1. Belgium’s global efforts for sustainable development

As an advocate of the multilateral system for its normative role and influence on international stability, Belgium actively participates in debates on co-ordinated international interventions and international monitoring of commitments to sustainable development. In this context, Belgium particularly emphasises the role of the EU (FPS Foreign Affairs, 2016[1]) (Chapters 2 and 7).

Its candidature for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for 2019-20 and active participation in the Utstein Group,1 which Belgium chaired in 2019, are examples of the country’s efforts to reform the United Nations system and strengthen its legitimacy, representativeness and effectiveness.

As part of efforts to monitor international commitments, Belgium submitted its first voluntary review of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in 2017 and has committed to aligning its co-operation programme through the research project on the SDGs as a Compass for Belgian Development Co-operation (HIVA-KU Leuven and IOB-UAntwerp, 2020[2]) (Chapter 2). Belgium was also active in negotiating the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and helped to involve Middle Eastern States and civil society actors in the negotiations. Finally, in line with its inclusive development objectives, Belgium is also active in multi-stakeholder mechanisms to tackle the plunder of raw materials, in particular through the Kimberley Process and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Belgium is also a strong supporter of the Grand Bargain to make humanitarian financing and response more efficient and effective (Chapter 7).

Belgium has successfully mobilised the international community around development and human rights issues such as conflict prevention, mainly in Central Africa, and gender equality. Within multilateral bodies, Belgium is a historical and indispensable advocate for least developed countries (LDCs) and countries in fragile or conflict situations. It is influential within the EU, where it advocates for an integrated approach to security and peace in forgotten crises and ongoing conflicts (Chapter 7) and finances European funds for these efforts.2 Belgium’s advocacy for conflict prevention is also directly linked to a rights-based approach: during its presidency of the United Nations Security Council, Belgium focused on the role of children in armed conflict and transitional justice. All its multilateral partners are unanimous on the quality and effectiveness of Belgium’s advocacy for gender equality, which was reflected in the She Decides initiative in 2017 to support sexual and reproductive health and rights.3 Belgium, Denmark and Sweden quickly joined this initiative launched by the Netherlands and organised a multi-actor conference that formalised the movement and resulted in commitments from more than 45 countries.

Finally, Belgium is also noted for putting one of its flagship thematic priorities on the European agenda: digital for development. Following its lead, 15 Member States called for an ambitious European strategy, which resulted in a working document drafted by the European Commission and the European Council adopting recommendations to support digital for development (EC, 2017[3]). Belgium spearheaded the creation of the Digital for Development-Hub (D4D) EU-Africa, an initiative anchored in the new Joint Africa-EU Strategy and which aims to support digital transformation efforts in Africa by building on common expertise and networks.4

Beyond its leading role in these thematic areas, the country also addresses climate and health issues in LDCs on the international and regional stage. Through its multilateral channels, Belgium advocates to allocate funding for LDC efforts to adapt to climate change. Belgian global health efforts rely on multi-actor partnerships (Chapter 2) that are made possible by its academic expertise in tropical disease eradication, the importance of its pharmaceutical sector, and its bilateral co-operation experience in strengthening health systems. However, despite these stated priorities, the share of bilateral aid allocated to the health sector has been steadily declining since 2013 (Chapter 3 and Annex B – Table B.5).

Belgium is formally committed to policy coherence for development at the highest level of government, with a view to making development co-operation more effective. The Law on Development Co-operation stipulates that Belgium is committed to “maximum coherence between the different areas of Belgian policy” (Kingdom of Belgium, 2013[4]). The federal government and the regional and local governments are also committed to taking coherence into account when developing their respective policies, and to co-ordinating efforts (Kingdom of Belgium, 2014[5]). This commitment is particularly important in the Belgian context, where regions and communities are responsible for education, the environment, agriculture, economy, trade, finance, migration, security and energy.

To meet this legal obligation, Belgium had established an ambitious institutional mechanism to analyse, discuss with all stakeholders and define policies with a positive impact on developing countries, or at least with no negative impact.5 However, these structures for co-ordination, dialogue and impact analysis have rarely been mobilised, partly because the state has made few requests to do so.6 The administration stopped using them in 2019. In order to take into account the broadening of the concept of policy coherence to include sustainable development in line with Agenda 2030, Belgium is considering pursuing coherence for development within the structures in charge of sustainable development – decision that can only be taken by a government in full function.

However, it is not clear whether Belgium has learned all possible lessons from the failure of the previous mechanism. According to civil society organisations, analysis conducted by the structures for sustainable development of the cross-border impact of Belgian domestic policies is weak. Development issues are not tackled systematically, although they are addressed by 1 of the 21 questions in mandatory impact assessments for all new federal legislation. Analysis is done late in the decision-making process and is not factored into considerations of compensation measures (CNCD-11.11.11, 2019[6]). The assessments only addresse future legislation and do not analyse existing legislation.

