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Security: Belgium will screen foreign investments

Justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD) © Belga

The Belgian authorities will begin screening all foreign investments in the country for a variety of security risks, justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD) announced.

Security risks arising from foreign governments is a constant problem for Belgium’s intelligence services. Increasingly, however, inward investment into Belgium is being used as a cover for security breaches.

The plan is to set up an investment screening committee inside the federal economy ministry of Pierre-Yves Dermagne (PS), Van Quickenborne told De Tijd.

State Security will be one of the actors in the screening mechanism. It goes without saying that, for example, Chinese investment applications, certainly in our strategic sectors, are closely examined for links with the Chinese government or intelligence services.”

Already, 13 other European governments screen foreign investments, among them neighbours France, Germany and the Netherlands.

The aim is to protect our critical infrastructures, including those related to energy, transport, health, communications and defence. Foreign investors who want to gain control of a company and thereby acquire more than 25% of the voting rights, must register with the investment screening committee.”

The members of the committee will have access to a variety of information sources to be able to arrive at a decision, including both civilian and military intelligence. But the screening will concern only security risks, Van Quickenborne stressed.

It will disregard any element related to economic desirability,” he said. “There is also always an open dialogue with investors. If an investment could potentially damage public order and safety, it is examined to see whether measures are necessary to minimise that risk, without prohibiting the investment. So a ban will only be a last resort.”

The committee will be made up of permanent representatives of seven federal ministries: economy, finance, foreign affairs, mobility, defence, energy and public health. There will also be two ad hoc representatives from the region where the investment is planned.