This National Reform Programme (NRP) is the product of a coordination effort that began several months before governments were forced to take drastic measures to combat the spread and the socio-economic consequences of Covid-19. In view of the progress made at the end of March 2020, it was decided to retain the original version of the NRP and to add an annex setting out the measures taken or planned to be taken by the closing date of the document (21 April 2020) in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, in the main text of the NRP as well as in the reform programmes of the federated entities (Annexes 1 to 5), the individual governments report on the structural reforms that have taken place since the country-specific recommendations of 2019 and indicate which measures may be expected in the near future, regardless of the pandemic (unless otherwise specified).
The measures presented in the main text and in Annexes 1 to 5 relate to the findings of the report on Belgium, the recommendations of 2019, the priorities of the annual strategy for sustainable growth, the trajectory for achieving the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy, and they also contribute to the implementation of the European Pillar for Social Rights. What is new in this NRP is the explicit attention devoted to the programmes developed in the framework of Agenda 2030 and the related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In addition, the discussion of each recommendation is now preceded by a political message outlining the key elements of the response.
Federal and regional parliamentary elections were held in Belgium on 26 May 2019. In the Communities and Regions, new governments took office in the course of the year and established their programme and priorities for the period 2019-2024. The NRP refers to these on several occasions. 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. In particular, it is empowered to take measures to limit the economic consequences. The governments of the Communities and Regions, among which those of the Walloon Region, the Brussels-Capital Region and the French Community were granted special powers by their respective parliaments, are also taking measures to combat the coronavirus and its socio-economic consequences. The Flemish government works without special powers, with the exception of the emercency decree voted on 18 March and entered into force on 20 March (see annex 2). The government of the German-speaking Community works without special powers, with the exception of the Corona crisis decrees voted on 6 April and 27 April 2020. Measures taken by the individual governments in response to the Covid-19 pandemic are contained in Annex 13.
The absence of a fully-fledged federal government does not prevent structural reform measures from being taken in Belgium. As stated, the Communities and Regions have governments with full powers to meet the challenges of the coming years. At the federal level, a number of action plans and policies initiated in recent years are still in place. The third phase of the tax shift is implemented, as well as a further reduction in corporate tax. A number of measures in the 2019 Jobsdeal, which includes social and fiscal measures to encourage employment, are also being implemented. Finally, at regional level, programmes launched during the previous government period are being continued and evaluated.
All levels are working to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public spending, including through spending reviews. The resources freed up will be used for the following priorities: strategic investments and long-term care. With regard to investments, the National Pact for Strategic Investments Pact (NPSI) is implemented at the inter-federal level. This plan focuses in particular on mobility, energy, innovation and digitisation. In addition, all Belgian entities have drawn up major investment programmes that respond to the major challenges in this area. All levels of government are also working to raise the employment rate, especially of those with fewer opportunities in the labour market, by making education and training systems more inclusive and more responsive to the labour market.
This last point seems to have been successful since the two education goals of the Europe 2020 strategy were achieved in 2018. As regards the other objectives, research and development is on track to be met in time. Real progress is also being made on the employment rate and energy efficiency targets.
The Communities and Regions, as well as civil society stakeholders, are closely involved in the structural reform process. The reform plans of the Communities and Regions are attached in full to this report as Annexes 1 to 5. They provide a detailed explanation of their measures for the implementation of the country-specific recommendations and investment challenges, the objectives of the EU2020 strategy and progress towards reaching the sustainable development goals. The NRP is approved by the Federal Government in the Council of Ministers. All the country's governments take note of the NRP in the Consultation Committee. The opinions of the social partners, the National Higher Council for Disabled Persons and the Federal Council for Sustainable Development of the Belgian Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion are also annexed. At the level of the Brussels-Capital Region, the draft Brussels contribution to the NRP was submitted to the Economic and Social Council of the Region, which issued its opinion on 19 March 2020, before being approved by the Brussels government on 23 April 2020. The presentation of this contribution before the Brussels Parliament could not be maintained given the circumstances. The latter will therefore be communicated to the Parliament, so as to let its members have the opportunity to react to it by written questions. The Walloon reform programme was approved by the Walloon government on 2 April. The various reform projects follow the consultation processes of the social partners. The issues related to the European semester are also debated in the Walloon Parliament. In Flanders, the draft Flemish reform program is transmitted to the Flemish Parliament and to the social partners. This year, no parliamentary discussion could be held. However, several written comments from the social partners were taken into account in the final Flemish 2020 reform program approved by the Flemish government on 3 April 2020.
In the framework of the European Semester, an intensive dialogue is taking place – both in the fact-finding mission and in bilateral meetings – between the departments of the European Commission and the respective levels of government in Belgium. Each of those levels (Federal, Communities, Regions) brings up its measures in the framework of the European Semester. All of them also make use of the possibilities offered by DG REFORM's Structural Reform Support Programme (SRSP).