Belgian initiative to tackle long-term unemployment and territorial disparities: “Zero Long-Term Unemployment Territories”
Date: 17 Oct, 2023

The EXIT project, funded by the European Union’s Horizon Europe Programme, explores sustainable strategies to counteract territorial inequalities from an intersectional approach. It employs mixed-methods research to comprehensively analyze “left-behindness” as a concept used to describe territorial inequalities in specific areas. The project aims to identify strategies and practices to tackle these inequalities and provide a deeper understanding of how these areas are perceived as “left-behind.”

The identification of policies and strategies developed at national level in response to territorial disparities is an integral part of the project. In this context, the Belgian “Zero Long-term Unemployment Territories Initiative” has been identified as a promising policy for tackling territorial inequalities. Grounded on a French model, the concept is based on the idea that no one is jobless and that many social needs in education, health and personal care or climate change are not being met at the local level (ATD Quart Monde, 2014).

While unemployment policies usually aim to match the unemployed to the needs of companies, the project builds on the capacity of small areas (a neighbourhood in an urban area, a village community in a rural area) to organise themselves collectively, using the skills of the unemployed and respecting their rights, to meet local social or environmental needs. The starting point is to work with individuals to ‘create’ a job, based on their aspirations and skills (Interfédé CISP, 2021).

A fundamental element of the project is the bottom-up dynamic, which strengthens social cohesion and citizen participation in the area by mobilising local actors with strong links to the territory. It is the local actors (local authorities, associations, trade unions, employers, shopkeepers, craftsmen, residents, etc.) who are the initiators of the project and who freely decide on the allocation of resources for the implementation of territorial development policies (Charles & al., 2019). This means shifting decision-making power from the most central to the most decentralised level (de Bolster, 2018).

Areas of no more than 15,000 inhabitants selected because of their socio-economic characteristics, in particular the proportion of long-term unemployed, have been chosen to implement the initiative.

In Wallonia, 17 local experiments are currently being supported by the European Social Fund and by the Walloon Region within the framework of its Economic Recovery Plan (2021). Marchienne au Pont, one of the two sites selected as case-study in the framework of the EXIT project in Belgium, will be part of this Initiative”. Similar projects have also been launched in the Brussels Region and in the Flemish Region.

For more information about the EXIT Project, please visit


 ATQ Quart-Monde (2014), Territoires zéro chômeur de longue durée [en ligne]

Charles J., Dermine E., Hermant P., «Territoires zéro chômeurs de longue durée en Belgique», CESEP, 2019,

De Bolster H., «Territoire zéro chômeur de longue durée : L’Etat social actif enfin actif ?», SAW B, 2018,

Gouvernement wallon, Plan de relance de la Wallonie, 2021.

Interfédé CISP, Territoires Zéro Chômeurs de Longue Durée (TZCLD), Note d’analyse et de réflexion, 2021.

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