Insight

Belgium - heart of Europe

March 2015


Belgium is a founder member of the European Union (EU) and hosts the headquarters of both the European Commission and NATO.  Add to this the several hundred international institutions and corporations that operate here and it is clear that Belgium is a major European player.

Brussels - capital of Europe

The status of Brussels as a political centre means there are more than 13,000 lobbyists active in the city.  This places Brussels second only to Washington DC for active interest groups and non-governmental organisations.

As an important European rail hub, Brussels is a mere 80 minutes from Paris and two hours from London.  However, unlike Paris and London, Brussels has preserved a competitive and relatively affordable property market.  This has undoubtedly attracted many of the multinational companies that have chosen to place their headquarters in Brussels.

Infrastructure

Belgium's global and open economy, allied with its well-developed and integrated infrastructure makes it an ideal entry point to the wider EU.  For example:

  • Antwerp is Europe's largest container port for handling US-EU trade
  • Liege is the third-largest European river port
  • Brussels airport is only 15 minutes from the city centre
  • 140 million EU consumers live within a 300-mile radius.

Tax incentives for foreign investors exist in Poland's special economic zones (SEZ) - separately identified areas allowing preferential business activity. Foreign investors can receive exemption from income tax and real estate taxes.

These and other advantages have helped place Belgium in the top 20 of the world's trading nations.

Economy

The Belgian economy is one of high productivity giving rise to an impressive gross national product. The economy can also show a record of high exports comprising products such as machinery, chemicals, finished diamonds, metals, and food products that include Belgium's world-famous beer and chocolate.

The Belgian economy has traditionally been open, with much dependence on international trade. Since World War Two foreign investment has played a vital role in Belgium's economic success, providing technology and employment. The federal and regional governments encourage foreign investment, and foreign companies form one-third of the top 3,000 companies in Belgium.

OECD says: "reforms can support growth and equity in Belgium"

In its 2015 Economic Survey of Belgium, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), while suggesting reforms and warning against complacency, was complimentary about the Belgian economy.

When presenting the survey in Brussels, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said:

"In these difficult times, Belgium keeps doing well!

"Belgium is one of the few euro area countries where GDP has already surpassed pre-crisis levels. Also, general well-being is above the average of OECD countries. When looking at the various dimensions of well-being - economic, social or environmental - Belgium has a strong performance in almost all of them. Remarkably, despite the crisis, income inequality has remained relatively low compared to other OECD countries.

"Belgium has achieved high levels of well-being, and managed to preserve them throughout the biggest economic crisis in our lives. Well-being depends on economic growth, but also on the ability to share its fruits equitably, so as to preserve social cohesion."

Supporting business

Belgium incentivises business with particular support for recruitment, training, logistics, and research and development.

In 2006 Belgium introduced a new investment incentive programme. This allows a company to deduct from its profits a notional amount of interest that would be due if the company funded its locally invested capital through borrowing. This deduction lowers the sum on which Belgian corporate taxes are calculated.

Six reasons to invest in Belgium

  • Strategic location - with France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK within easy reach, Belgium has access to the key European markets. This central location is what makes it such an obvious choice for the EC, NATO and many corporations to base their headquarters.
  • Infrastructure - Belgium has a mature, efficient and integrated network of roads, railways, airports and seaports.
  • Tax incentives for business - Belgium offers various incentives to tempt businesses to locate here.
  • High-quality workforce - Belgian employees are well-educated and multilingual.
  • Ease of doing business - setting up a business in Belgium is quick and easy, with good legal protection.
  • Quality of life - with great schools, efficient transport and one of the best healthcare services in the world, multicultural and multilingual Belgium is a pleasant place to live.

There are many reasons to recommend Belgium as a place to set up your business but as always you must seek professional advice.

Author: Dirk Wouters