The indicators in the table below present a synthesis of research, innovation and competitiveness in Belgium. They relate knowledge investment and input to performance or economic output throughout the innovation cycle. They show thematic strengths in key technologies and also the high-tech and medium-tech contribution to the trade balance. The table includes a new index on excellence in science and technology which takes into consideration the quality of scientific production as well as technological development. The indicator on knowledge-intensity of the economy is an index on structural change that focuses on the sectoral composition and specialisation of the economy and shows the evolution of the weight of knowledge-intensive sectors and products and services.
Belgium has a very high quality research system, as reflected by its third highest score among all EU Member States on the S&T Excellence index. Belgium has been able to exploit this strength to its economic advantage in several sectors. A particularly good performance is visible in the biopharmaceutical sector, where high scientific quality, business investment, product innovation and trade performance reinforce each other. Moreover, several service sectors, such as computer-related and other business services, strongly contribute in Belgium to a structural change towards a more knowledge-intensive economy, notably through the growth of innovative firms. However, despite these very positive sectoral dynamics, Belgian R&D intensity stagnated in the period 2000-2011 and there was even a decline in business expenditure on R&D, especially between 2001 and 2005.
This is due to a de-industrialisation trend, which has notably affected several hightech and medium- high-tech manufacturing sectors. The de-industrialisation trend has been accompanied by a rapid deterioration of the Belgian trade balance since 2002, showing that the strengths of the services and of the bio-pharmaceutical sectors cannot alone support the competitiveness of Belgium. There is a consensus in Belgium about the critical importance of fostering the innovation-based competiveness of Belgian businesses.
This has been reflected in the development of sophisticated and comprehensive policy mixes at national and regional levels and in significant budgetary efforts in favour of R&D from all political entities, especially between 2005 and 2009. At federal level, fiscal incentives for R&D are an important tool. In the Walloon Region the focus has been on supporting a limited number of competitiveness poles (a cluster approach). In the Flemish Region, the willingness to address through innovation some specific societal challenges is a main driver of research and innovation policy. In the Brussels Capital Region, an updated innovation strategy including a ‘smart specialisation’ approach has been launched in 2012.