LISBON STRATEGY National Reform Programme Belgium More growth, more jobs... Progress report 2006

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1 LISBON STRATEGY National Reform Programme Belgium More growth, more jobs... Progress report 2006

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3 Table of contents Introduction 1 1. Belgium at the present time 1 2. Six lines of action for boosting growth and employment 3 1. Macro-economic stability Budget policy A balanced budget for Projected short to medium-term budget trend Controlling health care spending Budget policy and the ageing population The Generation Pact Boosting business competitiveness Cutting indirect labour costs A suitable wage policy: a concern shared by the social partners The fiscal environment for businesses Promoting productive economic growth An innovative economy Promoting R&D Strengthening human resources in R&D Dissemination and use of ICT New business creation: encouraging entrepreneurship and bolstering industrial competitiveness Improving the workings of the market Investments Infrastructure Investments in businesses Encouraging a sustainable use of resources and enhancing synergies between growth and environmental protection 37

4 Encouraging energy efficiency and environmentally friendly energy An efficient use of materials Preservation of biodiversity Towards good jobs for all, young and old A broader labour market Transition from school to work made smoother First steps on the path towards a higher retirement age and another view of reforms Employment services in control Improved monitoring of the unemployed A more flexible labour market Entrepreneurship encouraged Working together to tackle sticking points and promote inter-regional mobility Labour market becomes more accessible, making society more inclusive Work continues on a balanced labour market Opportunities for less-favoured groups Cheaper for the employer, more attractive for the worker More jobs in neighbourhood and local ('proximity') services More equal opportunities in education and recognition of skills for everyone who pursues lifelong learning Equal opportunities in education Training and recognition of acquired skills Priority spheres of action Investing more in knowledge and innovation Exploiting the potential of businesses, notably that of small and medium-sized enterprises The need for a simple and effective administrative framework 57

5 Need for financing Need for suitable staff Impact Increasing employment possibilities for the priority categories An energy policy for Europe Increasing the security of supply Guaranteeing the competitiveness of the European economy by providing energy at reasonable prices in a stable regulatory framework Reducing the impact of energy consumption on the environment Contribution of European Structural Funds to the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy in Belgium The Federal State Brussels-Capital Region Walloon Region, the French-speaking Community and the French-speaking Community Commission Flanders 73

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7 Introduction 1. Belgium at the present time The overall strategy Belgium has adopted for achieving the Lisbon goals is focused on ushering in long-term economic growth against the background of a stable macroeconomic context. The strategy involves the consolidation of the economy in general, and more and better jobs, better social cohesion and a healthy environment, in particular. Towards this end the focus of investment in is primarily on "creating incentives for growth and employment". As a result of ongoing consultations and cooperation between the federal government, the regions and the communities, the various economic and labour market policy measures have been streamlined within the context of a well-balanced policy for the entire country. The achievements of this policy are obviously heading in the right direction. The Belgian economy is highly sensitive to economic market trends and export-driven. In spite of the struggles the economies of the main exporting partners have had to contend with, the level of economic growth was equal to 1.5% of GDP in 2005, thereby exceeding the Euro zone average for the third year in a row. According to the latest forecasts from the National Bank of Belgium, this situation should be repeated in 2006, thanks to an the anticipated rate growth of 2.7%. Belgium's level of economic growth is chiefly underpinned by private consumption. Consumer confidence has been restored as a result of a consistent surplus-oriented budgetary balance, a policy focused on creating and developing activities, a reform of individual income tax combined with goal-oriented lower costs, a consolidation of the social security system, greater purchasing power and poverty alleviation in the context of a stronger level of social cohesion. In this respect, the negative purchasing power trend, which showed a further decline equal to 0.2%, in 2004 went into reverse with a 1% increase in real available income in 2005 and 1.8% in The forecasts point to a 2.3% rise in purchasing power in 2007, a level that could have been higher but is subdued by the surge in oil prices. 1

