As part of the VAT consequences of the departure of the UK from the EU, Belgian VAT authorities have officially communicated to business their position as to the need for UK established companies, that currently are VAT registered in Belgium via a direct VAT registration, to appoint an individual fiscal representative as a result of Brexit.

The letter of the Belgian VAT authorities confirms that UK established taxable persons will have to fulfil the VAT obligations which are imposed on all VAT taxable persons who are not established in the EU. The most significant VAT obligation is the requirement to appoint an individual fiscal representative for VAT in Belgium.

Because of the general nature of this obligation, UK established companies will no longer be able to operate a direct VAT registration as from the date Brexit will be effective, in principle 30 March 2019.

To discuss this, please feel free to get in touch with Peter Empsten (details below) and ensure your business meets this new administrative formality. Peter will also be able to share a letter from the Belgian VAT authorities outlining the change.

Peter Empsten – Head of Indirect Tax

Crowe VAT Representation 

E-MAIL : peter.empsten@crowe.be

Although those headlines that tell you robots are going to steal your job can be disheartening, the overarching message that came from last week’s panel was a positive one. Though the term Artificial Intelligence may seem scary, the panel reminded us that we actually already use A.I everyday – when we search Google, choose from recommendations on Netflix or Spotify or find more similar products on Amazon. Overall, the discussion made it clear that as automation advances, it will be the most human-centric skills that become the most valuable.

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On the 12th February, our Chief Executive Glenn Vaughan chaired an expert panel discussion on automation at The British School of Brussels, in collaboration with AmCham Belgium. Discussing the ‘Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: workforce transitions in an age of automation’ McKinsey Global Institute report from 2017, the panel provided a great insight for the future workfoce – the students from BSB and other local schools – as well as the current one – parents and corporate representatives from across Brussels.

Key note speaker Jacques Bughin, Director of MGI and co-author of the report, gave the message that instead of fearing this new technology and worrying about what jobs it might take away, it is better to view these new advancements as opportunities and seize each one. Jacques’ confidence that it is not that today’s jobs will all disappear, that instead they will transition as they have done in the past and it is up to us to decide how these transitions unfold, was an aspirational takeaway for the audience.

Catherine Stewart, Senior Advisor at Interel Group, was clear that there are still ways to stay ahead of the automation trend. Though machines and A.I are advancing in cognitive tasks related to memory and learning new information, they lack our people skills and emotional intelligence. Catherine’s advice to the future workforce, and also to the current one, is “learn to be clear, constructive, creative and adaptable, learn to listen and to challenge in a positive way” in order to thrive.

‘The high-skill, high-pay jobs of the future may involve skills better measured by EQs (a measure of emotional intelligence) than IQs’

Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England

Angela Dong, Senior Vice President Human Resources, Research & Innovation, Solvay, is witnessing the A.I transition first hand, and advised the audience that in fact, not everyone needs to master the potentials from A.I and new technology, but to stand out you will need to understand what it is that it can help you achieve.

Melanie Warnes, Principal and CEO of The British School of Brussels, concluded the panel discussion in agreement with the other panellists that the way the future workforce interact with each other, human to human, will be crucial, and that an optimistic view on the topic remains important.

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Though automation may be on the rise, the take home message of the night was to take a positive outlook – the robots won’t beat us yet!

‘The future is not predictable, it is to be shaped’

Jacques Bughin

 

 

Saturday, the 27th January, marks the annual International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, as designated by the United Nations (UN).

It’s a day to commemorate and remember the Holocaust, and reflect on the 6 million Jewish people killed, as well as the persecution and deaths of Roma, LGBT and disabled people.

World leaders and survivors speak out around the Holocaust, its aftermath and why it should never be forgotten.

Much emphasis is put on the need for future generations to learn about the Holocaust and for the world to work towards preventing genocide. This year the theme is “Holocaust Remembrance and Education: Our Shared Responsibility”.

