Should Brussels become a city region ? [1]

As a result of the institutional reforms implemented over the past three decades, today Belgium is a Federal State composed by Communities (French Community, Flemish Community and German-speaking Community) and Regions (Wallonia, Brussels-Capital and Flanders).

Since 1989, nine years after Flanders and Wallonia, the Brussels-Capital Region (BCR) is an autonomous region with its own competencies : (1) town and country planning, environment and water policy ; (2) nature conservation, housing ; (3) economy, energy ; (4) local authorities, employment ; (5) public works ; (6) transportation ; (7) external relations ; (8) scientific research. It tooks another 17 years to issue (in 2006), the Brussels’ Innovation plan which has been recently evaluated[1].

Now, what are the next steps needed for the BCR in the knowledge-based economy[2] ?

Capital of Belgium, capital of Flanders and, de facto, capital of Europe, the BCR is the third wealthiest European region with a GDP of € 55.442 per inhabitant – two to three times the GDP of the two others region of Belgium[3]. Like other large cities, the Brussels’ GDP is pushed up by the commuter flow (around 356.000 persons compared to the 1.020.000 inhabitants) to a level that could not be achieved by the resident active population on its own[4]. In fact, the number of salaried workers employed in the BCR is 18 % of the number of salaried workers in Belgium approximately two times the percentage of Brussels’ inhabitants in Belgium[5]. As a result of the commuter flow, only 47 % of the Brussels’ work positions are taken by Brussels’ inhabitants[6].

As a consequence, from a work positions point of view, the BCR cannot be considered as limited to the 19 communes making the administrative region.

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[1] S. Wojcik (2007) - Evaluation of the Brussels-Capital Region Innovation System. Submitted to publication.

[2] The knowledge economy differs from the traditional economy in several key respects : information and knowledge can be shared, and actually grow through application. The effect of location is either diminished, in some economic activities: using appropriate technology and methods, virtual marketplaces and virtual organizations that offer benefits of speed, agility, round the clock operation and global reach can be created, or, on the contrary, reinforced in some other economic fields, by the creation of business clusters around centres of knowledge, such as universities and research centres having reached world-wide excellence [Wikipedia, 2007].

[3] Eurostat News release Feb. 19, 2007.

[4] Using the same ratio, the outflow can be estimated at 35.000 persons.

[5] Mini-Bru. Aperçu statistique de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale. 2006.

[6] Baromètre conjoncturel de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale. Juillet 2007. This inflow has another consequence : the BCR’s unemployment rate (around 20%) is two times that of the country. A high unemployment rate, at equal GDP per capita, is a sign of healthier economic conditions. It certainly shows that the productivity is higher, as fewer people generate the same wealth per capita. This also means that salaries (before tax) are higher. As countries with generous unemployment benefits tend to generate more officially unemployed people, it means that the country is rich enough to give all these people a minimum income. This is indeed a sign of wealth. Such a system also greatly help reduce poverty, which is yet another sign of national wealth if the country can afford it.

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