Artikel (07/03/2005)

Sustainable development policy at the federal level in Belgium

In July 2003 the Belgian federal government’s Policy Declaration expressed its intention to assess its sustainable development policy. This Working Paper aims to facilitating this, by delivering a timely evaluation of both the implementation of the first two Federal Plans for Sustainable Development and the Federal strategic policy process in which these plans are elaborated, implemented and monitored. The last part of the Paper describes the strategies for sustainable development at other Belgian and international policy levels, including partnerships for sustainable development. The Belgian Federal Strategy for Sustainable Development is a learning process. The federal authorities have taken important steps to put sustainable development into practice. This paper shows that improvements are necessary and points out where they are possible.

The first chapter reports on the content of Sustainable Development Plans. It begins by describing the degree to which the first Federal Plan for Sustainable Development (2000-2004) has been implemented. The measures in the first Plan are categorised according to their features such as the actual degree of implementation, the themes covered and the policy instruments used. This shows that at least 56 % of all measures are being implemented. In this category of measures that are being implemented, most measures are being prepared (20 % of all measures) or being executed (32 % of all measures). Only a few measures are reported as not implemented. There are grounds to suppose, however, that most non-implemented measures end up in the rather large “without information” category (30% of all measures). The first chapter also contains a comparison between the first two Plans. The second Plan (2004-2008) has adopted a structure that is more in accordance with the requests of the major groups (pronounced through the Federal Advisory Council for Sustainable Development). This structure is unevenly implemented, however. For instance it shows a lack of quantifiable objectives. The analysis also reveals that 45% of all measures in the second Plan somehow reiterate measures from the first Plan. Moreover there is a risk of overlap between Sustainable Development Plans and existing theme-based federal policy plans. The second Sustainable Development Plan mentions federal theme-based plans but does not contain measures to improve their coherence and co-ordination.

The second chapter focuses on the policy process engendered by the Belgian Act of 5 May 1997 on the Co-ordination of Federal Sustainable Development Policy. This chapter reveals that more funding was allocated to the public consultation for the second plan, but with less success than had been achieved for the first plan. One possible cause of this is that a large part of the second Plan overlaps with theme-based policy plans and with the government’s Policy Declaration of 2003, which had to be executed in any case. The public therefore had reason to believe that their voice was not being heard. Moreover, the document submitted to the public was not easy to understand. The public also did not have sufficient information about the implementation of the first Plan. These flaws could be avoided in future. Another problem addressed by the second chapter is the sequence of Reports and Plans issued on the basis of the above-mentioned Act. This is important because the philosophy of the Act is to learn lessons in the Reports and improve the Plans on the basis of these lessons.

The third chapter deals with the sustainable development strategies of other public authorities in Belgium (the Regions, Communities etc.) and at the international level (the United Nations, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the European Union). The chapter ends with a description of Partnerships for Sustainable Development. This third chapter does not evaluate the policies of these authorities but it describes them as carefully as possible. This will make it possible to improve multilevel governance in Belgium and provide information that can help to generate a Belgian national strategy on sustainable development in the future.

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