Belgium has more than 20% more civil servants than the European average

Belgium has more than 20% more civil servants than the European average
Belgium has more than 20% more civil servants than the European average
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“We have more than 20 percent more civil servants than the European average,” said Els Ampe (Voor U) in The appointment on Friday. This is evident from European figures, but they are very difficult to compare. We rate the statement as rather true.

This fact check was carried out based on the information available at the date of publication. Read more about how we work here.

In The appointment on Friday, Els Ampe presented her new party Voor U. With ‘state reduction’ as the spearhead. “We have more than 20% more civil servants than the European average,” it said.

When we contact Ampe, she sends us a table with OECD figures from 2019, showing the percentage of civil servants compared to the working population. On average, those countries have 15% civil servants, Belgium has 18.29%. That is more than 21% more, Ampe explains.

Striking: she selected 11 European OECD countries, but left out quite a few European countries. It is no coincidence that countries such as Norway, Sweden and Denmark. When we read the latest OECD publication Government at a Glance Looking at 2023, the OECD average in 2021 was 18.6%. This also includes non-European countries, but it is mainly the Scandinavian countries that increase the average, with percentages of up to more than 30%.

When it comes to “civil servants”, many people think exclusively of office workers in Brussels, but the public sector is much broader.

The publication points out that the roles and functions of the public sector vary widely. “In some countries, the vast majority of healthcare providers, teachers and emergency responders are employed directly by the government, in others largely by private companies or non-profit organizations.”

At Statbel they point us to figures from the Labor Force Survey, a socio-economic sample survey among households that is also carried out in other EU member states. Within that data you can filter by economic activity, or so-called NACE codes. The public sector – in which mainly civil servants work – then falls under NACE O (Public administration and defence, compulsory social insurance) and NACE P (Education). In Belgium, this sector accounts for 18.2% of the working population.

Statbel calculated for Knack also the European average, based on Eurostat data: 14.4%. Belgium is indeed more than 20% above that. But it is striking: countries that score relatively low in the OECD ranking, such as the Netherlands (12%) and Germany (11%), score 15% and 14% respectively. And Luxembourg, which is at 12% in the OECD calculation, even scores higher here than Belgium: 18.5%.

“All these different statistics prove how difficult it is to compare the percentage of civil servants between countries,” says public policy professor Wouter Van Dooren (University of Antwerp). ‘For example, one country chooses to offer free nursery education, the other does not. Or to privatize public transport.

‘When it comes to “civil servants”, many people think exclusively of office workers in Brussels, but the public sector is much broader: teachers, defense, healthcare workers, public transport, police… The question is whether so much can be saved there. As a government you can decide to privatize and subsidize all that, but then the costs remain approximately the same. Unless you make citizens pay much more themselves. The core of the discussion is: which public services do you want, and what should the government pay for?’

Is it true?

Eurostat figures show that Belgium has more than 20% more civil servants than the European average. But those figures are difficult to compare. We rate the statement as rather true.

Sources

In the article you will find links to all sources used.

In addition, we contacted the following people for this fact check:

– Telephone conversation and email with Wouter Van Dooren (University of Antwerp), April 29-30, 2024.

All sources were last accessed on April 30, 2024.

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Belgium civil servants European average

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