8 All in all, more jobs have been created than anticipated in spite of the measured rate of growth. A further 67,000 jobs were created in 2004, while the figure for 2005 was 86,000. Meanwhile the National Accounts Institute is banking on 41,000 new jobs being created in The overall rate of employment was up 61.1%, in 2005, 0.8 percent points higher than in The female labour market participation rate rose by 1.2 percent points to reach 53.8%, while the rate for the older working population was up 1.8 percent points to 31.8%. The employment rate continues to be lower than the European average but there is reported to be a faster percentage of increase. The change in the situation is primarily reflected in a sharp rise in the employment rate in the age category. This is chiefly attributed to the requirement for older unemployed people to be available for work longer. This situation, together with an increase in the size of the working population, has nonetheless created several side-effects, such as a mild increase in the rate of unemployment to reach 8.6% in 2006, although this is expected to fall again in The Belgian authorities are pressing on with their efforts to reduce labour costs (individual income tax and social security charges), which are set to fall by 1.45 percent points in 2007 compared with Belgium's long-term policy has always been focused on measures that have an impact on the economic, social and environmental spheres. The emphasis in the national reform programme is on macroeconomic policy, reforms in the context of an innovative economy and the labour market as a whole, but the strategic report on social protection and inclusion considers the key aims and challenges in the case of social inclusion, pensions, healthcare and long-term care (1). Consequently, both reports should be read in conjunction. Society's confidence is also dependent on the circumstances faced by its more vulnerable members. The government has taken a good deal of action in this respect, particularly for low-income or low-benefit recipients. A series of benefit uprating decisions have been agreed upon. The Solidarity between generations pact features further social adjustment measures, particularly for pensions, disability, child disability allowances, The Solidarity between generations pact includes a statutory mechanism link- 1. Strategic report on social protection and social inclusion (http://socialsecurity.fgov.be/fr/nieuws_publicaties/publicaties/strat_lissabon.htm). 2

9 ing the trend in social benefits to prosperity, with a formal mechanism being created for the purpose of funding this connection. The integration allowance has also been increased. These decisions are of vital importance for the purchasing power of those living at or below the poverty line. Various measures have also been taken to guarantee the accessibility and affordability of healthcare, such as an improvement to the Maximum Bill system (medical costs on a yearly basis are limited to a certain amount per family according to their income), including minor risks in the self-employed persons scheme and the abolition of certain extra fees. The key instrument for boosting purchasing power continues to be earned income, hence the take-home pay for low-wage-earners has been directly improved via the work bonus so as to boost the spendable earnings of the low paid and combat the unemployment traps. Mention should also be made of the reduced individual income tax being fully applied in 2006 and the lower wage tax enforced from 1 December onwards. Lastly, the contribution made by both sides of business also has to be taken into account. Representatives of employers and employees have played and are still playing a key role in the process for developing the Solidarity between generations pact. They are still being counted on in the context of the Intersectoral Agreement to help keep down wage rises and boost training so as to make a contribution to the job-creation process in Belgium. In this way, they can offer significant value-adding benefits for the policy being conducted by the various authorities to increase employment and economic growth. 2. Six lines of action for boosting growth and employment The key priorities featured in the Belgian policy are in keeping with this overall strategy, while reflecting the recommendations made to each country individually. In the case of Belgium, this involves the sustainability of public finances, an increase in the rate of employment, action to tackle long-term structural unemployment and the interregional mobility of workers, plus a fillip to the competitiveness of the services sector. 3

10 Individually designed to maintain and even improve prosperity and social protection, these priorities represent the unifying theme of the actions featured in the three-part national reform programme. The March 2006 European Council identified four or so priority fields of action: investing more in knowledge and innovation, unlocking business potential, particularly in the case of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), better employment opportunities for priority categories and a European energy policy. This progress report includes a separate chapter on these issues. The policy came into being thanks to effective cooperation with the legislative authorities and the representatives of employers and employees (2). The creation of a website (www.be2010.eu) exclusively focused on the Lisbon strategy is also designed to offer the general public better information about the Belgian follow-up process. Line of action 1: balanced budget Aim: - debt ratio under 60% in budget surplus increased to at least 1.0% in 2010 For eight years in a row now, Belgium has been able pride itself on presenting a deficit-free budget. One of Belgium's problem areas, the size of the government debt, has continued to dwindle year after year. Representing 137.1% of GDP in 1993, the debt was brought down to 87.7% in 2006 and will be further reduced to 83.9% in The government is determined to press on with this policy in the coming years. The Belgian stability programme ( ) specifies that the surplus of all the public authorities should be switched from a balance in 2006 to a surplus in Expenditure management in the healthcare sector is vital for continuing to guarantee a financial balance for social security. The government policy agreement proposes the real maximum rate of increase in government spending on healthcare should be 4.5% until the end of the legislature. 2. Advisory Opinion delivered by the Federal Council for Sustainable Development (www.frdo-cfdd.be) and the joint advisory opinion issued by the National Labour Council (www.cnt-nar.be) and the Central Economic Council (www.ccecrb.fgov.be). 4

