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Belgian government is less than transparent on 5G law

Colin Stevens

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Belgium needs to have a wider debate about 5G before the technology can be fully rolled out across the Belgian capital, according to the head of the Brussels regional government, Rudi Vervoort. Vervoort said the government adopted a "5G road map" in mid-July and is organizing working groups, including one on environmental limits and health — to draft a city-wide rollout plan and make legislative changes in the course of 2021. The government also plans to support the region's parliament in organizing public debates on the issue. Two areas of concern appear to be environmental and security.

Brussels' government has in past years blocked a large-scale rollout of 5G networks, citing health concerns among its citizens. The city has an active movement of anti-5G protesters, which has pressured local politicians to halt the technology. And regional lawmakers imposed strict radiation limits that, according to the country's telecoms operators, made it difficult to roll out 5G.

EU authorities have pushed back on the health concerns over the new technology.

"Public opinion, whether we want it or not, is also an actor in the development of this project," said Vervoort. "The deployment of 5G cannot happen behind the back of the citizens."

But on the issue of security the Belgian government does seem to be trying to go behind the back of its citizens.

The Belgian National Security Council agreed to a series of additional security measures regarding the mobile networks. The preliminary draft law and royal decree that have been submitted for public consultation are concerned with the security of fifth-generation mobile networks (5G).

A public consultation on the texts in the Annex is required, but will end on December 30 at 18h.

Many believe this to be a cynical media manipulation tactic, to slip in a public consultation over a Christmas holiday period in the middle of a Covid-19 crisis, when public and media attention are focused elsewhere.

Every government has a duty to ensure that any deployed 5G Technology is safe enough to use as a communication medium by its citizen and the government.

The capability of 5G is immense and will affect every area of the economy, which is the Belgian government why is also worried about the inevitable security issues that come with the deployment of 5G technology.

To mitigate this concern, Belgium has been working on a High-Risk Vendor list, but that will not be published openly.

The entity behind defining this list is The Veiligheid van de Staat – Sureté de l’État (VSSE) and Algemene Dienst Inlichting en Veiligheid (ADIV), which are the secret service agencies of Belgium.

The whole process of identifying the security risk related to 5G rollout is itself being kept secret

The industry and consumers are concerned about criteria has Belgium set to define the High-Risk Vendor list, and why the decisions are being made behind closed doors that are taken in Brussels.

There is only one way to address the issues of national security concerns, make the whole process of defining the high-risk vendor list open to the public for debate.

National governments must realize that transparency is the key to move forward in the right direction as nothing good comes out of closed doors decisions. People have a right to know what their governments are planning and doing with the future of their country.

It seems that Brussels is being pressurized by the USA to block certain 5G suppliers

If the process of defining the High-Risk Vendor list is not made transparent, it could result in gravely impacting the swiftness of 5G rollout and the cost of 5G equipment could go remarkably high. Who is going to suffer from this situation the most? Of course, the consumer…

Another possibility of secretly defining the High-Risk Vendor list is to allow only a handful of 5G Suppliers to participate in 5G rollout and therefore to create a monopoly in otherwise a free market. This in turn would destabilize the market and will end up demotivating new entrants to do business in a biased market.

Brussels must realize that we are in a critical time of 5G infrastructure deployment. The government should act now to ensure that they implement a technology-neutral environment in which all the suppliers can fairly compete against each other. This will ensure that everyone will have the access to 5G services in a shorter period of time.

By not sharing the criteria of defining the High-Risk Vendor list in 5G rollout, the move of restricting certain vendors from participating in 5G rollout by Belgium looks politically motivated rather than concerning the issue of national security.

