Last Monday, we welcomed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Administration, Public Enterprises, Telecommunications and Post, Petra De Sutter, for our third AmCham Belgium meets event of 2021. During the online meeting, Ms. De Sutter discussed the current state of public administration, digitalization in Belgium and the EU, remote work as well as lessons to be learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ms. De Sutter opened the session with a brief overview of the pandemic and vaccine roll-out and the gradual easing of restrictions. She stressed the importance of restoring Belgium’s competitiveness, especially when it comes to the sectors most impacted by COVID-19, such as travel, events and the hospitality industry. She stressed the opportunity for lessons to be learnt from this pandemic, particularly the need to build a more resilient economy and to implement a hybrid work model to the benefit of both workers and employers in the post-COVID era.
Economic recovery, resilience and innovation
Continuing on the topic of economic recovery and adapting to the ‘new normal’, the Deputy Prime Minister emphasized the importance of further developing telecommunications and other crucial infrastructure that we relied on during the pandemic. “This is also an opportunity for innovation, for growth of our own industry,” she said while referring to the development and implementation of the 5G mobile network, artificial intelligence and other systems that can help build an economy and society more resilient to possible future crises.
This is also an opportunity for innovation, for growth of our own industry
Digitalization and collaboration between the public and private sectors
Ms. De Sutter said that the innovative power of the private sector and emerging technologies could be strong drivers of positive change in the public sector as well, but added that proper frameworks must be put in place to ensure regulatory compliance. These frameworks should also help attract investors able to financially contribute to large public infrastructure projects needed for the green transition and to tackle climate change.
Recent data breaches have shown us how vulnerable both the public administration and private companies are to cyberattacks, and how much room for improvement and investment there is. Ms. De Sutter explained that a large budget for improving cybersecurity is currently being discussed within the government, but that more needs to be done to create awareness around cybersecurity issues in general. Private companies, especially SMEs, are usually not well prepared in terms of IT security and lack the necessary knowledge and tools to sufficiently protect their own data and business processes.
Investments and specifics of the Belgian political system
On policymaking, the Deputy Prime Minister acknowledged the complexity of Belgium’s political system and the sometimes difficult collaboration between the regional and federal levels. Understanding that companies often find it challenging to navigate the administrative and regulatory frameworks, she added that one of the priorities of the current Federal Government is to reduce the administrative burden on enterprises and facilitate foreign investments.
Along with attracting investors and introducing innovation, Ms. De Sutter pointed out that Belgium should keep fostering the areas in which it is already very successful: circular economy, data management, artificial intelligence, medical and pharmaceutical research.
Women in business
Both AmCham Belgium and the government acknowledge the lack of female representation in key positions, especially in sectors like STEM and ICT. Ms. De Sutter believes that tackling stereotypes at a young age, including within the education system, is key. Schools have an important role to play to counter stereotypes that push young girls to pursue professions in the care sector instead of stereotypically male domains such as science and technology, and vice-versa. She also stressed that improving the balance between men and women when it comes to family and home responsibilities, following the Scandinavian model, is a continuous priority for the government.
Ms. De Sutter concluded the session by once again inviting private companies to collaborate with the public sector in order to create a stronger Belgian and EU economy as
[Belgium] is the heart and center of Europe, and we have so much to offer.
AmCham Belgium would like to thank Joan Van Loon, Belux Enterprise Unit Leader Public, Life Sciences, Telco & Utilities at IBM Belux and Chair of our Innovative Healthcare Committee, for moderating this session.
About the author
Ana helps the team with events planning and organization in order to ensure a high-quality online experience. She is an avid language learner who enjoys meeting people and discovering new places.