Belgium, a failed state? Unsustainable public debt

Monday 11 March 2024, 17.00-18.30

Re-Bel Public Event – University Foundation (Brussels)

Is onze staatsschuld nog langer houdbaar? 
La dette publique est-elle soutenable? 

Is Belgium a failed state? The successive crises of the last three years have put Belgium’s public finances under severe pressure. International organisations, European institutions and the National Bank frequently warn that Belgium’s public finances risk becoming unsustainable. Expressed per inhabitant, Belgium’s public debt is the highest in Europe.    

Current and future challenges, regarding for example climate change, our aging population or eroding defense capabilities, require substantial government investment. While these expenditures seem inevitable, the question increasingly arises as to whether the Belgian budget can still meet these challenges. Drawing up a sound and sustainable budget requires bold and determined action by the federal government, the Communities and the Regions. However, because of the autonomy granted to our federated entities, the federal government cannot impose targets on the Regions and the Communities or force non-compliant entities to fall in line. This makes coordination harder than in other systems. 

The broader question then becomes whether Belgian federalism is still capable of achieving the long-term policy goals of the 21st century. Whilst we tackle the goal of sustainable public finances in this Re-Bel event, we will explore the green transition and other challenges in future events. Do we need to rethink our institutions to come up with effective policies? Is closer cooperation sufficient, or are more forceful mechanisms necessary? Which other pathways exist to meet long-term climate and budgetary targets in an effective and coordinated way?

These and many more questions were tackled at Re-Bel’s Public Event, held on Monday 11 March 2024 from 5 to 6.30 pm concurrently at the University Foundation (11 rue d’Egmontstraat, 1000 Brussels) and online.

Language regime: Dutch and French 

Speakers: Thomas DERMINE (federal State Secretary for Economic Recovery and Strategic Investments) & Koen GEENS (ex-Finance Minister) 

Challenges: Magali VERDONCK (ULB) and Damien PIRON (ULiège) 

Moderation: Béatrice DELVAUX (Le Soir) and Karel VERHOEVEN (De Standaard) 

Organisation: Karel REYBROUCK (Re-Bel, UCLouvain, ULB), Céline ROMAINVILLE (Re-Bel, UCLouvain) & Willem SAS (Re-Bel, Stirling, UCLouvain, KULeuven) 


Daan Bleus, Moet Vlaanderen de federale begroting redden?, De Tijd 21 februari 2024.

André Decoster, De begroting is niet onhoudbaar als men keuzes durft maken, Sampol, 2024, nr. 3, 4-12.

Paul De Grauwe, De overheid betaalt nooit haar schuld af. Is dat een probleem? Nee, als dit proces niet explosief evolueert, De Morgen, 26 september 2023.

Karel Reybrouck, Céline Romainville et Willem Sas, Une autre Belgique pour affronter les défis du XXIe siècle, Le Soir 10 mars 2024.

Karel Reybrouck, Céline Romainville en Willem Sas, Federalisme 2.0: Waar ligt de resetknop voor België?, De Standaard 11 maart 2024.