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Flanders spends 3%+ of GDP on R&D, ranking 2nd in Europe

3% of GDP: that’s the target for annual expenditure on research and development (R&D) set by the European Council. While this percentage seems reasonable at first sight, few nations and regions currently manage to obtain this goal. Flanders, however, does and ranks second in Europe in this regard. Here’s how and why.

Leading the pack in Europe and beyond

According to a recent analysis by R&D monitoring expertise center ECOOM, companies, governmental organizations and knowledge institution in Flanders collectively spent 3.35% of the region’s GDP on R&D in 2019. As such, no less than EUR 9.35 billion went to R&D in the region.

This result places Flanders in 2nd place in Europe – just behind Sweden (3.4) and well above the European average (2.10%). As such, the region ranks ahead of large innovative economies such as Germany and Austria.

For the first time, Flanders is spending over 3% of its GDP on R&D: a major milestone. In the coming years, innovation will be even more important. The government of Flanders has allocated EUR 250 million for R&D as well as another EUR 195 million for research infrastructure, in addition to planned recovery funds. Through this, we want to remain above that 3% threshold in the years ahead.

Hilde Crevits
Flanders’ Vice-Minister-President and Minister for Economy, Innovation, Science Policy, Work, Social Economy, Agriculture & Fisheries

A talented workforce over 59,000 strong

It’s not just in Europe that Flanders’ overall R&D expenditure shines. “Flanders is even doing better than the US in this respect,” ECOOM confirms in a press release, adding that this impressive result goes hand in hand with a growing workforce of innovative R&D talent.

In 2019, more than 59,000 full-time equivalents (FTEs) – out of a relatively small population of around 6 million – were involved in research activities in Flanders. In 2018, this figure stood at 54,000 FTEs, which means that the region’s total R&D workforce grew by 9% in only one year. Compared to 2009, when around 37,000 people were active in research activities in the region, Flanders’ pool of R&D workers rose by a staggering 58% in just a decade. 

Innovative enterprises blazing the trail

Flanders’ entrepreneurial world is the main driving force behind the region’s R&D expenditure. As such, 76% of research is privately financed, while 24% is funded by the government of Flanders.  

Even more, R&D spending by companies is on the rise, a trend that, according to ECOOM, can be attributed to the following factors:

  • there is an increasing number of various tax measures that make it more interesting for companies to invest in R&D;
  • Flanders’ companies are focusing ever more on boosting their digitization efforts and investing in digital innovations;
  • there is a strong increase in R&D spending among biopharmaceutical companies as well as growth in clinical research.

Keeping a good thing going

Flanders’ Minister for Innovation Hilde Crevits is enthusiastic about the ECOOM analysis: “In 2008, Flanders just reached the 2% threshold for R&D expenditure. Today, our region’s efforts already score well above the 3% goal. This indicates our success in building, maintaining and fortifying our knowledge-driven economy. Flanders is an absolute world leader when it comes to R&D spending – and with the increased efforts planned in the coming years, we seek to keep this drive going.”

More info

EWI Vlaanderen
Reported by
website EWI Vlaanderen & press release ECOOM
28 July 2021

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