Currently, the search for coherence is mainly part of the comprehensive approach aimed at strengthening the complementarity between diplomacy, development, defence and justice in fragile states (Chapter 7). This approach makes it possible to identify potential areas of coherence or tension. However, by focusing on internal coherence in foreign policy, Belgium risks overlooking the possible negative effects of its domestic policies on developing countries.

In this context, and despite the 2015 peer review recommendations (Annex A) (OECD, 2015[7]), Belgium has not identified priority issues for policy coherence for development. Nor has it established reporting arrangements to Federal Parliament, which deplores the limited information sharing and consultation on these issues. However, Belgium has adopted and protected federal and European laws that promote the interests of developing countries. At the federal level, the Constitutional Court has issued an order protecting Belgium’s 2015 law against vulture funds.7 As part of EU discussions on stemming the trade in conflict minerals, Belgium has also ensured that new European legislation does not establish criteria that are unattainable for local economic actors.

In addition, promising multi-actor partnerships seek to influence domestic policies and practices in key sectors of the Belgian economy. Examples include the promotion of a charter on drug quality by the Be-cause Health platform (Be-cause Health, 2018[8]), the Beyond Chocolate initiative to promote responsible chocolate production throughout the value chain (Box 1.1) and the Kimberley Process in the diamond sector.

The main inconsistencies raised by external observers are tariff restrictions on services and, like other arms-producing countries, the export of arms to non-democratic countries (CGDEV, 2018[9]). However, Belgium has strong mechanisms in place to ensure that such exports – for which jurisdiction is devolved to the regional level – do not contravene international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Finally, although Belgium has a high level of environmental protection and advanced environmental policies, as well as a well-developed institutional and legal system and active co-operation with civil society and business, its policy of encouraging the use of company cars has a negative impact on air quality and CO2 emissions (EC, 2019[10]) and the share of renewable energy in final energy consumption is still too low to meet European objectives (EEA, 2020[11]).

Belgium demonstrates exemplary commitment to education for global citizenship – enshrined in the Law on Development Co-operation (Kingdom of Belgium, 2013[4]) – thanks to its strong political will, evidence-based approach, a narrative aligned with the 2030 Agenda, approaches tailored to target groups, and inclusive partnerships (Box 1.2). The combination of a robust strategy and substantial budget – an average of 1.46% of total official development assistance (ODA) over the 2016-18 period – has enabled Belgium to achieve its objectives of acquiring knowledge, raising awareness and adhering to global citizenship values. Although the effects on individual behavioural change are less visible, evaluations point to positive signs of internalisation of issues such as water, gender, social justice, social protection, food and peasants’ rights (DRIS, 2017[13]).8

Given the high public support for ODA, with 87% of the public stating that it is important to help populations in developing countries (EC, 2019[18]), 9 Belgium’s communication strategy aims to raise public awareness of the results of Belgian co-operation and the SDGs. This communication is primarily based on increased transparency in public funding and the dissemination of “stories” written in close collaboration with the FPS Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Co-operation, civil society partners, Enabel and BIO – although communication on BIO-financed actions is more limited (Chapter 3). The ongoing drafting of a new FPS communication strategy and a shared editorial plan for the three public institutions10 could be an opportunity to develop dynamic and interactive ways to communicate, which are currently underdeveloped due to the highly centralised approach.

Finally, the messages (which focus more on aid successes) hardly refer to the risks and challenges of development co-operation, even though Belgium predominantly works in fragile contexts where the achievement of results is far from linear. In contrast to the previous review period (OECD, 2015[7]), the FPS teams responsible for global citizenship education and communication rarely co-ordinate. While this approach helps to limit unnecessary confusion between communication and global citizenship education, greater co-ordination would help develop a communication strategy that addresses the complexity of aid.

References

[8] Be-cause Health (2018), “Charte assurance de qualité des médicaments, des vaccins, des produits de diagnostic et du petit matériel médical” [in French], Be-cause Health, Brussels, https://www.be-causehealth.be/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/charter_for_the_quality_of_medicines__vaccines__diagnostic.pdf.

[9] CGDEV (2018), Belgium—Commitment to Development Index (website), Center for Global Development, Washington, London, https://www.cgdev.org/cdi-2018/country/BEL.

[6] CNCD-11.11.11 (2019), “Rapport 2018 sur l’aide belge au développement : En quête d’une approche globale cohérente” [in French], CNCD, Brussels, https://www.cncd.be/IMG/pdf/rapport-2018-cncd-11.11.11-aide-belge-developpement-web.pdf (accessed on 30 avril 2020).

[14] DGD (2012), “Note de stratégie - Éducation au développement” [Strategy Note on Development Education] [in French], FPS Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Brussels, https://diplomatie.belgium.be/sites/default/files/downloads/note_strategie_education_au_developpement.pdf.

[13] DRIS (2017), “Étude d’impact : perception des enseignant-e-s quant à l’impact des interventions d’éducation à la citoyenneté mondiale et solidaire (ECMS) dans l’enseignement obligatoire de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles (FWB)” [in French], Fédération francophone et germanophone des associations de coopération au développement, Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, https://www.acodev.be/sites/default/files/ressources/dris-acodev-etude_impact_ecms_-rapport_final-v2-2018.09.29.pdf.

