By Yasmine Lingemann
Belgians are big savers. According to recent figures released by the National Bank of Belgium (BNB), Belgians have reached a record high in average household savings, with figures reaching 290 billion euros in aggregate regulated savings accounts. On average, the household savings ratio in Belgium is 12.6%, which by comparison is just over double that of the UK, where households save 6.2% of their disposable income. Belgians have traditionally saved a lot, yet even in an era of zero or negative interest rates on savings, the lack of spending is beginning to become problematic and even a hinderance to the national economy.
Globally, the Coronavirus pandemic has hurt economies everywhere. With firms in the UK and Europe also having to simultaneously adapt and create contingency plans to prepare for the end of the Brexit transition, businesses face the situation where they need to use alternative methods to attract clients and re-establish confidence in their company. In Belgium, that means trying to encourage people to spend more and save less at the same time as rising unemployment, weakening job security, and people generally tightening their belts and restricting spending to the bare necessities.
Despite this, firms must not lose hope: Now is the time to seek new opportunities. Businesses are responding, many are offering their goods and services in a different way. In Belgium, where consumers have traditionally been less open to online commerce, increased time at home in front of a screen enables households to be more susceptible to e-commerce and advertising. Businesses must use this time to improve communication and dialogue with their clients to reestablish trust and retain brand loyalty. Getting active online and keeping your customer base up to date on changes will help businesses in the long run and hasten the adoption of a more digitalised economy.
Belgium government support has not been as forthcoming as in the UK. However there are a variety of loans and tax deferral schemes that have been put in place to weaken the damage felt by Belgian firms.
Click here for Belgium’s government website to see how your business can benefit from the support available: https://www.belgium.be/en
Here at the British Chamber of Commerce, we will continue to update you with the necessary information to help all our members to succeed. We are all in this together, and with the right plans in place, consumer confidence can be restored. BritCham offers support, guidance and specialised coverage for both Brexit and COVID-19, including webinars, workshops and events that will give your firm the tools it needs to navigate through this challenging period.
See our website here for more details on how we can help you: https://www.britishchamber.be/
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.
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.
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.
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!
Head of Policy and EU Affairs
The British Chamber of Commerce | EU & Belgium
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!
Preparing for Brexit
It is less than 5 months until Brexit and the Article 50 deadline on 29 March 2019, and whilst rumours abound of deals, unfortunately – from a business perspective – the spectre of a non-orderly withdrawal outcome remains fully in view. With a few exceptions, it is a wide and deep business consensus that such a no-deal outcome would be an extremely disruptive negative outcome for economic operators on both sides of the Channel. It’s worth repeating – from a business perspective – no deal is the worst deal for everyone.
If there is no withdrawal deal, one might hope there will be side deals covering key issues such as aviation or data, but this cannot be guaranteed, particularly if negotiations break down badly. Consequences will be unpredictable, both politically and economically.
Irrespective of that, we can expect significant disruption at all UK/EU borders – notably with France, Belgium, the Netherlands and in main airports. This is a simple function of the UK leaving the Customs Union and the Single Market without a ready replacement legal framework and with the systems developed to take over.
The situation of the Irish Border in the case of no deal is also unclear – both sides have committed to no ‘hard border’, though both sides may have legal obligations under both EU law in the case of Ireland, and under the WTO in the case of the UK to undertake customs and regulatory checks. Once the UK has left the EU Customs Union and Single Market, there will have to be checks and formalities for goods, the only question is where these checks will take place and exactly what formalities will be applicable.
Preparedness notices from both the EU and the UK Government have flagged the respective legal provisions at the moment of the UK leaving the EU, but do not give a clear roadmap for affected businesses in the case of a collapse of the withdrawal negotiations or a non-ratification by the respective parliaments.
At a minimum, companies should be looking at the potential impact on their supply chains of a potential raising of regulatory and customs barriers, possible queues on both sides of the border as new systems and formalities are introduced, as well as the possible restriction of freedom of movement for staff. On a sector by sector basis, the cessation of regulatory arrangement and licensing may also create new barriers to market.
The British Chamber of Commerce | EU & Belgium will stay close to the UK Government, the EU institutions and the Belgian Authorities during this challenging period. We are the go to organisation that authorities are asking for feedback from on business concerns. Get in touch, use our platform and share your concerns, specific or otherwise so that we can get them to the right people.
Matt Hinde, Fleishman Hillard, and Morten Petersen, EPPA, Co-Chairs of the Future Relations Committee
If you have more questions about the prospect of a no deal Brexit, you can find more information on our website page – What to do if there is no deal?
Our next Brexit event – Brexit and Future Relations – An Update on the Irish Perspective – will take place on the 20th November. You can find more information on our website.
