“If foreign companies want to come here and stay here, that’s proof that Flanders can be attractive and competitive. They still believe that,” said Peeters. “But we know competitiveness can be a fragile thing. We have to be extremely attentive and keep a lid on salary and energy costs.”
High operating costs are the “Achilles heel” of the region’s economy, and a failure to act at the federal level could undo all the work the Flemish government has done to improve conditions for business. “I have asked prime minister Di Rupo to do something about the situation,” Peeters said. “Our efforts make little sense if costs cannot be controlled.”
Flanders’ New Industrial Policy aims “at specialisation, the creation of the ideal conditions for industrial sectors and support for the role that leading companies can play in creating specialist clusters,” he said. While 56% of the value of business is owned by foreign companies, another 24% is owned by companies that are active only in Flanders – representing 32% of privatesector jobs. A further 19% is made up of Flemish companies active in the rest of Belgium and abroad. There too, however, job costs are making their effect felt. In 2008, 62% of the jobs created by those companies were in Flanders, 9% in the rest of Belgium and 29% in other countries. Since then, jobs have been exported: In 2010, only 54% of jobs were in Flanders, and the overseas share had risen to 38%. “I see that as an important warning for our competitiveness,” Peeters commented.