Ekonomske analize
Belgium

Belgium

Population 11.4 million
GDP 43,488 US$
A2
Country risk assessment
A1
Business Climate
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Synthesis

major macro economic indicators

  2016 2017 2018 (e) 2019 (f)
GDP growth (%) 1.5 1.7 1.5 1.5
Inflation (yearly average, %) 1.8 2.2 2.3 2.1
Budget balance (% GDP) -2.4 -0.9 -1.0 -1.0
Current account balance (% GDP) -0.4 0.9 1.2 1.1
Public debt (% GDP) 106.1 103.4 102.3 100.6

 

(e): Estimate. (f): Forecast.

STRENGTHS

 

  • Optimal location between the United Kingdom, Germany and France
  • Presence of European institutions,
    international organisations and global groups
  • Ports of Antwerp (second largest in Europe) and Zeebrugge, canals and motorways
  • Well-trained workforce through vocational education, multilingualism

WEAKNESSES

  • Political and financial tensions between Flanders and Wallonia
  • Complex institutional structure and multiple administrative levels
  • Highly dependent on the Western European economy (exports of goods and services = 82% of GDP)
  • Exports concentrated on intermediate products
  • High structural unemployment
  • Heavy public debt
  • Tight housing market
  • Saturated transport infrastructure

RISK ASSESSMENT

Growth to mark time in 2019

Belgium’s economic expansion faltered slightly in 2018, echoing the performances of other eurozone countries. Domestic demand remained buoyant, driven by resilient household consumption and increased investment. Unlike in 2017, exports made a small contribution to activity. Growth is expected to stagnate again in 2019, with domestic demand still the main driver. A less supportive European environment and weaker business confidence are expected to cause private investment to moderate. At the same time, the increase in public investment observed following the 2018 municipal elections is expected to be temporary and this will be only slightly compensated for by the measures contained in the Investment Pact. Following the government’s collapse in December 2018, some of the investments announced by Prime Minister Charles Michel will likely be withdrawn. Indeed, the caretaker government will only be enabled to deal with projects that have been approved by the former coalition, such as the completion of the RER rail project. However, consumption is expected to take over. Household disposable income is poised to continue growing, boosted by a buoyant labour market and tax cuts for households. However, consumption could be somewhat depressed by continued high inflation resulting from increased domestic production costs due to tight labour market conditions, on the one hand, and from energy prices, which refuse to go down, on the other. External demand is expected to make a less robust contribution due to the slowdown of Belgium’s main eurozone partners. At the same time, export competitiveness will likely continue to fall due to the rise in domestic wages and euro appreciation against the US dollar.

Slight deviation from the medium-term budgetary objectives

After falling in 2017, the government deficit stabilised in 2018. Budgetary expenditures and revenues fell by 0.3 and 0.2 percentage points of GDP respectively. The drop in revenues is attributable to the slight slowdown in activity but also to the reduction in compulsory levies as part of the tax shift. Increases in capital expenditure at the municipal level were offset by a larger than expected decrease in federal spending. However, the structural balance declined compared with 2017 to reach 1% of GDP. The government deficit is expected to stabilize in 2019. The fall of Charles Michel’s government and the appointment of a caretaker government will likely cancel the reforms planned in the 2019 budget. In fact, as the prerogatives of the new government are limited, the state’s budget is divided into provisional twelfths, i.e. one-twelfth of the previous year’s budget for each month of the financial year. As nominal growth is expected to remain higher than interest rates, public debt should continue to decline in 2019, despite an unchanged primary balance.

The current account should remain in balance. The trade surplus is expected to fall slightly under import pressure. Services will remain in surplus thanks to IT, telecommunications, royalties, transport and trading.

Government falls on the eve of an election year

Given that the country has just entered an election year, the political crisis that shook Belgium in December 2018 is likely to lead to a long period of political uncertainty. Following a disagreement over the ratification of the Marrakech Global Migration Pact, the Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA), the main Flemish majority party, left the government. The new government of Charles Michel, a minority government, had only 52 deputies out of 150 in the House of Representatives and was forced to rely on Parliament to endorse its decisions. Faced with the risk of a motion of no confidence from the opposition (socialist and ecologist), Charles Michel submitted his resignation to King Philippe on December 18, 2018. The King ruled out the possibility of holding early elections but asked the Prime Minister to lead a caretaker government until the next election deadline. Federal parliamentary elections are expected to be held on May 26 together with regional and community (elections of representatives of regional and community parliaments) and European elections. As supporters of confederalism begin to make their voices heard, it is highly likely that the federal elections will lead to a fragmented Parliament that reflects the divisions that are undermining the country. Acting as a test, the communal and provincial elections confirm two trends that were already perceptible: on the one hand, the gap between Flemish and Walloon people is widening, and on the other hand, the major political parties are weakening in favour of more radical movements. Thus in Wallonia, the Socialist Party was unable to limit the breakthrough of the Belgian Labour Party (PTB), a radical left-wing formation, and in Flanders, the N-VA recorded a slight decline in the cities where the far right is making progress.