In Britain, the 11th of November is the day most synonymous with Remembrance, however, Remembrance is something that takes place all year round.

There are many different reference points, such as the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, which give people a chance to reflect on the horrors and lessons of previous conflicts and historical events, and the importance of remembering them.

Britain as a nation has strong links to the international Jewish community and has a growing one within it too. It was also British soldiers that liberated the infamous Bergen-Belson concentration camp in Nazi Germany, in 1945.

The Royal British Legion in its role as National Custodian of Remembrance exists to ensure that the memory and sacrifice from the First World War to present day conflicts are not forgotten.

Today the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, which is part of The Royal British Legion, will hold a Holocaust Memorial Day chapel service to mark the day.

We are proud of our partnership with a range of Jewish community organisations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and we remember the 41,000 British Jews who fought in World War One, and the 65,000 who fought in World War Two.

We work closely with Jewish Veteran Associations like The Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women to raise awareness that the percentage of Jewish men and women killed on active service during the two wars was the highest of any ethnic group, and of the Jewish soldiers who were recognised for their bravery, including eight Victoria Cross recipients.

Every year the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women join 10,000 other veterans at the Legion’s March Past the Cenotaph on the 11th November, in Whitehall.

As WW2 fades from living memory, the challenge that faces Remembrance as a whole, not just the Legion, is maintaining the events in modern consciousness and making them relevant to younger audiences.  This is a challenge we cannot take on our own, however.  It is therefore that I urge business leaders to not only reflect on the Holocaust today, but to think about how you can leverage your company’s history, resources and communities to help keep the torch of Remembrance alive and ensure it is passed on to the next generation in good stead.

Just like the theme of the Annual International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust states – Remembrance is a shared responsibility.

We sat down with Glenn Vaughan, Chief Executive of the British Chamber of Commerce | EU & Belgium and he told us 15 interesting, historical and weird facts about the chamber.

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  1. The British Chamber has been around since 1898.
  2. The chamber was called the Anglo-American Chamber of Commerce for a while.
  3. Our oldest member, Law Square – PWC joined as the Cooper Brothers in 1920.

 

 

4. Our first Strasbourg visit was in 1986.BCCP_Strasbourg_2016_Jpeg S-200

 

5. Superdry, the company that everyone thinks is Japanese is actually a British company. Its first export market was Belgium. They opened stores in Antwerp, Brussels and Knokke. Superdry’s annual turnover between 2016-2017 was £453 million.

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6.  GSK is the single largest foreign investor in the Belgian economy.GSK_LOS_RGB

7. Members of our members employ 120,000 people in Belgium, 1.2 million people in the UK and even more in the rest of the EU.

8. Only 30% of our members are British companies.

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9. BMW is the third largest industrial employer in the UK.

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10. We have over 4,000 visitors per year at our events.

11. The UK is the fourth largest foreign investor in Belgium.

12. 1 million cars are exported to the UK from the Port of Zeebrugge.

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Image from LNG World News Staff

13. Belgium is a top 10 export market for the UK. It wasn’t until recently that Belgium was overtaken by China as an export market.

14. 70% of UK – EU trade is with just six countries. Those countries are Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands.

15. West Flanders is a major centre for deep frozen vegetables supplying English supermarkets.

Bonus fact:

Belgium is a major exporter of carpets to the UK. If Brexit makes you feel like “chewing the carpet,” bit might well be from Belgium.

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Image credit: Rakuten

 

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My days begin with my cat looking at me and he is not happy: he was not allowed to spend the night in my bedroom, and he wants me to know his displeasure. The fact that I drink my coffee and read the news distracts me from playing with him, and that doesn’t help.

That’s the only predictable moment in my day as an Ambassador in Belgium.

 

 

Whenever I can, I walk to the office, a 40-minute walk, a moment to consider the day ahead, a moment to put my thoughts together, a moment to plan. And yes, a moment when I’m feeling lucky because I don’t have to drive to work.