11 Structural measures have succeeded in making a significant change to the trend in expenditure, which showed a nominal increase of only 2.85% (3) in The policy priorities were reconfirmed in 2006 with the 4.5% growth standard being maintained. Line of action 2: lower costs, particularly labour costs Aim: - easing the fiscal and parafiscal pressure on labour by 2.2% of GDP between 2005 and 2010 (4.2% of labour costs) This sound budget policy goes hand in hand with a relentlessly targeted reduction in costs. The corporate tax has been cut: the basic rate of company taxation has been lowered from 40 to 33.99%, while the 'notional' interest rate was introduced in Belgium on 1 January 2006 to create a greater degree of tax neutrality between funding from equity and from loans. In some cases, the launch of this system boils down to an implicit reduction in the company taxation rate from 26 to 28%. In addition to the reform of the individual income tax scheme, a process that got into its stride in 2006, new measures involving selective reductions in social security contributions and tax liabilities have been introduced. Hence labour costs have decreased for both employers and employees. These provisions have been catered for in the 2006 budget or the Solidarity between generations pact. Under this heading, special attention has been paid to certain target groups, such as low-skilled young people or older workers The process for creating high-skilled jobs in leading-edge sectors is underpinned by extending the partial wage tax exemption system for researchers to new categories of employees (4). The budgetary impact of this measure is put at 10 million euros in The partial wage tax exemption level for bonuses associated with shift and night work has been increased from 2.5 to 5.63% in The cost of this measure is put at 124 million euros. 3. Increase in RIZIV/ INAMI (National Institute for Sickness and Disability Insurance) and health expenditure for all the authorities, according to the national accounts. 4. A detailed analysis of this measure is featured in chapter two (see point ). 5

12 A further cut in social security contributions has been awarded to young people aged between 19 and 29 in the low-income category. Designed to increase their preparedness for the labour market, a programme of incompany placements for young people is being promoted via a tax incentive initiative. Companies are entitled to deduct up to 120% of the wage paid to the young employees by way of professional expenses. This incentive is bolstered by a social scheme: the young people may qualify for starting bonuses and companies may enjoy a tutoring bonus. The employment bonus, involving a graduated reduction in personal social security contributions, is being extended again in 2006: the size of the reduction has been increased and the wage ceiling below which the bonus is granted is raised so as to prevent any employment traps The overall fiscal and parafiscal pressure will be eased by 0.87 percent points in 2007 compared with Labour costs (individual income tax and social security costs) are set to be cut by 1.45 percent points. The budget for reducing social security contribution costs has been increased from 2 billion euros in 1999 to 3.5 billion euros in 2001, 5.4 billion euros in In 2007 a slightly higher amount is to be expected. The lower labour cost scheme is not being implemented to the detriment of the social security system. On the contrary, the aim is to safeguard the financial balance of the social security system, hence the labour cost reductions will be offset to some extent by the creation of extra jobs and a further shift to other incomes without adversely affecting the competitive edge of the Belgian economy. The two lines of action combined have pushed consumer confidence to high levels, thereby maintaining a reasonable rate of growth in the Belgian economy. Line of action 3: reforming and revitalising the labour market Aim: - having the older worker labour market participation rate increasing faster than the average (EU15) by 2010 compared with an employment rate verging on 70% 6

13 The Belgian labour market obviously needs reforming. The unifying theme for the reforms takes the form of increasing the employment rate, while ensuring those threatening to leave do not give up their jobs. A series of incentive measures have been taken in recent years towards this end. For example, on 1 July 2004 an enhanced follow-up and guidance system was started for jobseekers in the age group. The system came into force for the age category on 1 July 2005 and for the age category on 1 July The system has apparently now led to a higher number of people losing their unemployed status to start jobs or undertake training. It should be pointed out that the aim has been achieved since 2004 with an annual increase in the older worker labour market participation rate of 10% compared with 4% for the EU15. The implementation of the Solidarity between generations pact is of key importance. Measures have been taken for young people so as to help speed up the classroom-to-workplace transition as a result of encouraging employers to recruit school-leavers, even those who are less qualified. Young people themselves are also encouraged to complete the training and courses they have started. All the regions are making efforts to bring about an explosive level of growth in alternating training. Young people are urged to join the labour market earlier, while older employees are encouraged to continue working for a longer time. Employers are offered financial incentives to retain their older employees and recruit older jobseekers, with the government taking responsibility for the supervision. The approach adopted towards the restructuring processes has also been altered by encouraging all the stakeholders to invest in replacement activities such as outplacement, even though the emphasis used to be more on the passive provision of various types of dismissal pay and early retirement pensions. The recent measures should enable Belgium to reach the average employment rate in Europe, while achieving the anticipated level of growth in employment for the over-55s. Training is of crucial importance in job creation, so the focus will be on universal access to a high standard of education. Both employees and employers will be offered financial support for their training activities. The 7

