Social partners sign Pact 2020 for Flanders region

On 19 January 2009, a new pact for the future was signed by the social partners in Belgium’s Flemish region. ‘Pact 2020’ is a type of tripartite mission statement, which defines a range of policy goals for 2020 for the Flanders region. In line with the European Lisbon Strategy objectives, the region wants to be among Europe’s top five regions in relation to innovation, employment, social cohesion and sustainability.

Flanders in Action project

The Flemish government has set up the Flanders in Action project (Vlaanderen in Actie, ViA) as an inclusive, interactive process which envisages a range of policy goals for the future. The central aim of ViA is to position the Flanders region in northern Belgium as one of Europe’s top five regions by 2020. Flanders is now ranked 25th out of 125 European regions on the basis of its gross regional product (GRP).

ViA is seeking to break new ground in terms of both its vision and strategy. By placing an even greater focus on talent, innovation, internationalisation, logistics and mobility in a powerful policy plan for 2020, the region wants to be able to position itself at a top level in Europe. This policy plan would also concentrate on sustainability and an efficient and customer-oriented government.

Pact 2020

On 19 January 2009, the Flemish government and social partners – that is, the employer organisations and trade unions represented in the Flemish Social EconomicCouncil (Sociaal Economische Raad voor Vlaanderen, SERV) – signed a new mission statement: the so-called Pact 2020 (in Dutch, 203Kb PDF). Members of civil society, represented by the Associated Associations (Verenigde Verenigingen), also subscribed to the declaration. These associations include environmental organisations, those representing migrants, families and poor people, and third world non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

As such, the plan is considered to be the successor to the Vilvoorde Pact (in Dutch) – a tripartite pact that applied the objectives of the European Lisbon Strategy to the socioeconomic context of the Flemish region (BE0206302T).

Main goals of pact

The new pact for the Flanders region comprises 20 goals with specific targets, including the following objectives:

  • increasing the employment rate to at least 70% by 2020 from the current rate of 66%;
  • halving the proportion of people with low skill levels by encouraging more people to study for longer;
  • improving health and social care considerably – for instance, half of children under three years of age should have access to quality nursery care;
  • ensuring that the Flanders region regains its foothold in international exports, by increasing the amount of export companies and doubling the proportion of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) engaged in exports – this goal is important for the development of a competitive and durable economy;
  • allocating 3% of gross interior product (GIP) to research and development by 2014;
  • halving the total proportion of children living in poverty;
  • increasing the efficiency of public administration;
  • improving the biodiversity record of the Flanders region so that it is comparable to that of the other top regions by 2020.

Importance of social dialogue

The pact also highlights the important role of social dialogue:

The essence of structured socioeconomic concertation between social partners is a continuous dialogue. The enforcement of this continuous dialogue contributes to the coordination and agreement between the social partners and to the broad and necessary basis for an effective socioeconomic policy. The Flemish government will make room for the socioeconomic concertation and the social partners will invest in a mutual continued dialogue.

This section of the pact ends with a promise to strengthen the social dialogue structure of the Flemish Economic and Social Consultative Committee (Vlaams Economisch Sociaal Overlegcomité, VESOC). VESOC is a forum for tripartite dialogue between the government, trade unions and employers in the Flanders region. If agreement is reached within VESOC, the Flemish government must commit to carrying out all of the resolutions for which there is consensus. The Flemish social partners explain the terms of such agreements to their members and contribute to their execution. Within VESOC, the social partners and government also reach agreements on the complementary policy regarding Flemish employment agreements.

Commentary

Critics would argue that the new Pact 2020 postpones the targets that were already set in the Vilvoorde Pact and which made a strong reference to the European Lisbon Strategy. As such, the global evaluation of the strategy also holds true for the Flanders region: while policy improvements have been made in line with the Lisbon Strategy objectives, a range of targets have not been met. As a result, the negotiations for the new pact were not easy. Nonetheless, supporters of the new pact will point to the fact that some of the targets are now more ambitious than ever – in other words, the new pact is not only a revision but also an innovation.

Guy Van Gyes, Higher Institute for Labour Studies (HIVA), Catholic University of Leuven (KUL)

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