But I often have to hit the road. I’m also accredited to Luxembourg and I probably know by now all the bumps on the road between the two capitals, as I know also most of them between Brussels and Ieper, Antwerp, Namur and so many other cities. I come from a federation, like Belgium: I know that the capital is beautiful and important, I know that one needs to leave it to meet the entire country.

The geography is not the only challenge. In the same day I can deliver a demarche on a foreign policy issue, meet an artist, visit a company, be informed of a consular case, attend an official event, plan another one, complain (silently) about a bureaucratic requirement, draft or revise a note, brainstorm with colleagues, check on them. And make a speech.

I speak in public often: at business events; at commemoration ceremonies; on so many other diverse occasions. And because my 92-year old mother who lives in Montreal wants pictures of me, I send her pictures of those events. She then asks me if I’m doing something other than just speaking. “Yes mother, I’m also sending you pictures of me speaking.”

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Because this year is the 100th anniversary of the battle of Passchendaele I spend a lot of time attending commemoration ceremonies. For the last two months I didn’t need to worry about what I would do come the weekend. The small ceremonies, sometimes with Canadian families present, are the most touching: there is hesitation and lovely mistakes, the protocol is imperfect, the children who play a role look at me with pride and nervousness, the emotions run high, it’s life as its best –as we remember those many soldiers who lost their own.

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But I also have to be present on social media. Diplomacy is a very old profession and if its logic has not changed, its tools have. I was told that I have to be active on the social media. I tried to argue that I was raised in another world, a world where the printed word was everything, but the argument was dismissed. I don’t have my kids with me to help me, I’m missing them -and I miss my electric typewriter.

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There is always an occasion in my day to remind me that to work in Brussels as Canadian Ambassador for bilateral relations is a real privilege. Our countries are really close, our relations are deeply and emotionally rooted in the tragic European history, the trade relationship keeps growing, the number of active links between our various institutions is impossible to count, and there is real friendship even we don’t agree on all issues.

And then I come back home, but my day is not necessarily over. My colleagues in Ottawa seem to get a new burst of energy at the end of their day, forgetting that by then I’m well into my night. The internet knows no time zones, but my body does.

And my cat complains that I don’t let him in the bedroom.

Cecile Wright ''ethnic penalty'' Blog

The persisting ‘ethnic penalty’ encountered by British black and ethnic minority within the employment market has been reported by a plethora of bodies, namely British parliamentary committees (i.e., Department for Work and Pensions), the Equality and Human Rights Commission, leading think thanks (i.e., the Runneymede Trust), trade unions (i.e., Trade Union Council) and so forth. The ‘ethnic penalty’ concerns the barriers to opportunities and discrimination experienced by groups of people due to their race and ethnicity.

Within this context of barriers to black and ethnic minorities and employment opportunities there is the question of the plight of British black and ethnic minority young people. According to a recent report by the UK’s Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee (1), “There are stark differences in youth unemployment by ethnic group. In the year to June 2016, the unemployment rate among 16-24 year olds was 30% for black people, 26% for people from Bangladeshi or Pakistani ethnic background, and 13% for white people. While unemployment rates fall substantially with age for all ethnicities, the relative positions of the groups largely persist (2017, 11).”

 

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Moreover, within this demographic is the ‘silent catastrophe’ or ‘moral panic’ concerning young black men, particularly of African and Caribbean background. Young black men have higher unemployment rates than all other groups of young people. The discrepancy between unemployment rates for young black men and white men has widened in recent decades. Essentially, young black men experience higher rates of unemployment notwithstanding their favourable educational attainment and regardless of their level of qualification. Moreover, black university graduates are twice as likely to be unemployed as white graduate (2).

