We need a competent, efficient and effective government with institutional leadership and unity of command... The Sustainable Governance Indicators (2019) point to the problem of the (Belgian) public debt, which results in public investments in public infrastructure and Higher Education that have fallen below a healthy level. VARIO puts forward five focus areas:

1. An evidence-informed innovation policy as spearhead: Flanders must make from evidence-informed policy an absolute spearhead in the next ten years, also in innovation policy. We need to engineer[1] innovation policy in a more rigid way based on scientific knowledge and analysis and from different perspectives of all stakeholders in the working field;

2. A proactive, future-proof innovation policy: governing means looking ahead; a proactive government is essential to be strategically well prepared in a complex and rapidly changing world, to major societal challenges... We need a greater policy capacity for foresight. VARIO asks for a new foresight study in order to get a better understanding of the societal and economic challenges ahead..., the technological developments and opportunities in the next 10 years (2030). We refer to the former VRWB Clusters 2015[2] and the VRWI Foresight Study 2025.[3]

3. A coordinated, multilevel regional innovation policy with bottom-up focus: from the analyses accompanying this advisory report, we observe that compared to the highly urbanized Flemish Diamond[4], the peripheral provinces (West Flanders and Limburg) lag in terms of innovation and competitiveness. In order to strengthen innovation and competitiveness in the Flemish peripheral provinces, without losing critical mass, efficiency and effectiveness, VARIO advises to make use of agglomeration benefits of local, urban areas from a bottom-up focus, as much as possible and in a more coordinated way. VARIO puts forward 3 working points:

a. Strengthening cooperation between governments: in innovation policy VARIO asks to pay more attention to cooperation between local, urban authorities on the one hand and the more central government in Flanders (Flemish government), Belgium (Federal Government) and the European level on the other hand. Bottlenecks arise in regional hotspots because different levels of policy sometimes conflict or duplicate each other;

b. Stimulating links between the peripheral provinces and the Flemish Diamond: missing resources or ‘holes’ in ecosystems in the peripheral provinces should be compensated as much as possible by stimulating stronger links between the Flemish diamond and the peripheral provinces;

c. Stimulating cross-regional cooperation in Eurometropoles: further effort should be made to cross-regional cooperation in innovation policy to increase the local market, as a lever for internationalization of SMEs in the slipstream of larger companies. Opportunities lie within stronger links between the urbanized EU region of Maas-Rhine with urban areas in Limburg on the one hand; and the urbanized EU region of Kortrijk-Lille-Tournai with West Flanders on the other. VLAIO may be asked to experiment with new, low-threshold innovation instruments in these regions together with fellow agencies in our neighboring countries and regions. The cooperation between VLAIO, ICON[5] and INNOVIRIS (the innovation agency in Brussels) for cross-border regional cooperation can be inspirational.

4. Public investments in infrastructure and higher education must absolutely be increased: VARIO asks to invest in strategic investments in large (innovation) infrastructure, such as green energy, CO2 reduction, mobility, ICT infrastructure, health infrastructure…. and in Higher Education which is underfunded. Investments in large infrastructure are important not only in terms of the economic recovery (COVID-19), but also in the medium to long term on the road to 2030. VARIO therefore asks the competent authorities, together with private partners, to prioritize and accelerate the roll-out of the 5G network;

5. Stronger diplomatic representation and information flow at the European level: in order to participate in European decision-making, the Flemish Government must develop a better governance framework with an efficient decision-making path, maximum use of existing consultation channels and structures in and between the regional, community and federal levels, maximum use of Flemish representatives in European forums; and better information flow.[6]

[1] Henri Ghesquire (2006). Singapore’s success: Engineering economic growth. Gale Asia. https://www.amazon.com/Singapores-Success-Engineering-Economic-Growth/dp/9814195286
[2] https://www.vlaanderen.be/publicaties/zes-clusters-en-hun-speerpunten
[3] https://www.vlaanderen.be/publicaties/vrwi-toekomstverkenningen-2025
[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flemish_Diamond
[5] The imec.icon research program is a formula for demand-driven, cooperative research. See https://www.imec-int.com/nl/imec-icon
[6] VARIO Memorandum 2019-2024: https://www.vario.be/en/publications/vario-memorandum-2019-2024