Since mid-2009, the world economy has been recovering from one of the worst post-war economic crises. As of mid-2010, world economic growth should slow down as stimulus measures are gradually reduced or phased out and stock building becomes less of a support to economic growth. Moreover, western economies now face major challenges in restoring health to public finances. As a result, the international context remains surrounded by major uncertainties, with downside as well as upside risks.
During the second half of 2009, the Belgian economy posted positive quarterly growth rates driven by recovering exports and an acceleration of private consumption growth. In 2010Q1, the economic recovery was, however, interrupted due to a drop in construction activity owing to the cold weather. Strong GDP growth in 2010Q2 (0.9%) was in turn partly due to a catch-up by the construction sector, but exports boomed as well because of the strong growth of the German economy. In line with the international business cycle, qoq GDP growth should decelerate to 0.3% on average during the second half of 2010. In the course of 2011, export growth should pick up again, resulting in average quarterly GDP growth of 0.5% in the second half of the year. On an annual basis, GDP growth should amount to 1.8% in 2010 and 1.7% in 2011.
The past recession has had a smaller impact on domestic employment than initially expected. A temporary strong decrease in hourly labour productivity and in average hours worked per person softened the downward impact on the number of employed persons. Consequently, the net decrease in employment in 2009 was limited to 17 500 persons (-0.4%). Hourly labour productivity and average working time should catch up in the course of this year and next year. Combined with a modest economic recovery, the net increase in employment should therefore remain limited to 10 100 persons in 2010 and 4 700 in 2011. The harmonised Eurostat unemployment rate (which is based on labour force surveys) is expected to increase from 7% in 2008 to 9% in 2011.
During recent years, Belgian headline inflation (as measured by yoy growth of the national index of consumer prices) has primarily been influenced by the evolution of raw materials prices. As from May 2010, underlying inflation has also been creeping up. In the course of the next year, underlying inflation should remain on an uptrend. Nevertheless, consumer price inflation is expected to decelerate somewhat because of the quasi-stabilisation of energy prices. On an annual basis, inflation should drop from 2.1% in 2010 to 2% in 2011.
STU 3-10 was finalised on 1 October 2010
The Council has defined headline targets in five areas. Each of these targets form objectives for the EU as a whole. Member States will have to define similar national targets, taking into account their relative starting positions and national circumstances, and detailed actions for achieving these targets in their National Reform Programmes (NRP) due in November of this year. The remainder of this article will look at the five areas of headline targets and will present the EU objectives and possible Belgian targets, as suggested by the FPB. As a point of comparison, the weighted average for each indicator of Germany, France and the Netherlands is also included.
The target is defined in terms of the employment rate for the 20-64 age group. The EU target is set at 75%. Given the starting point in Belgium, it seems reasonable to target for a share below 75% for Belgium. In a “no policy change” scenario, the employment rate in Belgium is expected to be 66.9% in 2010 and 69.8% in 2020. An objective of between 71% and 74% seems possible but is ambitious. The lower bound corresponds to one of the scenarios that the European Commission has calculated for all Member States: to halve the difference between 75% and the expected employment rate for 2010.