Sustainable Policies


Economic Policies

Hampered by indebtedness and structural weaknesses, Belgium falls into the middle ranks internationally in terms of economic policies (rank 21). Its score in this area has decreased by 0.1 point since 2014.

After a period of debt reduction, the country’s public debt swelled to nearly 113% of GDP during the COVID-19 era. Previous successes in debt management render this comparatively sustainable. However, the pandemic and floods in 2021 have weakened the financial position of the subnational federated entities.

Growth rates were consistently low before the pandemic, though unemployment rates were also low. Neocorporatist labor policies produce structural mismatches between the demand and supply of skills. Courts have ruled that gig workers are independent contractors. Labor income is highly taxed.

The NextGenerationEU program will pump nearly €6 billion into the country’s economy. Much of this will go to physical capital, but critics say the measures are not sufficiently targeted at enhancing economic dynamism. The pandemic cast a spotlight on the country’s strong pharmaceutical sector, as vaccines were produced here.

Social Policies

With some sustainability concerns, Belgium falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 18) in the area of social policies. Its score in this area has increased by 0.1 point since 2014.

Despite strong spending on education, performance at middle and higher levels trails that in comparable countries. A number of recent reforms have proved ill-designed, producing adverse effects. Child care is widely available, with some rationing for children under three.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed weaknesses within a generally strong and inclusive healthcare system, particularly with regard to a shortage of personnel and insufficient focus on prevention. Despite reforms raising the pension-availability age and limiting early retirement, the pension system remains financially fragile.

An increasingly strict migration policy has created strong political tensions, and prompted a hunger strike among refugees refused asylum. Even citizens whose parents or grandparents were immigrants suffer problems of social inclusion and educational performance.

Environmental Policies

Inefficient and fragmented strategies place Belgium in the lower-middle ranks internationally (rank 28) in terms of environmental policy. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

The political landscape has made it difficult to bring greenhouse gas emissions under control. The government recently upped its emissions-reduction ambitions, but a rift between regions on burden-sharing has delayed implementation. The country is not on track to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, and renewables account for a comparatively low share of energy consumption.

A plan to phase out nuclear power has been threatened by uncoordinated plans to build alternative electric power production facilities. Gasoline-powered cars will be banned in several cities including Brussels after 2030, creating strong demand for e-vehicles. Vehicle regulations have helped reduce particle emissions.

The country is an EU leader in the areas of waste collection and recycling, and has dynamic circular-economy policies. Green Party environmental and energy ministers have pushed national policies and international cooperation forward in recent years, but resistance has come from some regions.

Robust Democracy


Quality of Democracy

With a complex federal and linguistic environment, Belgium falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 16) with regard to its quality of democracy. Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to 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. While no referendum mechanism exists, regional citizen assemblies and other participatory models are becoming increasingly common.

The media are largely independent, but major print-press groups are suffering from financial difficulties. The pandemic prompted media to treat government statements more critically even on non-health issues. COVID-19 control measures included some suppression of individual liberties, but civil rights are in general well-protected. Discrimination against ethnic minorities and refugees can be a problem.

The coronavirus crisis led to frequent changes in legal rules. While the legal environment is normally far less chaotic, the devolution of responsibilities to regional governments has diminished service homogeneity. Outright corruption is uncommon, but some abuses of public office have recently occurred.

Good Governance


Executive Capacity

With a number of significant governance weaknesses, Belgium scores relatively poorly (rank 31) in terms of executive capacity. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.3 points since 2014.

Although the coalition government in power during the review period had little political coherence, a regularized meeting between coalition members generally helped coordinate policy creation and implementation. The prime minister’s office contains a policy-steering unit that evaluates and coordinates the most important proposals.

The COVID-19 crisis gave new weight to bodies bringing together representatives of federal, regional and community ministers. Expert advice has also gained influence. Communication during the pandemic was frequently contradictory, undermining public support for government decisions. The state’s handling of the pandemic featured repeated cycles of success and challenges.

Regulatory impact assessments are generally little more than formalities, but some regulators are taking them increasingly seriously. Ex post evaluation often actively seeks to justify policies. Consultation with outside stakeholders is common. The Wallonia region in particular suffers from chronic underfunding.

Executive Accountability

With strong structural legislative-oversight powers, Belgium falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 14) in the area of executive accountability. Its score in this area has declined by 0.4 points relative to 2014.

Parliament is powerful, with parties and individual members having access to significant resources. Special parliamentary commissions were established to investigate management of the COVID-19 crisis.

The audit and ombuds offices are independent and influential, and regions also maintain ombuds offices. A newly created data-protection authority has been deemed insufficiently independent.

The population has become increasingly active in demanding specific policies from the various government levels. A decline in the coherence of government information has made it more difficult for citizens to identify fake news. The main TV and radio news programs provide considerable high-level content.

Internal political party decisions are largely controlled by party elites. Trade unions and employers’ organizations are sophisticated and work closely with the government, with research expertise even outside their core fields. The largest noneconomic interest groups also influence policy, with some tied to individual political parties.
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