The implications of this lamentable waste of “human capital” for the individual, families, communities and society is cataclysmic. In order to address the situation of Britain’s black youth unemployment urgent transformative measures are required which include:

  • Robust data and knowledge gathering on how the intersecting aspects of ‘race’, social class, affects young black people access to employment opportunities.
  • Government intervention which requires all employers and occupational training providers to set targets for the recruitment of vulnerable groups. Notwithstanding that all minority groups are affected by the ‘ethnic penalty’ in some form but for black young people starting out in life it is a major impediment. Thus, it is crucial that the government set the conditions for the necessary change.
  • The need for effective penalties for employers found to be discriminating against black applicants.
  • The need to give greater incentives to employers to recruit, retain and progress young black people’s careers.
  • Monitoring youth programmes and apprenticeship schemes for their achievement and success in obtaining black young people’s participation and permanent job offered on completion.
  • Promoting vocational educational pathways for young people – particularly careers advice and pursuing parity of esteem between vocational and academic qualifications.
  • Setting priorities for youth training and employment: vocational qualifications and developing a diverse workforce.

 

There is a key role for employers to play in reducing the ‘ethnic penalty’ and they could begin this process by examining their recruitment procedures.

 

References:

  1. House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, Employment opportunities for young people 2017, Ninth Report of Session 2016-7. Published on 29th March 2017.
  2. Wright, C; Standen, P; Patel, T. (2010), Black Youth Matters: Transitions from School to Success, London and New York: Routledge.

 

Professor Cecile Wright, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham UK, Highfield House, University, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD. UK

Brexit (Voices) Blog Post

New research by the Council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe (COBCOE) aims to give European businesses a voice. Key areas of common interest are identified, highlighting the priorities for a Brexit that secures prosperity for Europe.

Business leaders across Europe need to be listened to. They also need clear signals from the EU and UK that will allow them to plan. These are just two of the key messages to come out of COBCOE’s report, “Brexit – the Voices of European Business.”

The research, which involved around 1,000 businesses across the continent shows that uncertainty about the Brexit process and the outcome of negotiations coupled with a potentially short timeframe for change, has already impacted investment and commercial decisions. Managing the risk that this uncertainty presents is not only a drag on productivity, it means that progress on wider policy issues, such as the  development of the digital economy, could be delayed by the focus on Brexit.

Three main themes emerged during the course of the research which are highlighted in the report:

  1. Barriers to trade – maintaining a frictionless European economy;
  2. Uncertainty and disruption in the Brexit process; and
  3. The UK’s role as Europe’s global springboard. It includes many real-life examples of how firms are being impacted.

The research also uncovered concerns about the UK being partitioned off – even among European companies not directly engaged in trade with the UK. This is because many European businesses value the UK for its financial markets, regulatory infrastructure and world-class research and development.

The UK acts as a gateway for international investment and is considered to be a business-friendly force within the EU.

The 1,000 businesses which participated through round table discussions, a survey and poll, perceived a lack of engagement from governments and negotiators.

David Thomas, Executive Chairman of COBCOE pointed out “Europe’s prosperity depends on successful economic relationships between neighbouring businesses and consumers. Disregarding these engines of commerce and wealth creation will make Brexit the cliff face on which such relationships will deteriorate.

“The negotiators’ apparent ‘zero sum’ approach, whereby a loss to one side means a gain for the other, does not reflect reality. The risks and uncertainties that firms across Europe now face undermine European productivity and competitiveness. Agreement on the future framework for economic relations between the EU and agreement on a plan for a transitional period must be made without delay.

COBCOE has presented this report to the UK Government Department for Exiting the European Union and will soon be presenting it to the European Commission Taskforce on Article 50 Negotiations. Charles Brasted, Partner at Hogan Lovells, the international law firm which supports the project, said, “The voices in this report are a unique contribution to the discussion of what kind of post-Brexit Europe is needed and how we should get there. Businesses around Europe and across sectors are clear that Europe needs a strong and connected UK to continue to thrive, because it is central to access to capital, innovation and talent.