14 training opportunities will be coordinated more effectively. The training undertaken will be rounded off by a recognition of the prior learning. The regional employment agencies have developed a broad-based mutual job vacancy exchange system, while an action plan is helping jobseekers in Brussels to find employment on the city's periphery, so as to facilitate the geographical mobility of jobseekers and those already in employment. Line of action 4: investing to boost the economy Aim: - 3% GDP investment in R&D by continuing reform of the network industries and sharpening the competitive edge of public sector companies The policy on research and development and economic competitiveness is one of the key priorities of the federal and regional governments. The policy covers a wide variety of issues, ranging from the removal of barriers between industrial sites to enhancing marking activities. Only a few examples will be cited here. The process for implementing the economic and innovation strands of the government policy agreements concluded by the regions and the federal government are considered in chapter 2. Belgium is seeking to step up its R&D spending (5) to achieve 3% as a percentage of GDP by This aim has been espoused by the federal government along with the three regions, the authorities primarily responsible for science and innovation policy-making. Government spending on R&D is set to rise by 8% in 2006, which is much higher than the increase in GDP. This means a further increase in government spending on R&D as a percentage of GDP. A series of measures is being relied on to promote entrepreneurship and industry's competitive position. The 'Round table on modernising the economic regulatory environment' has got off to a start. The activities of the Cross-reference Database for Enterprises have been extended and accelerated. Outdated laws and a whole set of legal provisions creating too much 5. In 2003, the last year for which official figures are available, R&D expenditure in Belgian equalled 1.89% of GDP. 8

15 red tape have been phased out, while the establishment of businesses Act has been streamlined. Both the federal authorities (via the "Centre of Competence for Financing SMEs") and the regions (via various funding systems) have made it easier to secure financial resources. The level of support for innovation and economic growth has also been boosted thanks to more effective competition legislation, which proposes, in particular, more efficient and more harmonised competition agencies represented a milestone in the process for liberalising the electricity and gas sectors, with the arrival of new suppliers on the Belgian market also marked a turning point for the rail sector: this was the year in which the cross-border rail transport system was liberalised. The requirements for being able to enter the postal services sector were relaxed on 1 January The application of the telecommunication and energy directives is having a welcome impact, such as bringing down prices. This is being helped along by the monopoly held by historic operators being broken for the benefit of new entrants. Still in 2006 and from the same point of view, an analysis has been made of the competitive dimension of the fixed and mobile telephone systems The economic and innovative components of the various policy agreements concluded by the regional and federal authorities have been carefully implemented. Line of action 5: consolidating social security Aim: - earmarking 0.057% of GDP every year for adjustments for prosperity in the case of pensions and other benefits - striking a balance in the social security system and waging a multidimensional struggle against poverty The stringent budgetary approach adopted by the government allows adjustments for prosperity to be made. The link with the prosperity threshold for pensions and other social benefits provides a means of guaranteeing the maintenance of the population's purchasing power and standard of living, thereby enhancing consumer confidence. The integration allowance and the guaranteed income for the elderly will also be adjusted, as this is 9

16 vital for combating poverty. The formal prosperity adjustment mechanism will also be provided for after Representatives of employers and employees issued a unanimous advisory opinion in September 2006 about the system for aligning benefits with prosperity trends in the coming years, which is primarily designed to avoid further employment traps. A new formal healthcare funding system will also be ushered in, involving a process for making the health insurance partners more accountable. Apart from the Ageing Fund (Zilverfonds), this is a key instrument for meeting present and future ageing-related challenges. In the case of the self-employed, the federal government has increased the level of the pension, the disability allowance and the cover for minor risks in the healthcare system. It is also committed to creating a new statutory capitalisation pillar. Line of action 6: improving the complementary relationship between growth and environmental protection Aim: - achieving the Kyoto Protocol emissions targets: reducing CO 2 emissions by 7.5% for the period compared with improving energy efficiency by 1% a year The Kyoto Protocol commitments represent the unifying theme of the environmental and climate policy. Seeking to achieve a higher level of energy efficiency should result not only environmental benefits but also in savings for consumers and the business community, with due regard to the competitiveness of the corporate sector and the need to create new markets and jobs. The federal and regional policies both focus more on improving the energy efficiency of buildings in both the corporate and public sectors. Regional building energy efficiency regulations were introduced in The properties of private persons are covered by a tax allowance system for energysaving measures, along with regional instruments for rational energy use. A third party investor system is applied to public buildings. An 'overall energy costs reduction fund' was launched in 2006, maintained by a significant level of starting capital and designed to underpin energy-saving measures for the most needy as a result of granting cheap loans. 10

