The annual RIO Country Report offers an analysis of the R&I system in Belgium, including relevant policies and funding, with particular focus on topics critical for EU policies. The report identifies the main challenges of the Belgian research and innovation system and assesses the policy response.
Belgium shows a relatively solid performance regarding private R&D expenditure (8th position in the Innovation Union Scoreboard), but scores only average for other input indicators such as R&D expenditure in the public sector (14th position). Performance indicators for innovation output also depict a mixed picture, with below EU average scores for community trademarks (19th position), export of medium and high-technology products (17th position), sales of innovations (15th position) and SMEs introducing marketing or organisational innovations (17th position). This contrasts with the good results regarding research outputs as illustrated by the share of public-private co-publications (3.3%, compared to 1.8% for the EU28 ) over the period 2011-2013. Therefore, the high quality of the research system is considered to be inadequately translated into economic performance and public-private collaboration on innovation is described as one of the major concerns at all government levels. Several measures are in place in each region aimed at economic exploitation of research, but research outputs are so far not aligned with the absorptive capacity of SMEs. In this context, one of the main challenges of the Belgian R&I system is to link accumulated research capacities and results to the economic eco-system.
In the last few years, Belgium has implemented a substantial number of measures to become a more knowledge-intensive economy.
In Wallonia and the federation Wallonia-Brussels, the Research Strategy 2011-2015 "Towards an integrated research policy" developed a specific action plan to support "young innovative companies" and public-private research collaboration. Encouraging growth of companies through R&I policy is an integral part of the Marshall Plan 4.0, adopted in May 2015. A cornerstone of that strategy is the further development of the competitiveness clusters, based on the rationale of smart specialization.
The Flemish government also develops a pro-active policy and spent €2.20b in science and innovation policy in 2014, of which €1.40b was for R&D. In July 2015, the Flemish Government approved a concept note on a new cluster policy and started the elaboration of this process with a call end 2015 for Innovative Business Networks (IBN). In another initiative to strengthen the transfer of scientific knowledge to the business sector, the 2014-2019 Policy Note for Work, Economy, Science and Innovation emphasizes the transition of doctoral graduates to the labour market as one of its main priorities.
The Brussels Capital Region’s main instrument for spanning the boundary between public and private entities is the Bridge programme, which was launched for the first time in 2010. Bridge projects are academic research projects for which economic enhancement in the Brussels-Capital Region may be envisaged in the short or medium term. Further initiatives have been announced in Brussels’ Strategy 2025, most notably the objective to transition Brussels to a “Smart City”, whereby the precise agenda will be determined jointly with the smart specialisation strategy that will be updated in the future Regional Innovation Plan 2015-2020.
The wave of recent reforms undertaken at all regional levels shows that Belgium has put knowledge transfer and innovation at the very top of its agenda. This effort needs to be sustained. Public innovation support can still be simplified and more targeted to increase Belgium's performance in maximising the commercial benefits of R&D. In addition, the competitiveness clusters and the research and technology centres created over the last decade need further sustained funding, regular evaluation and expert management in order to contribute effectively to the economy. A clear opportunity to capitalize further on Belgium’s excellent science base is to make universities and public research organizations more entrepreneurial. While some universities already display quite strong performance in this respect, entrepreneurial universities and PROs could take up an even stronger role as catalysts of Triple Helix interactions.