“European businesses recognise that they have to work with the process that Brexit has begun and that some change will be needed to give effect to it; but they need, as a matter of urgency, a predictable framework within which to continue to operate, plan, grow and compete during that period of change, and beyond. Agreement on a plan for the transitional period should not be delayed any longer, so that businesses have as much time and information as possible to plan and implement contingencies effectively and can avoid making costly adjustments that prove unnecessary in hindsight.”

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Gain visibility and recognition for excellence in trade and export by applying for the Golden Bridge Trade and Investment Awards.

What is the Golden Bridge Trade and Export Awards?

The 2017 Golden Bridge Trade and Investment Awards present an exciting opportunity for UK companies trading or investing in Belgium, and Belgian and Luxembourgian companies trading or investing in the UK to showcase their bilateral success to an international jury and celebrate their achievements during an exclusive ceremony hosted by the British Ambassador to Belgium, Alison Rose at the British Residence in Brussels, at the heart of Europe.

The Golden Bridge Awards is co-organised by the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium and the Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain.

Fun fact: Belgium was the 7th largest export market to the UK and the UK was the 12th largest export market to Belgium last year.

Why should you apply?

Expand your international network, gain business and political expertise, receive recognition for your achievements.

The Golden Bridge Award opens doors to an international network and the connections businesses need to succeed both at home and abroad. Our international panel of judges from the business community are also affiliated with regional trade and investment bodies as well as embassies from the UK, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Winning a Golden Bridge Award will solidify your credibility on any of the three markets and will reinforce your pivotal role  in the economic relationship between Belgium, the U.K. and Luxembourg.

Previous winners of the Best Newcomer category, Orega, shared that the recognition for their export credentials gave them even greater visibility.

“It has sent the right message to our business partners based in Belgium. The award delivers to our potential customers a strong message, as we were new comers on the market.”
-Orega, Golden Bridge Best Newcomer Winner 2016

The award made a positive impression on their business partners with their improved credibility.

Bel’Export, 2016 winner of the Golden Bridge Award for UK business to Belgium, shared that the Golden Bridge award raised their company profile internationally as well as at home.

“As company you gain visibility, in – and outside the UK. It is a recognition for doing a good job.”

-Bel’Export, Golden Bridge Winner 2016

What will you win?

The winners of the Global Bridge award will receive:

  • Visibility at the awards event itself.
  • A one-year free membership* of the British Chamber. If you qualify under our SME criteria, you receive free  membership already if you are shortlisted as a finalist.
  • Participation in our Golden Bridge Awards Winners’ Day programme in Brussels in January 2018 to celebrate your success.
  • Your company featured in the British Chamber’s annual publications and in articles on our social media channels.

Apply now! The final registration deadline is 30th September!
Do you want to be a Golden Bridge Awards partner? Check the Golden Bridge Trade & Investment Award page on our website for more information or contact Alexandra Trandafir at alexandra@britishchamber.be.

 The Gala Dinner for the Golden Bridge Awards will take place on Wednesday 22nd November 2017 at The British Ambassador’s Residence in Brussels. The applicants will be shortlisted based on their financial performance, their innovation and strategy abroad, and their motivation for entering the awards.

*regular membership

The chamber kicked off 2019 by discussing the state of play in three different areas, welcoming high-level and expert speakers.

With Kris Dekeyser, Director “Policy and Strategy” at DG Competition at the European Commission, we tackled merger policy.  As the trends have shown the number of merger notifications submitted to the Commission has been increasing over the last years, with 2018 witnessing the highest number of notifications ever. While those were concentrated in some sectors at first (e.g. pharma), they then expanded to other sectors and will continue to increase for the coming years. To read more about this event, click here.

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Next, with Gunnar Hökmark MEP we looked at the conclusions drawn from the Banking Union. In response to the crisis, a number of initiatives were put in place (the Single Rulebook in particular) in order to strengthen financial stability, and ensure that the banking sector is safe, reliable, and better supervised for the single market. Our report on the event can be found here.

