'We like self-chastisement too much in Flanders'
“People simply prefer not to find anything good in Flanders and do their utmost to say bad things. We are over-inclined to chastise ourselves.” These are the sentiments of Koenraad Debackere, tone of the top administrators of the Leuven University and president of the Flemish initiative, Flanders in Action ViA since April this year. Under Debackere, this initiative sees its third phase after the Flemish government formulated a number of ambitions on the road to more wealth and welfare in 2006, which Karel Vinck rolled out by establishing a number of breakthroughs in 2007. His successor and current federal finance minister, Koen Geens, took it one step further to where it is today. It is now up to Debackere to align all the domains and proposed reforms. Flanders in Action, the Flemish government’s broad reform programme, still has a long way to go, according to this week’s interim evaluation report. In many fields it is nowhere near reaching its objectives for the region and progressing slowly. The figures are not that rosy, and it was highlighted again this week that ViA is not capable of achieving the figures it set itself in respect of innovation, productivity and lifelong learning. Debackere put the figures for innovation, which increased to 2.4% instead of the target of 3% into perspective, and compared them to the Netherlands, where innovation efforts have declined. He finds it normal that Wallonia performed better with its Marshall 2 Plan, saying: “It’s as if Wallonia went from four to ten to six to ten, and Flanders from eight to ten to nine to ten. Wallonia’s positive performance can be lauded, but it’s also obvious that they lag behind us on many domains. All the progress Wallonia is currently making in the field of biotechnology, Flanders already made 20 years ago.” Debackere has no fears that ViA will be aborted under the new Flemish government next year, saying: “The minister-president has asked us to prepare a note for the next government and we will do so. But I am strongly convinced that we will continue to make inroads on the domains where we are currently achieving success. Obviously a new government will establish its own focus areas, but there are too many ViA activities a next government can no longer deny. Take the Flanders Care project with its focus on the care sector for example. So many initiatives and applications are developing in this area that are currently being tested.” Debackere’s response to the possible threat of budget cuts as a result of fedarel austerity measures and Flanders’shared responsibility in this respect, is optimistic. ViA will not lose a considerable chunck of its budget as its projects are not dependent on government funds. Debackere:"ViA has no big budget of its own with a select number of people allocating. It is a project that has to raise its funds in the different policy domains for targets set beforehand. Within each domain there are sufficient sources of finance to keep ViA alive and stimulate its progress."