In Belgium, like all European countries, the importance of the industrial sector has been supplanted over the past thirty years or so by that of the service sector.
During the second half of the 1990s, Belgium progressively recovered from a structural adjustment crisis (weak growth, high unemployment, budgetary deficit). The recession reached a peak during the course of the first semester of 1993. Since then, measures have been introduced to create employment, stabilise the national debt and balance social security expenditure.
According to the 2010 report of the Council of Regency of the National Bank of Belgium, Belgium has weathered the recession relatively well: 'In 2010, it is estimated that Belgium’s GDP grew by 2 %, regaining its 2007 level, while the euro area’s GDP remained 2 % below that year’s figure. Following a recession which was less severe than for the euro area, thanks in particular to the moderate private sector debt and the operation of the automatic stabilisers, Belgium enjoyed a slightly stronger recovery. The rebound in foreign demand, which Belgian exporters were able to exploit, provided the initial impetus. Private consumption then took over, despite the virtual stagnation of the real disposable income of households.'
The harmonised unemployment rate stabilised at around 8.4%.
The moves to reduce the country’s traditionally very high level of indebtedness (as much as 134.1% of GDP in 1993), could not be prolonged: the level of public indebtedness, which had already risen from 84.2 to 89.8% of GDP in 2008, reached 97.8% in 2009 and 97.5% in 2010. The deficit reached 4.6% of GDP in 2010. The Belgian government has set itself the target of returning to a balanced budget by 2015 at the latest.
Since the refinancing of the French Community and the so-called St Boniface Agreements, the room for manœuvre for conducting ambitious new policies and reinforcing existing mechanisms has gradually increased. The Contrat pour l’école is one outcome of this. This is also the background against which schools are now experiencing a significant and sustained increase in the level of their operating funds.
The education level
In Belgium, since the 1970 census, the population’s education level (measured by qualifications obtained) has improved. In 2009, three out of five Belgians had obtained their secondary education diploma, and one in four held a higher education qualification. Although the gap between the education levels of men and women has shrunk, men are still more highly qualified than women on average. Since the 1981 census, the education level of the population of the Walloon Region has been lower than that of the Flemish Region and the Brussels-Capital Region (Ministry of the French Community – ETNIC, 2006).