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On a totally different note, we then tackled the curious case of the Border in the Case of a No Deal Brexit with an expert panel, and learned that in the UK alone, there are up to 250,000 companies that only trade within the EU. Each one of these companies will need to consult a customs specialist in order to ensure they have the right certification when the UK begins to trade with the EU from the outside. However, a key issue lies with the amount of customs experts that exist, as it takes up to 3 years to become a fully trained and operational customs specialist. To read more about this pertinent topic, click here.

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To make sure you don’t miss out on an event in the future, visit our website to see what we have coming up.

Stay tuned for our next monthly overview!

Bernada Cunj

Head of Policy and EU Affairs

The British Chamber of Commerce | EU & Belgium

Youth political engagement is vital for the future of Europe. Democratic participation can take many different shapes, each act adding up to something greater. Citizens are taught from a young age that in life there are rights and responsibilities. But what modern tools can they use to accomplish these responsibilities in an effective manner?

Voting is a perfect example of one such tool – at a certain age (18 in most Member States, but 16 in some), people receive the right to vote, which is a responsibility to express their opinion and enjoy the features of a participative democracy that their ancestors fought for securing. The involvement in this process is sometimes perceived as being obsolete or uncool by young people, but do they know anything about the voting advice applications?

One such application being the newly designed electoral exercise that VoteWatch Europe has developed. Based on the voters answers to a set of questions, the application helps them discover a candidate or a party that best matches them. If this idea interests you, give it a try and play the game! (Preferably before the elections :D)

How should young people get involved?

It is important for young people to engage with politics. Fortunately, there are several tools that they can use to do this. The first step is to inform themselves. In an era of fake-news spreading with the speed of the internet, reliable information is increasingly harder to find. This happens especially in the case of political discourse: false information and misconceptions are constantly spread by politicians seeking office, or seeking to remain in office, as well as by various interest groups hoping to benefit themselves.

Young people have the responsibility to make informed choices and share the knowledge they acquire with their peers.

In the increasingly digitalized age, it is important to have access to objective information and a platform to provide it, such as VoteWatch Europe.

What VoteWatch Europe is?

VoteWatch Europe is a platform for political engagement aimed to deliver objective and factual information on the positions of politicians in the European Parliament, as well as the Council with regards to all issues debated at a European level. By merging sophisticated statistics with insights from politicians, institutions’ staffers and top notch independent researchers, VoteWatch Europe provides the public with real-time, data backed analysis and forecasts on European and global developments.

For instance, their latest insights revolve around which EP political groups are labeled as ‘fake’ and why those labels persist.

VoteWatch Europe identifies the political groups with the lowest cohesion through a practical and objective political affinity measure, which increases transparency.

This information is particularly relevant to knowing more about the true nature of the politicians that represent their electorate in the European institutions’ decision-making process.

What other tools can they use?

In addition to various informative reports, VoteWatch is also helping increase youth political engagement, having designed, along with five European organizations, a multilingual digital platform, YourVoteMatters. YourVoteMatters aims to serve as a communication tool between the 2019 candidates in the European elections and their electorate. This is achieved by including a series of policy debriefings, as well as a survey-like option that enables the electorate to find out which MEP or new candidate their views most align with.

Along these lines, the European institutions have also recently acknowledged the importance of engaging youth in politics. As another tool for this purpose, a campaign called ‘This time I’m voting’ has been created. The campaign has the sole purpose of energising young voters and including them through sharing various videos and articles featuring citizens expressing their reasons for getting involved and voting in the European elections.

Youth participation is critical to the future well-being of Europe. There are several tools that can be used in order to achieve this and organisations like VoteWatch are here to contribute.

All that is left for young people to do is engage and change Europe for the better.

 

The chamber’s young professional network, Brussels New Generation, is hosting a Lunch and Learn with VoteWatch Europe on the 25th February, on finding reliable information on the political stances of EU decision-makers and understanding the evolving regulatory landscape after the upcoming EU elections.

