New figures show how wide the gap between Dutch-speaking Flanders and Francophone Wallonia is in Belgium. The Flemish labour mediator VDAB sent 117,000 job vacancies to its Walloon counterpart Forem. Only 51 people responded.
While Flanders is an economic powerhouse, Wallonia has a very high unemployment rate. The regional differences are some of the highest in Europe.
In West-Flanders particularly, demand for labour is sky-high with some areas even reaching zero unemployment. But in Walloon Hainaut, most unemployed people prefer to live off government benefits rather than working across the language barrier. Moreover, Hainaut has an exceptionally high unemployment rate of almost 12 per cent.
Still, language seems not to be the main issue, as West-Flanders succeeds in luring more workers from France (13,500) than from Wallonia (6,800).
The need for employment is so pressing that employer organisation Voka is sending “talent missions” to Mexico and India to attract migrant workers.
According to newspaper De Standaard, Belgium will require the services of more than 50,000 migrant workers by 2030.
Chair of Voka West Flanders Bert Mons told journalists that, “Both Mexico and India have surpluses of well-educated people, with a good work ethic and good language skills.”
Experts don’t agree and call that idea an illusory solution that only brings in new problems.
There is a lot of political blowback against the proposal to attract more migrants. Maaike De Vreese of the Belgian centre-right N-VA party said labour migration can only be a” last resort solution” and only then if it is based on a “broader policy vision”. She claimed the societal cost of migration is high and said people coming from abroad should learn the local language.
“Acceptance of our values and norms is essential to assimilate and integrate here,” she said. “A tightening of the rules around family reunification is also needed, as labour migration can encourage passive migration of family members.”
She also wants to get the non-working in Flanders back to employment but asserted the left-wing federal government refuses to facilitate that, “so people choose to live on benefits”.
Vlaams Belang’s Tom Vandendriessche went further. “The multicultural drama started with guest labour from the 1970s,” he stated. He said he wants to activate and “empower Wallonia by separating social security” so that each federal state has to bear its own costs regarding unemployment.
Vandendriessche also noted that wages in West Flanders are the lowest in the whole of Flanders. “What they really want to do is import cheap labour to drive down the wages,” he said. “After all, where there is scarcity, that price must rise.
“The reality is that parts of business are a parasitic globalist elite that wants to do business at the expense of our grassroots community,” he added.
“And we cannot and will not allow that to happen.”