Belgium

Commission approves €10 million Belgian scheme to support organizers of festivals in the Flemish and Brussels Regions in context of the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €10 million Belgian scheme to support organizers of festivals that are planned to take place in the Flemish and Brussels Regions in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the state aid Temporary Framework. Under this scheme, the support will take the form of direct grants. Beneficiaries will receive up to €500,000 to cover the costs incurred for the organization and production of the festivals as well as for the implementation of measures that the Belgian authorities had to impose to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The purpose of the scheme is to mitigate the sudden liquidity shortages that the beneficiaries are facing due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Commission found that the Belgian scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, (i) the support will not exceed €1.8m per company as provided by the Temporary Framework; and (ii) the aid can be granted no later than 31 December 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions of the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.62017 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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Brussels business pair launch fresh SOS appeal in wake of 'devastating' impact of coronavirus

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Belgium’s battered horeca sector has been devastated by the health pandemic, with dire warnings of possible fresh bankruptcies in the industry. The country’s coronavirus consultative committee, which met on Friday (5 February), offered a ray of hope for bars, cafes and restaurants, both in Brussels and the rest of the country. Federal minister for small businesses, David Clarinval said: "If we reopen contact professions such as hairdressers, beauty salons we will have to wait at least three weeks to see how it goes. If all is going OK, we could hope for the reopening of other sectors in March," writes Martin Banks.

A reopening for restaurants cannot come soon enough for many in the hospitality trade in Belgium, including Alex Joseph (pictured), co-owner of the popular Rouge Tomate on Avenue Louise in Brussels.

Alex and his business partner, Thierry  Naoum, have just launched a crowdfunding effort to try and raise enough financial support to stay afloat.

Alex, who hails from the U.S, told this website of their plight, “We have been under extreme pressure to keep our business afloat. Belfius bank has also added to this pressure. The situation a critical. They’ve given myself and Thierry until February 15th to come up with €20,000 or they press the detonate button.”

The restauranteur added, “We’ve paid our debts for over 7 years in total over €400,000. We’ve launched a Gofundme and we are off to a great start but we need more visibility.”

GoFundMe is an American for-profit crowdfunding platform that allows people to raise money for events ranging from life events such as celebrations and graduations to challenging circumstances like accidents and illnesses.

Alex said: “I think one of the worst things is that it’s a situation that’s not our fault. Nor the fault of our landlords or suppliers. It’s true that difficult times are ahead and we are not out of the clear just yet but I’m optimistic and positive about the future.”

The Belgian government gave its approval for the reopening of holiday villages and campsites from 8 February and animal parks from 13 February - when estate agents will again be allowed to show potential buyers and tenants around properties.

One restaurant in Rixensart, Walloon Brabant, reopened on 1 February - but with mannequins taking the place of regular customers, as reported by The Bulletin.

It quoted the owner of Chez Thérèse, Thérèse, saying: "We've given names to each mannequin, in memory of our great customers. We miss them a lot. Between the two waves, business was good - up 60% on the previous year. But afterwards, we're fallen back to zero. We can't take it any longer. We want to work again - this is our livelihood, our daily lives."

The Bulletin also states that the Brussels Hotels Association has also launched a promotional campaign to encourage residents to spend a night away from home with their partner, a close contact or best friend. High-end hotel rooms are on offer for a fraction of their normal price, from 12-21 February.

There are some small signs, then, that the horeca trade might still be rescued by, as Alex, says, “time if of the essence.”

“Things are desperate and we urgently need help now,”  he said.

He and Thierry built up the business into what is now one of the most popular restos in Brussels, serving top quality cuisine to an international audience.

To soften the financial blow to the catering sector, the Belgian government offered an exemption from VAT for the financial quarter but Alex says the crisis is the most serious threat to the viability of the Brussels horeca trade since the 2016 terrorist lockdown.

Alex insists that as health has to be of paramount importance he cannot dispute the Government’s right to take such drastic action, such as shutting restos but he adds “The restrictions are severe and will have an impact. For instance, we have had to put some staff on short term hours.

“Restos always seem to be the first to shut and then the last to reopen.

“I am sure we can make this work and get through this massively difficult period,” added Alex, whose typical positive American “can do” attitude is sure to help his business cope with the current situation.