For more information and to register, click here.

 

One of the British Chamber’s task forces is the Tax, Finance and Legal (TFL) task force. Its members include representatives of large to medium size accounting and tax firms, law firms, and some of the largest banks.

The Tax, Finance and Legal task force delivers regular seminars on practical tax, financial, economic and legal issues and updates for (international) businesses operating in Belgium.  These seminars offer British Chamber members the opportunity to showcase their expertise to a wide network of business professionals. Seminars hosted in 2018 included:

 

  • Politics and economics collide: Looming crisis or myth? – An informative presentation outlining how political developments such as Trump’s policies and Brexit will impact business operations and opportunities in Belgium, UK and broadly in Europe.P1010244.JPG
  • Masterclass in cross-border estate planning – At this event we heard how to plan your estate like an expert, and how you can save on Belgian and overseas inheritap1010376nce tax.
  • Are you or your employees working in different countries? Here is what you need to know – For anyone who frequently operates in multiple countries, or manages employees who do so, this seminar gave advice on the best solutions for any tax, social security and labour law issues they might face

 

 

 

 

 

The Tax, Finance & Legal task force also oversees the chamber’s annual Expat Financial Affairs conference, allowing expats to listen to informative presentations on investments, pensions, self-employment and estate planning, and mingle with fellow expats over food and drinks.

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Although of course Brexit and facilitating business with the UK are an important part of our agenda, the TFL activities are still aimed at a much larger group of international companies and expats in Belgium.

Since we want to focus on topics that are of interest to our members, please let the TFL task force know about any tax, finance or legal topic you would like to see covered. Or if you would like to get actively involved in an event, please propose topics you would be interested in driving by contacting the team

 

We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Marc Verbeek, Tax Partner, Crowe Spark & Chair, Tax, Finance and Legal Task Force

from Helena Raulus of the UK Law Societies

As the debate in the UK Parliament on the ratification of the draft Withdrawal Agreement begins, it is a useful time to analyse the consequences of the adoption (or non-adoption) of the Agreement from a legal perspective.

If the Agreement is not ratified, the main concern is that this could lead to a ‘no deal Brexit’, whereby the UK exits the EU without concluding any overarching deal (or deals) with the EU.

Due to the very different legal mechanisms governing international rules on trade and other areas of cooperation, both the UK and EU will face a distinct fork in a road at the end of March next year.

Ratification of the Agreement will ensure on the one hand that the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019 and, on the other hand, that its departure takes place in an orderly manner. The Agreement sets out the framework that provides for a transition period, during which time negotiations for a new EU-UK relationship can take place, in addition to new agreements with third countries.

The ratification also guarantees the package of rights for UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, as well as the Northern Irish backstop after the transition period (the backstop will become applicable only if the new agreement requires specific measures to be taken).

A ‘no deal Brexit’, in contrast, will bring an immediate end to EU-UK cooperation and the existing legal framework. The trading and legal relationship will change abruptly and the UK will revert to a third country framework, where there are no special trade agreements to facilitate relations.

The pressing question in this situation is: what can be introduced quickly to help the continuation of trade and cooperation between the UK and EU?

The first question is whether the Withdrawal Agreement could be applied in parts in this situation. It would be useful to mitigate against the worst effects of a ‘no deal Brexit’. However, this is doubtful as in this situation Article 50 will have run its course and will not be applicable anymore.

In this scenario a new UK-EU agreement would need to be negotiated under the rules set out in the EU Treaties. This comes with the consequence in that if a matter falls under national competences, the new agreement will need to be ratified not only by the EU itself but also all of the member states. This would be case in particular with regard to the transition period, as it aims to replicate the full EU legal framework, and deeply covers both EU and member state competences. The Treaties are clear in that, for example, internal market rules fall under mixed competences, not under exclusive EU competences.

