The government gathered with its counterparts from places like Scotland, Catalonia, Nord Pas de Calais and some of the German Länder, to take stock of the Flanders in Action plan – Flanders’ response to the Europe 2020 strategy proposed by the European Commission for reviving the EU economy.
“If we look at the challenges we face, we see that Flanders is doing considerably well economically,” Peeters (pictured) told delegates. “Flanders is a leading region in the field of labour productivity [fourth place], labour costs per product unit [fifth place], workers in high-tech industries and services [fifth place] and the distribution of innovation across the sectors [ fourth place].”
The programme, Peeters noted, was drawn up in 2009 at the very beginning of the crisis. “Things have changed. Some challenges have become more urgent and need to be tackled first. One-quarter of the economic indicators experienced a negative evolution over the last few years. The economic crisis has significant implications on productivity and unemployment.”
Top priorities The Europe 2020 strategy establishes three priorities: growth, based on innovation and know-how; sustainable growth, with low emissions and intelligent use of raw materials; and growth for all, embracing equal opportunities and maximum employment. The Flemish government’s Pact 2020 translates that into a set of 20 targets under five headings: welfare and prosperity; a competitive and sustainable economy; more workers gainfully employed in suitable jobs; high quality standard of living; and efficient and effective government.
Peeters presented the latest study by the Flemish civil service, which determines which of the 135 indicators are on track for reaching their Pact 2020 target, which have already reached it and which are encountering difficulties.
On business, Flanders has already reached its target of a place in the top five European regions for labour productivity, the numbers employed in industry and services and the spread of innovation across all sectors. However, while the ratio of investment to income of businesses is on an upward trend, the number of exporting companies is in decline. The government’s figures on inward foreign investment also show an increase, but the performance in Flanders for 2011 was disappointing.
On innovation, Flanders is on track to reach its target of 3% of GDP being dedicated to research and development by 2020: from a high of 2.38% in 2001 and a dip to under 2% in 2006, that figure has now climbed to 2.15%.
In some areas, Flanders has set targets that exceed those in the Europe 2020 package. An example is the “learning society”, which covers education and training. Europe’s goal for the numbers with a university degree is 40%, but Flanders is aiming for 47.5%. The EU goal has already been reached for people aged 30 to 34, while for the 20 to 29 age group, it stands at 35%.
Out of three indicators in the fields of mobility, energy and environment, one has already been achieved, Peeters said. However, while four out of 10 indicators are moving in the right direction, one-quarter of all are going the wrong way: for example, the Kyoto Protocol targets on greenhouse emissions were reached in 2009, ahead of time. Since then, however, things have gone backwards.
“The successful implementation of any long-term strategy requires the right balance between perseverance and flexibility,” Peeters said. “You cannot stray from your goals if you want to remain credible. But at the same time, you have to be able to respond to a changing world. Flanders in Action is still on track. Despite the current crisis, 90% of our strategic projects are on schedule. Several projects have even been completed.”