Policy Performance


Economic Policies

Showing high debt levels and difficulty in shaking off the effects of crisis, Belgium falls into the middle ranks internationally in terms of economic policies (rank 20). Its score in this area has fallen by 0.3 points since 2014.

Productivity growth has slowed, and unemployment rates have continued to rise. Fragmented national-regional powers have led to often incoherent economic policies.

A tax reform has failed to broaden the tax base sufficiently and has created uncertainty regarding future receipts. Pension and social-security reforms have been controversial, but may help address looming unfunded future expenditures.

While public debt levels remain very high, budget deficits have fallen to a sustainable level. However, constrained public spending on education and active labor-market measures has slowed labor-market adjustment. R&D performance is improving, but the country remains technologically behind EU peers.

Social Policies

With sustainability concerns and an influx of migrants stressing an otherwise strong safety net, Belgium falls into the middle ranks (rank 20) in the area of social policies. Its score in this area has declined 0.2 points since 2014.

Educational outcomes are good on average, though inclusiveness and labor-market integration remain concerns. Significant transfers helped mute inequality during the crisis. Labor-market reforms have made access to unemployment benefits more difficult.

The recent influx of refugees has undermined attempts to tighten immigration policy. Past integration failures have led to alienation and high unemployment rates among migrants, as well as increasing opposition to immigration. Long-delayed pension reforms will raise the pension-eligibility age over time, but may also increase poverty rates among the elderly.

Cost-cutting has threatened sustainability in the generally good-quality public health system. Many health care functions have been devolved to the regions. Child care is essentially free after the age of three.

Environmental Policies

Inefficient and fragmented strategies place Belgium in the lower-middle ranks internationally (rank 26) in terms of environmental policy. Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to 2014.

Overall CO2 emissions have fallen in recent years, but this is largely due to the economic downturn. Climate policy is split between regional and national governments, and is not well coordinated. Poor public-transportation management has left vehicular traffic at a high level, exacerbating carbon emissions.

Energy has largely been produced through nuclear power, but the recent failure of several plants may imply a drop in this share in the future. Efforts to boost solar and wind power have been plagued by huge cost overruns.

The country has not played a significant role in developing international environmental regimes.



Quality of Democracy

With its complex federal and linguistic conditions, Belgium receives middling scores overall (rank 20) for its quality of democracy. Its score on this measure is unchanged since 2014.

Voting is compulsory, and all citizens are automatically registered. Minority-language voters sometimes have trouble obtaining voting documents in their native language. Political parties are for the most part publicly funded. No referendum mechanism exists.

The media are largely independent, though some organizations have links to political parties. Civil rights and political liberties are generally well protected, while courts are independent but underfunded, resulting in long delay. Discrimination against ethnic minorities is a problem. The country has been a leader on-sex marriage rights.

Legal certainty is undermined by overlap in federal and regional powers. High-profile corruption cases have sparked reform efforts that seem to have made a successful impact.



Executive Capacity

With several significant governance weaknesses, Belgium scores relatively poorly (rank 31) in terms of executive capacity. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.1 point since 2014.

The prime minister’s office contains a policy-steering unit that evaluates and coordinates the most important proposals. Despite broad coalition governments, ministers must approve policies collegially. Ministers tend to adhere to government policy, but the current coalition’s composition has made it more difficult to coordinate with regions, and has led to some public internal dissent.

No formal regulatory impact assessment mechanism exists. Policymaking typically involves consultation with outside stakeholders, although the current coalition has partially broken with this tradition. Self-monitoring and institutional reform are weak spots.

A considerable amount of responsibility has been devolved to the regions, but funding has not in all cases followed suit.

Executive Accountability

With strong legislative-oversight powers, Belgium receives a good overall score (rank 7) in the area of executive accountability. Its score in this area has improved by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

Parliament is powerful, with parties and individual members having access to significant resources. Parliamentary polarization has increased in recent elections, but this may improve accountability. The audit and ombuds offices are independent and influential.

Controversial government policies have increased the attention paid by Belgian citizens to politics. Broadcast media produce increasingly superficial news, with coverage fragmented by linguistic region.

Political parties offer a modicum of internal democracy. Trade unions and employers’ organizations are sophisticated and work closely with the government. The largest noneconomic interest groups also influence policy, with some tied to individual political parties.
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