National Reform Programme 2020
This National Reform Programme (NRP) sets out the structural measures taken by the Belgian governments over the last twelve months. Their purpose – prompted in part by the rapid spread of COVID-19 – is threefold:
- respond to the country-specific recommendations that Belgium received from the European Council in July 2019, except for the recommendation relating to the budget and the public debt, which is dealt with in the Stability Programme of 2020. Specifically, the aim is to (1) strengthen the budgetary coordination among all government levels, improve the composition and efficiency of public spending, ensure the sustainability of the long-term care and pension systems, and create room for public investment, (2) remove disincentives to work and strengthen the effectiveness of active labour market policies, in particular for the most disadvantaged groups, improve the performance and inclusiveness of the education system, and address skills mismatches, (3) focus investments on sustainable transport, the low carbon and energy transition, research and innovation, and tackle the mobility challenges, and (4) promote entrepreneurship and competition in services by administrative simplification;
- meet the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy in the fields of work, R&D and innovation, education and training, energy and climate, and social inclusion;
- give an overview of the most important measures taken to absorb the economic downturn that has resulted from the spread of COVID-19.
The most recent figures (2018/2019) on the Europe 2020 progress indicators paint a fairly encouraging picture. Since the financial crisis of 2008, the employment rate in the 20-64 age group has remained below the established path towards its objective, but it is rising yet. The employment rate of women is moving in the desired direction. The employment rate of older workers reached the objective for 2020 (50 %). By contrast, the employment rate gap between non-EU citizens and Belgians and the percentage of young people neither in employment nor in education or training have hardly changed in the past few years. The share of people in their early 30s with a higher education and percentage of early school leavers have reached their 2020 objectives. Both objectives are more ambitious than those for their EU averages. As regards R&D intensity, Belgium is on track to meet its target. The same basically holds for the share of renewables, although progress has been stalled. Since 2012, there has been no substantial progess towards the objectives of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, primary energy consumption and the risk of poverty and social exclusion.
Federal and regional parliamentary elections were held in Belgium in 2019. In the Communities and Regions, new governments took office in the course of the year. In March 2020, the federal minority government received support from other parties and special powers to be able to adequately deal with the consequences of the spread of COVID-19. The governments of the Communities and Regions are also taking measures to combat the socio-economic consequences. The most important of these measures are set out in a separate annex.
The absence of a fully-fledged federal government does not prevent structural reform measures from being taken in Belgium. These measures respond directly to the country-specific recommandations and the pursuit of the Europe 2020 objectives. A number of action plans and policies initiated in recent years are still in place, such as the tax shift, the reduction in corporate tax, and the Jobsdeal. At the regional level as well – where, as mentioned, new governments have taken office – programmes launched during the previous government period are being continued and evaluated, and new measures have been taken. In interaction between the federal level and the Regions, the National Pact for Strategic Investments (NPSI) is being executed. This plan focuses in particular on mobility, energy, innovation and digitisation.