Are current affairs in the north and south of the country viewed differently? We try to answer that question in our weekly chronicle by Alain Narinx (L’Echo) and Wim Van de Velden (De Tijd).

Pop the champagne corks, Alain, because guess what? The productivity of the Walloon employee has improved more than that of the Flemish employees, whose productivity has even decreased slightly. Isn’t it time to talk about the hard-working Waal? The fact that there is still a historical backlog against Flanders should not spoil the fun.

The happy news has been somewhat lost between the folds of the policy statement of Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD), but it was indeed in a corner of De Tijd.

‘Between 2015 and 2018 – the most recent year for which figures are available – the productivity of the average Flemish employee decreased (-0.1% per year), just like the average Brussels resident (-0.5%). The average Walloon became more productive (+0.4%), as a result of which the gap between Flanders and Wallonia has narrowed. This is mainly because the Flemish and Brussels industry has lost its effectiveness, while the productivity in the Walloon industry continued to increase.’

Yet there is one but. Because if we’re serious, we actually have a towering problem. Despite the increase in the productivity of the Walloon worker, productivity has been slacking in Belgium for some time, while for a long time it was the great economic asset of our country. It may not be so clear what needs to be done to boost productivity, but it is clear that reforms are needed, from the labor market to education to mobility, to keep our economy running.

As De Croo stated in his policy statement, the task is to ‘pry what was unshakable for years’. But whether things will improve in the future, or whether that crucial turnaround in productivity will occur, is still very much the question.

How absurd is it not to ask the unions if they want to sideline themselves?

Everything was decided during Vivaldi’s budget conclave, but it doesn’t carry much weight, I’m afraid, Alain. One example: the attempt to jump on the speeding train of e-commerce has failed again. The necessary relaxations in night work and overtime have once again been blocked. The hot potato is once again passed on to the social partners. How absurd is it not to ask the unions if they want to sideline themselves? The answer is easy to guess, isn’t it Alain?

It never ceases to amaze me that the Parti Socialiste puts the brakes on the reform story. Wouldn’t more e-commerce in our country only benefit the employment rate in Wallonia? Apparently it suffices for the socialists and also for the greens that social corrections are made, such as for the high energy prices, but the hard-working Flemish and the hard-working Walloons are left out in the cold.

It is striking how different the response is in the north and south of the country. In Flanders the opposition on the right mainly plays on the sensitivity that the hard-working Flemings will have to pay the bills again, while in Wallonia the opposition on the left mainly plays that the social corrections are unbearably light for the people who are already having a hard time.

The fact that Vivaldi has to make the compromise between the vision of the liberals and the socialists, and between the north and the south of the country, means that little progress is made, no matter how much the Flemish and Walloons roll up their sleeves.

Leave a Reply