 

Last update : February 2019

Payment

Bank transfers (SEPA & SWIFT) and electronic payments are the most frequently used methods of payment for businesses.

Cheques are seldom used and only in certain sectors (e.g. transport, fruit and vegetable wholesale). As cheques no longer benefit from a guarantee from the issuing bank, the cheque issuer’s account needs to contain sufficient funds in order to be for the cheque to be cashed. Issuing a cheque with insufficient funds is a criminal offence.

Bills of exchange are no longer used for payment in Belgium, except in certain sectors and in international transactions.

Payment defaults are no longer recorded in the Moniteur belge (MB, Belgian Official Journal), but they can be consulted on the National Chamber of Bailiffs’ website, where data is available to banks and professional organisations.

Debt Collection

Amicable phase

There are no special provisions for out-of-court debt recoveries between businesses. Creditors should attempt to gain payment from debtors by sending written reminders. Before beginning legal action against a debtor company, it is often worthwhile asking a lawyer to check the database of seizures.

 

Legal proceedings

Judgments are normally delivered within 30 days after closure of the hearings. A judgment is rendered by default in cases where debtors are neither present nor represented during the proceedings.

Fast track proceedings

This procedure is rarely used in business-to-business cases, and cannot be implemented when the debt is disputed. A 2016 law implemented a new set of procedural rules, creating an out-of-court administrative procedure for non-disputed debts. When an order of payment has been issued, the debtor has a month to pay the amount. If the debtor refuses, the creditor can request a bailiff to issue a writ of execution. Moreover, under the new rules, lodging an appeal against a judgment will no longer suspend the enforceability of this judgment. Consequently, even if the debtor starts appeal proceedings, the creditor will be able to pursue the recovery of the debt.

 

Retention of title clause

This is a contractual provision stipulating that the seller retains title of goods until receipt of full payment from the buyer. Unpaid creditors can make claims on goods in the debtor’s possession. It therefore follows that the retention of title clause is enforceable in all situations where creditors bear losses arising from insolvencies, whatever the nature of the underlying contract. When goods sold under retention of title are converted into a claim (after a sale), the seller-owner’s rights referring to this claim (the selling price) are known as real subrogation.

 

Ordinary proceedings before the commercial court

All disputes between companies can be tried by the Commercial Court in Belgium. In cases of cross-border claims using European legislation, a European execution for payment proceedings can be enabled. Claimants also have recourse to European small claims proceedings.

 

Summon on the merits

The bailiff assigns the debtor a court date for the introduction of the case. If discussions do not take place, judgement will follow within four to six weeks. If there are discussions pending, parties need to put their intentions in written conclusions. After judgement, there is a possibility to appeal – if no appeal is filed, the execution will follow through the bailiff.

 

Attachment procedure

This judicial proceeding is conducted for the benefit of only one party (ex parte). There are three essential conditions to proceed with an attachment:

  • urgency of the measure;
  • prior authorisation of the judge is required to lay a conservatory attachment;
  • the debt must be certain, collectable and liquid.

A debtor may request the cancellation of the attachment if it has been unjustly imposed. However, once an attachment has been imposed, it remains valid for a period of three years. Subsequently, a conservatory attachment may be transformed into an execution order.

 

Enforcement of a Legal Decision

A judgment becomes enforceable once all venues of have been exhausted. If the debtor refuses to execute payment, a bailiff can attach the debtor’s assets or obtain payment through a third party (Direct Action).

Foreign awards can be recognised and enforced in Belgium, provided that various criteria are met. The outcome will vary depending on whether the award is rendered in an EU country (in which case it will benefit from particularly advantageous enforcement conditions), or a non-EU country (for which normal exequatur procedures are applied).

Insolvency Proceedings

Bankruptcy proceedings

Debtors can file for bankruptcy when they have ceased making payments for some time, or when the creditor’s confidence has been lost. If bankruptcy is granted, creditors must register their claims within the time prescribed in the court’s insolvency declaration. Failure to do so on the part of a creditor will result in the cancellation of their priority rights. The court then appoints a trustee, or official receiver, to verify the claims. The retention of title clause can be cited by the creditor, in order to claim his property.

Since 2017, submissions of claims where bankruptcy procedures are involved must be made electronically, via the Central Solvency Register (www.regsol.be), which records all bankruptcies over the last 30 years.

 

Judicial restructuring process

The judicial restructuring process (reorganisation judiciaire), designed to reorganise a company’s debts with its creditors, can be granted by the court upon request of any debtor facing financial difficulties that threaten its continued business in the short- or medium-term. The debtor makes a reasoned application to the Registry of the Commercial Court in order to be granted an extended period to pay the debt. This extended period is normally set at six months, during which the debtor must propose a reorganisation plan to all of its creditors.

Outstanding creditors (those whose claims arose before the commencement of the extended period) cannot begin any execution procedure for the sale of real or personal property of the debtor, but can request enforcement of their retention of title clause. Nevertheless, the extended period does not prevent the debtor from making voluntary payments to any the outstanding creditors. In addition, the extended period does not benefit co-debtors and guarantors, who are still required to meet their commitments.

Insolvency trend Belgium
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