Corruption in today’s Belgium

Re-Bel e-book 17, Published in English in June 2015, 41 pages

Edited by Estelle Cantillon
Contributions by Antonio Estache, Jeroen Maesschalck and François Vincke


Belgium seems to have an odd relationship with corruption. While most people condemn it, many consider (minor) occurrences of corruption as inevitable. Likewise, while evidence shows that corruption harms competitiveness and growth and a number of indicators point to the underperformance of Belgium in the fight against corruption, the current government agreement does not contain any mention of anti-corruption measures, despite a first chapter devoted to competitiveness and employment.

In this fascinating e-Book, based on a Re-Bel event that took place in December 2013, Antonio Estache, Jeroen Maesschalck and François Vincke take turns sharing their analysis of the drivers, prevalence, consequences and cures of corruption in Belgium. Their perspectives complement one another very nicely and offer some answers to the paradox. While it would be impossible for me to do proper justice to their analysis in this brief preface, I can’t help but note a vicious cycle at play in explaining the low salience that corruption has in the public debate. Belgium’s lack of commitment to fighting corruption means that the relevant data to detect and measure corruption are not collected, which reduces accountability (we live in the happy world of ignorance), which, in turn, facilitates corruptive practices and reduces the incentives for those in power to fight them. Breaking this vicious cycle is not easy: the main beneficiaries are taxpayers who are dispersed and have very small incentives individually by definition, and future generations who are not even represented. In addition, both Antonio Estache and Jeroen Maeschalck identify several cultural and institutional specificities of Belgium, such as the important role that political parties take or the strong tradition of hierarchical rather than procedural enforcement, that facilitate the current state of affairs. All three authors nevertheless outline different measures and approaches to effectively tackle corruption. This is also an area where Belgium could usefully learn from best practices abroad.