17 Measures have also been taken for companies: in addition to the sectoral agreements that have been concluded, they have been awarded emission rights, chiefly under the European emission trading system. Companies can also qualify for investment deductions and investment support adjustments. Various instruments are being deployed to boost the environmental and energy performances of the transport sector. The fiscal and parafiscal system for company cars is tailored to their environmental and energy performances. Low CO 2 emission vehicles can also enjoy tax reductions. Information instruments, such as a CO 2 guide, are also used. A regulatory framework was created in 2006 for biofuels, plus a system of tax reductions. The quotas are set to be awarded in the autumn of 2006, while biofuels will already be on the market by the end of the year. Other transport systems, not least the public transport network, will be promoted by offering financial incentives for people using public transport for home-towork travel. Renewable environmentally-friendly energy is being promoted by various means such as the development of a certification system, windmill parks and solar energy. Finally, the various authorities will be relying on the sustainable application of the flexibility mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol in order to achieve the targets in keeping with the agreements made. 11

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19 1. Macro-economic stability GD Introduction The National Reform Programme sets out the two main challenges facing the Belgian authorities in terms of their macro-economic policy. On the one hand, they must pursue their sound budget policy. They must gradually try to build up budget surpluses to prepare for the demographic consequences of an ageing population. However, they must also continue their efforts to reduce the fiscal and parafiscal burden in order to promote employment, and at the same time free up new resources for their key budget priorities. In particular, they must structurally guarantee the preservation of a high-quality social security system. The issue of population ageing is receiving special attention from the Belgian authorities, which have developed a comprehensive strategy to tackle the problem. Budget policy is a key part of this strategy, but measures to boost participation in the labour market and raise the employment rate, particularly among older people, also have an important role to play. Secondly, steps must be taken to safeguard the competitiveness, particularly cost competitiveness, of businesses in order to promote investment, employment and training. This means continuing to pursue an adapted wage policy and reducing the fiscal and parafiscal burden on labour, but also, in general terms, improving the fiscal and regulatory environment for businesses Budget policy A balanced budget for In 2005, the Belgian authorities set themselves the target of balancing the overall government budget. A deficit-free budget was achieved for the sixth year in a row, despite the rather unfavourable economic situation in Indeed, the final budget even displayed a slight surplus, with overall government financing equalling 0.1% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). 13

20 Thanks to its strict budget policy, Belgium is one of the four Member States in the euro area with a budget balance or surplus. The 2005 budget was drawn up based on an estimated growth in GDP of 2.5% for This estimation was revised downwards to 2.2% at the time of the budget audit. In the end, economic growth in 2005 was only 1.5%, compared with 2.4% in An economic slowdown was observed throughout most of the euro area, including Belgium. As in previous years, Belgium's growth remained above the euro area average (1.4%), although the difference was less pronounced. The budget objective was met in spite of the slowdown in economic activity, thanks in particular to increased tax revenues but also to more controlled spending on health care, amongst others.the level of public debt still stood at 91.5% in late 2005, hence the gap continued to narrow with the average level of debt within the Euro zone Projected short to medium-term budget trend The Stability Programme presented at the end of 2005 updates the previous programme and sets out the budget policy guidelines for the period in question. Following on from the objectives presented in the National Reform Programme, it states that the key objectives should be to maintain balance in 2006 and then to form budget surpluses from 2007 onwards. The surplus should be 0.3% of GDP in 2007; this would then rise at the rate of 0.2% of GDP per year to reach 0.5% of GDP in 2008, the last year covered by the current national reform programme, and 1.3% of GDP in Alongside efforts to balance the budget, the 2006 budget also frees up funding for a number of political priorities, in particular additional investment in mobility and security. On the whole, the economic climate in 2006 is rated more favourably than in The initial budget was based on predicted economic growth of 2.2%. This estimated growth in GDP was confirmed during the March budget audit. The latest national forecasts (September) are now predicting economic growth of % in

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LISBON STRATEGY National Reform Programme 2005-2008. Belgium More growth, more jobs... Progress report 2007. www.be2010.eu LISBON STRATEGY National Reform Programme 2005-2008 Belgium More growth, more jobs... Progress report 2007 www.be2010.eu Contents Introduction 1 1. Belgium today 2 2. Six lines of action for boosting

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