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The Flemish Government Agreement and its Main Objectives to Make the Region More Competitive

by David Gaier, Public Affairs Officer, AmCham Belgium

After Brussels and Wallonia, Flemish negotiators presented their Government Agreement on September 30, 2019. Today’s article will focus on Flanders: what key measures are being considered to improve the region’s competitiveness?

After long negotiations, a new government led by Minister-President Jan Jambon took the oath of office in the Flemish Parliament on October 2. The coalition of three parties is similar to the one which ran Flanders between 2009 and 2014: Open VLD (liberal), CD&V (Christian-democratic) and N-VA (Flemish nationalist).

The government intends to make Flanders one of the most prosperous regions in Europe. Thanks to strategic investments that are foreseen, Flanders should reach an employment rate of 80% by 2024, creating 120,000 jobs in the process.

Today, we compare the main measures featured in the Flemish Government Agreement with the recommendations set out in AmCham Belgium’s 2019 Priorities for a Prosperous Belgium (#PPB19).

LABOR MARKET – INVEST IN PEOPLE

As tomorrow’s jobs will require a highly-skilled workforce, fit for the digital economy, it is no surprise that the Flemish Government wants to promote dual-learning, which combines learning with working. Its scope will be broadened, and legislative changes should create more dual-learning opportunities for higher education students as well. “Dual-teaching” (teachers and professors giving classes and working in a company) will be developed to create more synergies between the business world and the education sector. A new 10-year STEM action plan will also be launched. School training programs will reflect the needs of the job market, with a strong focus on digital and transversal skills.

Furthermore, to encourage lifelong learning, skills will be certified, and a digital platform will give Flemish people a better overview of available career and training opportunities. The unemployed will be given vouchers to follow relevant trainings as well. Companies will be encouraged to have more flexible working hours or homeworking possibilities.

The Agreement announces that Flanders will fully implement the Single Permit Directive to attract highly-qualified people in key sectors. Administrative processes will be shortened, and a digital platform will be quickly set up to enable the authorities to collect and exchange data and documents. Other policies to attract talent from outside of Belgium will be put in place, and the recognition of foreign diplomas will be improved to ensure that non-Belgians can start a new job  faster.

COUNTRY GOVERNANCE – INVEST IN PUBLIC SECTOR EFFICIENCY

VLAIO, the Flemish Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, will be the single point of contact for companies for all digital processes. A smaller and more digitally-savvy administration will increase transparency and simplify administrative processes for citizens and companies alike.

The government will give financial incentives to municipalities to encourage them to merge, for instance by taking over some of their debts. It is worth noting that, for important investments, the government will also do everything in its power to simplify and speed up the processes for obtaining permits.

MOBILITY – INVEST IN INFRASTRUCTURE

Mobility is high on the agenda of the Flemish Government. This is why it will double its investments in bike infrastructure (from €150 million in 2019 to €300 million), and public transport should receive more funding as well. To encourage multimodality, passengers will be given the opportunity to travel with a single ticket in De Lijn’s fifteen transport zones.

To help companies move their goods, the authorities plan to invest in waterways, and the kilometer tax for trucks could be adapted depending on the time (e.g. a lower price outside of rush hours). The government will keep investing in road infrastructure and use technology to develop smarter infrastructure. The development of a 5G network throughout Flanders will also be a top priority.

TAXATION – INVEST IN BUSINESS

Starting in 2021, a new job bonus will reward those who work. For a full-time worker who earns €1,700 maximum per month, the bonus will amount to an additional €600 per year.

The Government Agreement mentions that Flanders will refrain from any gold plating in the implementation of EU directives, in order to create a favorable business environment. The new coalition wants to regularly engage with the private sector to eliminate administrative burdens or unnecessary legislation. For instance, an industrial forum will take place every six months, so that the Minister-President and relevant Ministers can reflect on industrial policy with some sectorial organizations.

Furthermore, as from 2020, the government will continue to exempt companies from the real-estate tax when they invest in new machinery and equipment. While AmCham Belgium salutes this initiative, we nonetheless regret that the measure aiming to reduce the taxation on older machinery and equipment has not been prolonged and hope the new government is open for further consultation on this topic.

HEALTHCARE – INVEST IN HEALTH

With the current division of competences, the regional authorities have a crucial role to play to improve the health of the population. In Flanders, the government will push for more digitalization, expanding Vitalink (Flanders’ digital platform for sharing health data) with E-health capabilities.

Prevention and early detection will be important priorities over the next five years as well, and the hospital network reform will continue to be implemented. Bilateral agreements with the federal authorities could also be considered to improve Flemish healthcare policy.

The Flanders Care action plan will include more cooperation between the healthcare sector and industry, which should foster the sharing and use of data or artificial intelligence (AI) and the development of innovative treatments.

Members of the Flemish Government:

  • Jan Jambon (N-VA): Minister-President of the Flemish Government and Flemish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Culture, ICT en Facilities Management.
  • Hilde Crevits (CD&V): Deputy Minister-President of the Flemish Government and Flemish Minister of Economy, Innovation, Work, Social Economy and Agriculture.
  • Bart Somers (Open VLD): Deputy Minister-President of the Flemish Government and Flemish Minister of Domestic Administration, Administrative Matters, Integration and Fair Chances.
  • Ben Weyts (N-VA): Deputy Minister-President of the Flemish Government and Flemish Minister of Education, Sport, Animal Welfare and the Flemish Periphery.
  • Zuhal Demir (N-VA): Flemish Minister of Justice and Enforcement, Environment, Energy and Tourism.
  • Wouter Beke (CD&V): Flemish Minister of Welfare, Health, Family and Fight against Poverty.
  • Matthias Diependaele (N-VA): Flemish Minister of Finance and Budget, Housing and Immaterial Heritage.
  • Lydia Peeters (Open VLD): Flemish Minister of Mobility and Public Works.
  • Benjamin Dalle (CD&V): Flemish Minister of Brussels, the Youth and Media.

AmCham Belgium looks forward to working with the new Flemish Government to make Flanders more attractive for foreign companies and investors and to create more prosperity for all in the region!

About the author

Tom Declercq

David Gaier, Public Affairs Officer, Amcham Belgium

Always willing to network, David designs the Chamber’s outreach strategy, building bridges between AmCham Belgium and political stakeholders. Contact him at: dgaier@xp69.cn.