Thanks to the EU cohesion policy, Belgium will receive almost €3 billion in funding between 2021 and 2027. The aim is to accelerate the green and digital transition and support the development of a competitive, innovative and inclusive economy.
An agreement between Belgium and the European Commission
In Belgium, the management of operational programmes falls under the competence of federated entities. November 2022, the European Commission officially approved the partnership agreement with Belgium, which defines the strategy for the optimal use of available resources. This agreement paved the way for cohesion policy investments totalling €3 billion for the period 2021-2027.
Five thematic structural funds
With the cohesion policy, Europe aims to reduce prosperity gaps between regions and member states and boost the long-term development of the entire EU through structural fund investments.
The structural funds are divided into 5 thematic axes that work according to the logic of co-financing projects.
The federated entities (Communities and Regions) draw up a partnership agreement that constitutes a common strategic framework, based on each other’s contributions and taking into account their own priorities and specificities.
The majority of funding (more than 80%) goes to the EU’s less prosperous regions and member states. Categories of regions have been defined at European level to respond to challenges on smart city, climate and energy, and the transition to a circular economy:
Project funding allocated by government
In Belgium, several socio-economic matters are the exclusive competence of the federated states, separate from the Federal Government:
It is these governments that ensure the correct allocation of European money for individual programmes. Several agencies are responsible for the funds under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), including the Interreg programmes aimed at cross-border, transnational and interregional cooperation. The funds are used to finance projects – mainly by public actors – that boost regional competitiveness and employment in Belgium and the regions.
The agencies below are responsible for the implementation and sound management of European programmes relating to economic, social and territorial cohesion policy:
At federal and regional level, public projects to be financed will be selected through a call for projects. Enterprise support will be provided over time.
A detailed look at the Belgian investment strategy
The investment strategy is based on a partnership agreement between Belgium and the European Commission. Here, several themes are addressed in which investments will be made:
1.- Economic competitiveness, further digitalisation and green investments
Under ERDF, almost €500 million will be allocated to investments in research, innovation and digitisation. This amount includes support for the transfer of advanced technologies to increase the competitiveness of SMEs, and investment in the digitisation of public services.
In addition, almost €400 million will be invested in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency and renewable energy. This includes investments in sustainable urban development, especially in sustainable mobility and in energy renovation of public buildings.
Together with the ERDF, €183 million from the Just Transition Fund will be invested in developing a low-carbon, circular and energy-efficient economy, generally ensuring economic diversification and a fair climate transition in the country.
2.- Investment in employment, skills and social inclusion
Under the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), a total of more than €1.3 billion will be invested in social cohesion and employment.
Almost €500 million will go towards upskilling and retraining measures for the unemployed and workers to help them acquire new skills to find quality jobs. The funding will also support reforms of employment, education and training policies, which will help improve social inclusion and address skills mismatches and labour market shortages.
In addition, around €300 million will be allocated for employment support, much of which will target young people.
About €400 million will be invested in active social inclusion for vulnerable groups. The fund will also combat child poverty by supporting community-based care services.
Finally, an additional €50 million is available for food and material assistance for the neediest, mainly through food banks.
3.- Sustainable fisheries, aquaculture and processing
40.3 million from the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund will support the sector through investments leading to more sustainable fisheries.
These investments will focus on compliance with the landing obligation and avoidance of discards at sea, as well as improving safety, health, hygiene and working conditions on fishing vessels.
Priority will also be given to innovation, sustainable and forward-looking management of fish stocks, in particular through support for fisheries control and scientific data collection.
The Fund will also support energy efficiency and decarbonisation of fisheries, aquaculture and processing. On aquaculture, diversification of farmed aquaculture species will be promoted, which should also have an impact on the design of fish processing.
Finally, in the area of sustainable blue economy, Belgium will focus on the development of its coastal zone through a local action group.
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