shared with the public on export permits remains a contentious issue. The government of Flanders already discloses the price of contracts, the destinations and the nature of the sold equipment as well as the identity of the purchaser government, international organisation or industry. But the peace movement demands more transparency. A second question to be addressed is whether more should be disclosed about the technology end users. Barco’s Luc Vandenbroucke says it’s not that simple, explaining that Barco supplies technology for Puma helicopters destined for transport, rescue operations and military purposes. Another thorny issue are the more stringent regulations for orders outside the EU. The government of Flanders wants to impose a licence on “goods that are hazardous to humans or things”. That could be interpreted very loosely, believes Vandenbroucke, giving the example of a mobile phone that can set off a bomb. He calls for a more pragmatic approach, saying Flanders should tolerate military applications if it wants to be high-tech.