Consequently, any measures taken will need to be assessed through the prism of who has the power to adopt the initiatives agreed. This leaves three options.

The first is where the EU and UK can take unilateral measures to facilitate trade in a ‘no deal Brexit’. For example, the EU has the power to declare adequacy or equivalence with regarding to passporting for financial services and data flows.

However, where there is a requirement of reciprocity, things may not be so straight-forward. This is the case for example in relation to visas, where the EU declared that is willing to waive visas for UK citizens, but only if the UK does not require EU citizens to apply for visas.

Then there are areas where a specific agreement between the parties is generally required to provide for reciprocity.

It is possible to conclude an agreement between the EU and the UK, or between an EU member state and the UK. It is also possible to conclude a mixed agreement, where the EU, the member states and the UK are all parties to the agreement.

The quickest form of agreement to ratify is one where there is an agreement between the EU and the UK. This type of agreement requires a reading in the European Parliament and the member states to sign off in the Council. However, this process can be used only where the EU has exclusive competence – for example with regard to the trade in goods and services, but not internal market access, for example.

In all other cases, where the EU does not have exclusive competence, it is possible to work out bilateral agreements with the member states. It would be possible to make a mixed agreement with the EU and all the member states, but the negotiations of these agreements are complicated, not to mention the ratification which usually takes at least a couple of years. Therefore, bilateral negotiations may be the quickest route should the UK find itself in a ‘no deal’ scenario.

However, it must be kept in mind that any bilateral negotiations cannot breach or infringe upon the exclusive competences of the EU. Trade in goods and transport are of particular interest here, as one of the crucial priorities in a no deal situation would be to ensure that food and medicines can reach the UK market.

As a result, the consequences of a ‘no deal Brexit’ would set the UK on a very difficult and radically different path compared to that of the Withdrawal Agreement. This is a path from where it will take time to recover and reach the agreements needed to fully resume trade between both blocs.

A version of this article has also been published in the November edition of the UK Law Societies’ Brussels Agenda.

We talk to Helena Raulus of the UK Law Societies, Chair of our Single Market Task Force and member of the EU – UK Future Relations Committee

What are your biggest priorities at the moment?

As Head of the UK Law Societies’ Brussels Office, my daily work revolves mainly around Brexit right now. I have a particular expertise on the different forms of EU cooperation in judicial matters and the functioning of mutual recognition within the Single Market. Of course this has a special relevance now , as the UK and EU are currently in the act of re-defining the structure of their relationship.

The discussions in the Single Market Task Force support my work, as many of the EU internal market developments will still be of great relevance to UK lawyers and their clients who operate in the EU.

What single market issues are on the table now?

The tax transparency and fairness, and the anti-money laundering initiatives are of particular interest to the legal profession, and to businesses operating in a cross-border context. Both the EU and the UK will try to maintain an open and well-regulated digital economy, which means that there will be further proposals on data transfers, data localisation or blockchain technology.

What should we be looking out for?

Both sides will have to examine how to regulate the platforms of the sharing economy: are these really new forms of doing business? Or are they just extensions of a franchise-type of activity where the same mechanisms of employment or the provision of services for money take place? If so, how can the current regulations apply to these new businesses?

Given that these challenges are the same both for the EU and the UK, and that it is foreseeable that the EU and the UK economies will be linked for the coming decades (regardless of the shape of the ultimate deal), it is useful for me to participate not only in the Brexit discussions, but to be aware of the developments in the single market more generally. This is something that the Task Force provides me with, as I have access to its members’ broad expertise.

How do task forces work? How can members get the most out of them?

The job of the chair and vice-chairs is help ensure that the chamber’s meeting programme is really valuable to members. We advise on the priority issues for business, who are the key players and what are the key points in the decision-making process. That way we can say who members need to talk to, about what, and when.

Any member can influence our programme by letting us know what’s important to them. Drop us a line here, or talk to me or a member of the chamber team!

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