Guidelines reformed for supporting research with military applications

Summary

Flanders’ rules for granting funding to research that could result in military applications have been updated for the digital age, with an ethics committee in place

‘Dual research’

Research projects with military applications have a greater chance of receiving Flemish government support under revised rules issued last week by innovation minister Philippe Muyters. While research into offensive weapons is explicitly excluded, other projects will be eligible for support if they first pass an ethics test.

The new guidance relaxes restrictions imposed by the government in 1994 and reflects international developments in defence research and development, such as the creation last year of the European Defence Fund.

“Very clearly Flanders says ‘No’ to offensive weapons systems,” Muyters explained, a category that includes firearms, chemical and biological weapons, ammunition, bombs, missiles and mines. “At the same time we want our companies to be able to take part, along with the rest of Europe, in programmes where there is a consensus. Then there are mixed projects that also have civil applications that should be able to receive public support.”

The guidelines apply to companies, research institutes and universities hoping for government support to carry out research and development with military applications. Their projects will be assessed by an Ethics and Strategic Advice Committee, unless they fall within national or international defence programmes that have such ethics tests built in. Fundamental research projects will also be able to skip the ethics test.

Decision is binding

The committee will decide whether or not a project is in line with the government of Flanders’ perspectives on ethics, safety, European integration, foreign policy, arms exports and economic and innovation policy. The recommendation of the committee will be binding.

According to financial daily paper De Tijd, the change is the result of lobbying by technology industry federation Agoria to revise the 1994 directive. “According to Agoria, this unclear directive meant that Flemish companies remained excluded from federal and European budgets for military research,” the paper explained. “Yet more and more research, such as photonics, 3D printing and cybersecurity, is being labelled as dual use because military applications are also possible.”

The new guidelines were drawn up in consultation with the Flemish Advisory Council for Innovation and Enterprise and the Flemish Peace Institute.

Photo courtesy Zeiss International