OECD Economic Surveys: Belgium

Every 18 months
1999-0766 (online)
1995-3704 (print)
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OECD’s periodic surveys of the Belgian economy. Each edition surveys the major challenges faced by the country, evaluates the short-term outlook, and makes specific policy recommendations. Special chapters take a more detailed look at specific challenges. Extensive statistical information is included in charts and graphs.

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OECD Economic Surveys: Belgium 2013

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07 May 2013
9789264183018 (PDF) ;9789264183001(print)

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OECD's 2013 Economic Survey of Belgium examines recent economic developments, policies and prospects. In addition special chapters cover cost-efficient health and infrastructure policies.

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  • Basic Statistics of Belgium, 2011

    This Survey is published on the responsibility of the Economic and Development Review Committee of the OECD, which is charged with the examination of the economic situation of member countries.The economic situation and policies of Belgium were reviewed by the Committee on 27 March 2013. The draft report was then revised in the light of the discussions and given final approval as the agreed report of the whole Committee on 9 April 2013.The Secretariat’s draft report was prepared for the Committee by Jens Høj and Stéphane Sorbe under the supervision of Pierre Beynet. Research assistance was provided by Sylvie Foucher-Hantala. The survey’s also benefited from external consultancy work done by Stef Proost.The previous Survey of Belgium was issued in July 2011.

  • Executive summary

    Belgium has weathered the global crisis quite well, notably with a relatively good unemployment performance. However, still-weak domestic demand, rapid fiscal consolidation and slow export market growth will weigh on the economic recovery. In this context, further structural reforms beyond the 2012 measures would boost competitiveness and growth, helping to secure fiscal sustainability in the face of large ageing-related spending pressures.

  • Assessment and recommendations

    The Belgian economy has been resilient throughout the crisis with a smaller increase in unemployment than in many other OECD countries. Nevertheless, the recovery has been weak. The main fiscal challenge is to reduce the high public debt and secure fiscal sustainability. Population ageing is already underway, putting increasing pressure on public finances. Restraining spending will therefore mean, among other things, curbing health care cost increases while allowing the health care system to adjust to changes in demand from an older population, as discussed in . Changes in living and commuting patterns may lead to more inter-regional commuting (Bisciari and van Meensel, 2012). assesses whether the existing transportation infrastructure is prepared for this challenge, and for the broader challenge of handling the international flow of goods and services that underpins Belgium’s place as a hub for international trade.

  • Enhancing the cost efficiency and flexibility of the health sector to adjust to population ageing

    Belgium has a good record in delivering accessible care, but adaptation to population ageing will be complicated by the fragmentation of responsibilities in the healthcare system and a strong reliance on government regulations. The organisation of the system could be rationalised by giving sickness funds a more active role as promoters of cost-efficiency, better aligning the incentives of the different levels of government and focussing on medium-term budgeting. At the level of care providers, better information flows and incentive structures could facilitate addressing practice and efficiency variations and supplier-induced demand. This notably involves completing the shift to pathology-based budgets in hospitals, more capitation in the remuneration of doctors and measures to tackle the high spending on drugs. Once incentives for cost-efficiency are in place, a shift towards a more demand-driven system could be encouraged by phasing out over-prescriptive hospital regulations. In addition, relative remunerations of doctors should be revised regularly to ensure an adequate supply per specialty. In long-term care, home care, which is generally cost-efficient, could be further encouraged by giving more autonomy to patients to organise their care.

  • Better use of infrastructures to reduce environmental and congestion costs

    Transport infrastructures are well developed, but growing traffic commuter and freight volumes are putting them under increasing pressure, leading to some of the worst peak time congestion in the OECD and declining air quality in inner cities. Investments to address bottlenecks would benefit from more systematic cost-benefit analysis, which is currently under used. Investment choices would also benefit from better co-ordination between the federal government, in charge of railways, and regions, in charge of roads, ports and inland waterways. Increasing the size of infrastructure, however, could be only part of the answer. Traffic volumes are boosted by large commuting subsidies and a cost-efficient policy would be to develop congestion pricing in both road and railway transport to reduce congestion and address negative externalities in terms of environmental impact and cost to the economy. Extensive public service obligations also contribute to low cost-recovery ratios and should be subject to more systematic evaluation. Investments in inland waterway infrastructures have aimed at shifting freight transport from roads and rail. Nevertheless, road freight transport is contributing to congestion and a more ambitious road-pricing scheme than the one currently planned for trucks is necessary.

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