Belgium has maintained its ranking of 16th this year, with strong performances across the Culture and Education sub-indices, balanced out by slightly weaker performances in Digital and Enterprise. As host to the EU and NATO, it is surprising to see Belgium fall out of the top ten in the Engagement sub-index, but this is likely a reflection of the country’s relatively small diplomatic network abroad. Enterprise – an area where Belgium saw gains last year – has also taken a hit in 2018. This should be of concern for Belgium as it looks to attract business away from the UK in a post-Brexit environment. Despite these weaker performances, Belgium’s art, film, music, and sports scenes continues to perform strongly. These cultural assets have been critical in ensuring Belgium is seen as an attractive destination for international visitors.
Belgium’s strongest asset is its hosting of NATO and the EU, particularly as Brexit negotiations continue and NATO tries to reinvent itself in an era of reduced American tutelage. Brussels will be the stage for a number of crucial negotiations and meetings in the coming years, and Belgium’s power to convene must not be underestimated.
Belgium’s poorest performance is in Enterprise, largely due to middling scores in competitiveness and innovation. While Flanders has flourished as a hub for international investment, regions such as Wallonia, which is heavily reliant on industry, have yet to catch up. As Brexit approaches, it will be critical for Belgium to position itself as an open, vibrant economy.
Belgium should leverage its leadership role in the EU and NATO to raise its voice and profile on the world stage. As the best example of consociationalism (power-sharing in states with diverse societies), Belgium has a lot to say about reaching compromise and consensus in difficult negotiations. These insights could prove useful in efforts to address complex conflicts around the globe.