Belgium’s status performance remains steadfastly average (no change relative to SGI 2009).
The country’s small and open economy suffered immediate consequences of the global crisis. The main bank, Fortis, was among the first victims of the global liquidity dry-up in 2009. A major political crisis followed, and forced the prime minister to step down.
Belgium maintains middling performance in all policy categories. Social policies are generous, but the quality of democracy in the country is slipping as political tensions between the Flemish and Francophone populations flare.
The quality of Belgium’s democracy fell 3 positions relative to SGI 2009.
Electoral processes are largely fair. The large democratic parties have broadly equal access to the media, whereas minor and non-democratic parties face restrictions. Voting is compulsory.
Judiciary indepence is steadfastly maintained and the judiciary regularly challenges executive decisions. Civil and political rights are well protected, though political tensions between the Flemish (Dutch-speaking) and Walloon (French-speaking) populations sometimes strain the system.
Legal certainty is generally provided for throughout the country. But conflicts between different levels of government and varied interpretations of some laws and regulations can translate into spotty implementation.
Economic policy performance in Belgium is mediocre (rank 18).
A maze of bureacracy hampers entrepreneurial activity in Belgium. Nonetheless, low tax rates on corporate profits and non-labor income make the domestic market attractive. Individual taxes, while progressive are skewed toward labor income.
Unemployment rates are very high in some cities and regions, in particular the south. Labor market participation is compromised by excessive early retirement.
Budgetary policy is not efficient. With a public deficit of 6% in 2009, the debt-to-GDP ratio hit the 100% threshold and is rising.
Belgium performs reasonably well in terms of social policy (rank 13), despite a slight decline relative to the SGI 2009.
The health care system covers a very wide share of the population, offering inexpensive access to services. Though overall health care costs have been relatively well contained to date, population aging will put growing stress on quality and costs, increasing the need for reform.
Generous employment protections, unemployment benefits and social safety nets keep outright poverty to a minimum. The employment rate for women has been improving in recent years, in parallel with extensively subsidized childcare. However, upward social mobility, particularly for immigrants, remains comparatively low.
Belgium is the host country for NATO headquarters, SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Europe) and several EU institutions. The large number of international organizations and larger-than-average diplomatic posts in Belgium account for the high degree of security protection provided in the country. Nonetheless, several cases of terrorism and a growing number of Jihad cells have been reported.
Belgium is largely seen as a hub for synthetic drugs. Relative social stability has generally protected the country against public violence like that witnessed in France. However, there have been reports of ethnic riots in Anderlecht, a poor neighborhood in western Brussels.
Belgium ranks 15th in the SGI’s resources category.
Car traffic and pollution remains a major problem due to poor management of public transportation and the country’s role as a European transit hub. Electricity production largely hinges on nuclear energy.
Financial support for universities is insufficient. Government budget appropriations for R&D have remained essentially stagnant since the beginning of the 2000s.
Primary and secondary schools are compulsory and free (or cheap) to all. However, Belgium is the second most segregated European country in terms of schooling. This may be explained in part by students’ early separation into different education tracks.