Is Brussels a performing, competitive and attractive European metropolitan region?

Most international studies compare the economic performance of the exceptionally small, urban and densely populated Brussels-Capital Region with that of other EU27 NUTS2 regions, which can be quite vast (for example, Andalusia) or predominantly rural (such as Champagne-Ardennes).

This approach makes little sense, especially since many economic variables, like GDP per capita, are significantly upwards biased in a small urban region such as Brussels where commuters contribute to GDP but do not form part of the population.

The article analyses the economic performance, competitiveness and attractiveness of Brussels compared with 35 other EU metropolises, considering for each both the core and the commuting area. In 2019, before the pandemic, GDP per capita in the Brussels metropolitan region was higher than the sample median but still far from that of the top EU regions according to regional statistics. Moreover, GDP per capita growth was only in the median range over the period 1997-2019 and lagged behind that of wealthier high-performing metropolitan regions: Paris, Lyon, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Munich, Luxembourg, Stockholm, Helsinki and Copenhagen.

In terms of competitiveness, compared to the other metropolises studied, including the high performers, Brussels has an expansive and rich potential market, a sizeable pool of people with higher education and is accessible in less than 90 minutes for a large number of people living within a radius of 120 kilometres. On the other hand, it has a less efficient labour market, less developed training and innovation and lower quality institutions.

In terms of attractiveness, quality of life was also perceived in 2019 as lower in Brussels than in the high performers, and Brussels is amongst the most congested metropolises in the EU.

Case studies have shown that certain high-performing metropolitan regions have introduced a flexible, sustained development policy coordinated with the private sector at various levels of government and have implemented strategies that take into consideration the relationship between the core and the periphery, especially in the fields of regional development, spatial planning and transport.