This National Reform Programme contains the structural measures taken over the past 12 months by the federal government and the governments of the Regions and Communities.
The purpose of these measures is twofold:
- to meet the country-specific recommendations made by the European Council to Belgium in 2014, in particular an in-depth reform of the tax system and of the labour market, the need to meet the costs of ageing, an improved competitiveness and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The recommendation concerning the budget and the national debt is dealt with in the Stability Programme 2015.
- to meet the targets mentioned in the Europe 2020 strategy as concerns labour, R&D and innovation, education and training, energy and climate and guaranteeing social inclusion.
With the measures taken and proposed in this NRP, the governments are convinced they are responding to the country-specific recommendations Belgium received from the Council in July 2014. As the programme indicates, fulfilling the European commitments also requires a strong involvement of the different federal entities in the European procedures and projects from the EU2020 Strategy’s initiatives.
In its country report, the European Commission calls on Belgium to pursue an ambitious policy to remedy the observed macroeconomic imbalances. It is the governments’ conviction that the present programme is consistent with this essential requirement. The programme is the result of a close collaboration between the Federal government and the governments of the Regions and the Communities. On several occasions, the social partners and the civil society were also involved in drafting the programme and monitoring its progress. Belgium is well known for its social dialogue, ensuring constructive relations between employers' and workers' organisations. The permanent dialogue and mutual collaboration with the various branches of our economy are a priority to the different levels of government.
In the past years, the governments concluded agreements on institutional reforms in our country which materialized in the sixth state reform that entered into force on July 1st, 2014. In the next chapters, aspects hereof, insofar as they pertain to structural reforms, will be discussed. Indeed, the state reform increased the competences of the Regions and the Communities, further adding to the importance of good collaboration between the Federal government and the Regions and the Communities. Therefore, efforts will focus on this collaboration in order to raise the country's efficiency, all the while respecting the competences of every level of government. Both on the (inter)federal level and on the level of the Regions and the Communities, preparations were made to ensure a smooth transfer of competences.
Given this new institutional context, the contribution of the federate entities to the setting-up of structural reforms complying with the country-specific recommendations and enabling our country to meet the EU2020 targets has become of a greater importance. Therefore, the reform programmes of the Communities and the Regions, enclosed as appendices 1, 2 and 3, are an essential part of the National Reform Programme. They give more detailed explanations on the measures taken by the different Communities and Regions for the implementation of the country specific recommendations. The drafting of these programmes increases the involvement in and the support for the European Semester among the stakeholders on the level of the federate entities.
In the past 12 months, elections were held for the federal, regional and community parliaments. The government agreements of the federal state and of the federated entities were concluded for the next five years. The 2015 NRP is, of course, closely in line with those agreements. The governments confirmed their determination to achieve the EU2020 targets.
The structural measures listed in this NRP aim at the sustainability of our societal model in the medium and long term. They are complementary to the budgetary measures elaborated in the Stability Programme. For the governments, the structural and budgetary measures of course form one and the same package, which sets the following priorities.
The first priority concerns the tax shift. A lower taxation of labour is believed to be essential to increase our employment rate. The shift towards a more growth-enhancing tax system is ongoing and will be continued.
A second priority, also aimed at boosting employment rates and growth, is to improve cost and non-cost competitiveness, the latter primarily by support of training and innovation. Adapting the wage formation system is also an integral part of these improvements.
Activation forms the third pillar of government policy, in particular an increased participation of older workers and measures in favour of the employment of youth in order to meet demographic challenges and the battle against youth unemployment. This, again, complies with the country-specific recommendations.