Alex has been at Rouge Tomate since 2009 when he joined as executive chef having come to the attention of Thierry at the New York version of Rouge Tomate. Thierry, a fourth generation Belgian/Moroccan – his grandfather first arrived in Belgium back in 1934 – started work at Rouge Tomate as a relatively humble head waiter.

He was trained at a business school in Brussels and helped to open the New York version in 2008 which is when he first encountered Alex, who is from California.

Alex was one of an astonishing 80 chefs who were working at what, at the time, was the biggest resto in Manhattan.

Impressed by Alex’s record there, Thierry gave him the chance to come to Brussels, an invite he readily accepted.

When Rouge Tomate because available, the pair purchased it and have been business partners ever since.

The intervening years have not been without their difficulties, including the terrible 2016 terrorist attacks that paralysed the horeca trade here.  Other challenges have included the tunnel closures on Avenue Louise that hit trade in the area generally.

But, as Alex says, none of this remotely compares to what the horeca trade is suffering right now.

He added: “I just hope and pray we can come out the other side of this nightmare.”

Meanwhile, Belgian consumer group Test Achats has publishing the results of its 9th 'COVID' survey, the objective of which this time was to find out the opinions and perceptions of Belgians about vaccination.

The survey was conducted from 15 to 20 January 2021 on a representative sample of more than 1,000 Belgians.

The results show that the population is still too distrustful of vaccination, in particular among people who do not consider themselves sufficiently informed: in fact, only 4 out of 10 Belgians say they are ready to be vaccinated immediately.

The need for information and transparency about possible side effects and negotiations for the purchase of vaccines appear to be key elements in increasing the confidence of Belgians in vaccination.Test Achats therefore calls on the authorities to be transparent and to go even further in their efforts to better inform the public.

The main reservations expressed for all those not wishing to be vaccinated as soon as possible are fear of side effects (61%), does not belong to a group risqué e (28%) and lack of confidence in the process of development and approval are vaccines (31%).More than 4 out of 10 respondents believe, for example, that the process was too fast to guarantee the safety of citizens. The lack of transparency about negotiations for the purchase of vaccines (price, liability, etc.) is also pinpointed - ess than 1 in 4 Belgians believe that the government has been transparent in this matter.

“The results of our survey only confirm that we have said for months: transparency in discussions and agreements with the pharmaceutical industry is an essential element  to win public confidence about vaccination. We hope that our authorities will hear the message,” said Julie Frère, spokesperson for Test Achats.

One year after the start of the pandemic, Test Achat also reports an “immense” impact it has had on the population.

Some 84% of Belgians have been affected in one way or another. More than one in three Belgians has a loved one who has been infected with the virus, and nearly one in 10 Belgians has a loved one who has died. In addition, almost one in three Belgians say that the pandemic has had a significant impact on their mental health, and 14% have seen their economic situation deteriorate due to the crisis.

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Commission approves €200 million Belgian scheme to support companies in Flanders affected by coronavirus outbreak

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The European Commission has approved a €200 million Belgian scheme to support companies active in the Flemish Region affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the State aid Temporary Framework. The support will take the form of direct grants. The scheme will be open to companies active in all sectors. To be eligible companies must either (i) have suffered a turnover decline, excluding VAT, of at least 60% in the months of January and/or February 2021, compared to the same reference period in 2020; or (ii) be active in the food and drink sectors that were not allowed to operate in January and/or February 2021 as a result of the restrictive measures put in place to limit the spread of the virus, unless their activity was already mainly devoted to take-away; or (iii) be active in eligible sectors listed, e.g. cinemas, fitness centres, wellness centres, indoor playgrounds, in the measure that they were not allowed to operate in January and/or February 2021 as a result of the restrictive measures.

The Commission found that the Belgian scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, (i) the support will not exceed €225 000 per company active in the primary production of agriculture products, €270 000 per company active in the fishery and aquaculture sector, and €1 800 000 per company active in other sectors; and (ii) the aid will be granted before 31 December 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. On this basis, Commission approved the measure under EU State aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.60524 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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