After months of discussions, an unfavourable opinion from the Council of State and two amendments, Belgium’s House of Representatives finally – on May 11 – adopted (82 votes for and 50 against) the country’s first ever Military Programme Law, a key element of the Strategic Vision set out by Defence Minister Steven Vandeput. Once the Royal assent is given, this unprecedented military programme law officially comes into force.
Coincidentally or not, this vote comes on the eve of a major NATO summit to be held on 25 May in Brussels, where “we must prove that we are a reliable ally,” explained parliamentarian Peter Buysrogge NV- A (Flemish nationalists). Devoting only 0.85% of its GDP to defence in 2016, Belgium is second to last amongst NATO members for defence spending. Even with the new financial commitments, Belgium’s defence efforts will by 2030 still only account for 1.3% of GDP, far from the 2% required by NATO.
In addition to a structural overhaul of the Belgian armed forces, this military programme law includes an investment of €9.2bn over the period 2020-2030, “which corresponds to the need to replace our F-16s, to re-equip the Land component, to renew our frigates, to buy drones,” explained parliamentarian Denis Ducarme, MR (Liberal), during the discussion prior to the vote.
“Without investments, National defence can close shop,” insisted Ducarme facing members of the Socialist opposition, particularly critical of the financial side of the military programme law. Since the latter is not prescriptive, any proposed purchase of the Ministry of defence in the framework of the military programme law will be the subject of separate legislation inscribed in future legislatures.
However, Vandeput’s mandate ends in 2019, that is, one year before the acquisitions agreed to are paid for. In other words, a contract signed today will not be paid until after 2020. Furious at the idea that “the current government is placing the responsibility on its successors“, the opposition had unsuccessfully in March proposed an amendment advancing the date of payment of the contracts to 2018. So, the very existence of the investments envisaged in this military programme law will depend mainly on the result of the next legislative elections…