'Flanders would have been much worse off without VIA'
On Tuesday the plenary assembly will provide a full explanation of the rollout of Flanders in Actie VIA, the initiative established in 2006 to boost the region’s positioning abroad. At least 500 representatives of Flemish organisations, the academic and business world will receive information about the updated VIA results during a Future Forum. With only one day to go, minister-president Kris Peeters CD&V has admitted that the Flemish economy has given in its some of its favourable international position since 1995, referring to the loss of the leadership in labour productivity, the drop in export market share and entrepreneurship since then. “But we made the same analysis and established VIA to address exactly that” he responded while adding that the region has been gradually reclaiming international positioning since 2008. European statistics have meanwhile proven Peeters right. A comparative study among 15 top European regions put Flanders at number five in 1995. This dropped to number ten in 2008, but by 2010 the region had moved up to eighth position again. “Anyone who suggests that VIA does not work, does not tell the truth,” says the government leader in support of his belief that there is a systematic upward trend in Flanders' performances. “The chances of survival of Flemish start-up businesses was indeed on a downward slope between 2005 and 2010, but in 2011 it took a definite turn. And the same goes for innovation, with investments in research and development increasing to 2.4% of the GDP in 2011.” Peeters believes the latest figures prove that Flemish policymakers “should not allow themselves to be discouraged” by the current weak economic climate, as there is no alternative. He does however agree that a changeover to a new industrial policy, to more sustainable building and more intelligent mobility cannot be achieved without a profound mindshift and cultural change of attitude among the broader public, citizens and businesses alike, saying: “It will take lasting efforts to achieve this. I agree to certain delays in the VIA rollout. But this is not a 100- or 400-metre race; it’s a marathon with 2020 as its finish line.” Peeters further intends to take the VIA “from the meeting halls to the shopfloor” in an effort to identify projects that can serve as practical examples.