[18] EC (2019), “Analyse nationale synthétique” Special Eurobarometer 494: EU citizens and development cooperation, European Commission, Brussels, https://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/index.cfm/Survey/getSurveyDetail/instruments/SPECIAL/surveyKy/2252.

[10] EC (2019), “L’examen de la mise en œuvre de la politique environnementale 2019 - Rapport pays Belgique” [in French], European Commission, Brussels, https://ec.europa.eu/environment/eir/pdf/report_fr_fr.pdf (accessed on 30 avril 2020).

[3] EC (2017), “Conclusions du Conseil sur le numérique au service du développement” [in French], European Council, Brussels, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/fr/press/press-releases/2017/11/20/council-adopts-conclusions-on-digital-for-development/ (accessed on 30 April 2010).

[11] EEA (2020), Climate Change Mitigation, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen, https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/climate (accessed on 14 May 2020).

[1] FPS Foreign Affairs (2016), “Contrat d’administration relatif au fonctionnement du service public fédéral Affaires étrangères, Commerce extérieur et Coopération au développement 2016-18” [in French], Kingdom of Belgium, Brussels, https://diplomatie.belgium.be/sites/default/files/downloads/2016-2018_contrat_administration.pdf.

[16] GENE (2017), “Global Education in Belgium”, Global Education Network Europe, Amsterdam and Dublin, https://gene.eu/wp-content/uploads/Belgium-Peer-Review-Report-with-cover.pdf.

[2] HIVA-KU Leuven and IOB-UAntwerp (2020), “The SDGs as a Compass for the Belgian Development Co-operation - Final report”, HIVA-KU Leuven, Leuven, http://repository.uantwerpen.be › docstore › d:irua:551.

[12] IDH; Kingdom of Belgium; The Shift (2018), “Beyond Chocolate - Partnership for Sustainable Belgian Chocolate”, Beyond Chocolate, Brussels, https://www.idhsustainabletrade.com/uploaded/2019/07/BC-Program-Document-English-.pdf.

[5] Kingdom of Belgium (2014), “Déclaration de l’État fédéral, Régions et Communautés de la Belgique sur la cohérence des politiques en faveur du développement” [in French], Kingdom of Belgium, Brussels.

[4] Kingdom of Belgium (2013), Loi Relative à la Coopération au Développement [Law on Development Co-operation] [in French], http://www.uvcw.be/no_index/files/240-loi-coop-au-developpement-19-03-13.pdf.

[7] OECD (2015), OECD Development Co-operation Peer Reviews: Belgium 2015, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264239906-en.

[17] Projects for people (2018), “Recherche et synthèse dans le domaine des stratégies de mobilisation citoyenne des ONG sur les enjeux de solidarité internationale” [Research and synthesis in the field of NGOs’ citizen mobilisation strategies on international solidarity issues], Acodev, Molenbeck-Saint-Jean, http://www.acodev.be.

[15] SES (2018), “Évaluation des actions d’éducation au développement financées ou cofinancées par la coopération belge au développement entre 2014 et 2017” [in French], Office of the Special Evaluator, Brussels, https://diplomatie.belgium.be/sites/default/files/downloads/ed_rapport_final_fr.pdf.

Notes

← 1. The Utstein Group brings together 13 donor countries with common policies (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom). It maintains a dialogue with United Nations agencies, funds and programmes on their strategic orientations and internal organisation.

← 2. In particular, Belgium finances the European Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace, the European Development Fund for the African Peace Facility, the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, and the Madad Fund.

← 3. She Decides is an initiative that brings together countries and organisations working jointly to ensure that aid organisations in developing countries can continue their work on family planning and women’s rights. Launched in 2017 by the Netherlands – following the United States’ decision to stop financing organisations that advocate for safe abortion in developing countries – the initiative leverages funds through a participatory financing platform.

← 4. At the political level, the D4D-Hub will be jointly managed by Belgium and Germany and its secretariat will be housed in Enabel's premises in Brussels.

← 5. This institutional mechanism includes: (i) an interministerial conference on policy coherence for development; (ii) an Interdepartmental Commission on Policy Coherence for Development (ICPCD); (iii) an Advisory Council on Policy Coherence for Development (ACPCD); (iv) a regulatory impact analysis (RIA) for development co-operation; and (v) the creation of a Directorate for Policy Coherence for Development within the DGD.

← 6. For example, the Advisory Council on Policy Coherence for Development issued just three recommendations during the review period, on its own initiative, and was not called on by the government or the administration.

← 7. Vulture funds invest in debt considered to be very weak or in default. This law prohibits vulture funds from claiming more than the price originally paid for debts on the secondary market.

← 8. Partners in global citizenship education share a reference framework for education for global citizenship and solidarity.

← 9. According to the 2019 Eurobarometer, Belgium recorded one of the biggest increases in the proportion of people who believe that providing financial support to developing countries contributes to a more peaceful and fairer world (74%, an increase of 7 percentage points compared with 2018).

← 10. FPS Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Co-operation, Enabel and BIO.

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