Like every autumn in Brussels, this one didn’t disappoint with regard to its packed schedule, and we would like to believe that we didn’t either!
We kicked off with the discussion on Cartel Enforcement: Current Practice and Updates where we learned that since February 2018, companies breaching antitrust regulations by taking part in cartels has resulted in hundreds of million in fines, while ¾ of cartel cases originate from leniency applications.
On a different note, Kate Kalutkiewicz updated our members on the state of play with regard to EU-US Trade Deals. A special emphasis was put on China and the current state of trade relations with the US, as an increasing threat of a trade war looms between both countries, plus we discussed the reform of the Dispute Settlement System in the WTO and the view of the US on the Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRA). More specific trade sectors were also examined, such as chemicals, aluminium and car company regulations.
We also hosted a panel debate on eHealth – Engendering Health Systems’ Sustainability. The positive impact that eHealth can have on EU member States’ Health Systems was stressed throughout the discussion between the panellists and the participants. A wider implementation of digital health across the EU would allow, amongst others, tremendous savings resulting from the use of mobile health applications. A better pooling of data at the EU level would also have huge benefits, reducing for instance the time to diagnose rare disease. The main issue in this field arises from data privacy, record linkage and a lack of incentives from both doctors and governments to use digital technologies.
Under the Future Relations Committee, the chamber organised three events, starting with the roundtable debate with legal industry and the UK Justice Minister on EU-UK Civil Judicial Cooperation, Lucy Frazer. At this event we had the opportunity to discuss how the UK’s withdrawal from the EU has created many legal complications due to the intertwining of UK and EU law. It can be seen as one of the largest areas to negotiate in the agreement as companies wish for the legal protection to remain consistent, or at least to have a large enough transition period so that the adjustment is smooth. The second event saw Philip Rycroft, DExEU Permanent Secretary, give an Update of the UK EU Exit planning process, and finally we hosted the UK Ambassador to Belgium, Alison Rose, who updated us on the current situation in the negotiation process.
Our last event in September was organised with our members Digital Together, who took part in the workshop Digital Movers and Consumers. The objective was to initiate the creation of a dialogue between digital businesses, non-digital businesses, consumer associations, policy makers and other stakeholders to ensure that all viewpoints are shared to help formulate appropriate future regulation and legislation in the digital space in Europe.
Just two days before a crucial Parliamentary vote, we hosted a debate on Single Use Plastics , where many concerns and issues for industry were raised, in particular the issue on the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and its lack of clarity.
Our FDI Screening Mechanisms event kept our members informed, helping us to understand that the EU has no single Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) screening mechanism, but several states in the EU have their own screening mechanism, which are strongly related to national security.
Finally, to finish the month of October, we organised a discussion on eCommerce after Coty and beyond, during which we heard about the Coty decision, which saw the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that luxury good suppliers may prohibit the online sale of their goods by authorised retailers on third-party platform (such as Amazon) – a fascinating example of the intricacy of the enforcement of e-commerce rules.
If you want to learn more about our events, please visit our website, read our detailed event reports or join us at one in the future.
Head of EU Events and Policy
The British Chamber of Commerce | EU & Belgium
On Thursday 25th October, the British Chamber’s CEO Glenn Vaughan met with Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab for a landmark meeting alongside representatives from chambers across Europe. Glenn shares his thoughts following the meeting:
There’s no certainty – but more clarity and confidence can be built
Last Thursday I was part of a delegation of national chambers of commerce that met Secretary of State, Dominic Raab, Brexit Minister Robin Walker and the top officials from his department. Countries represented were Germany, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark – as well as Britain.
The message from our own members was supported by detail from our expert Future Relations Committee, and echoed loudly by national chambers representing 70% of all EU-UK trade:
- No-deal is not an option – for either side. It would create very severe disruption for everyone.
- When a withdrawal agreement is finalised, the next phase of negotiations must proceed quickly. There’s no room for a leisurely go-slow while the EU manages its institutional changeover or London lines up its ducks.
- Regulatory alignment is extremely important if we are to get close to ‘frictionless trade’ in a future agreement.
The need for certainty underlies everything we have to say, but right now it is a long way off. Each new piece of progress only reveals the next cause of uncertainty. An agreement at a hoped for November European summit will need to be approved, especially in the UK parliament. Once a withdrawal agreement is sealed, that’s the point from which we can start to work towards clarity – step by step.
We expect both the UK and the EU to take that opportunity to specify a clear destination and make clear and practical steps towards it, building confidence as they go. Another period of putting off decisions, until the next cliff edge is reached, is no good for anyone.
The British Chamber of Commerce | EU & Belgium welcomes the declaration by the European Council that “sufficient progress” has been made in the negotiation of the UK withdrawal from the EU, and its decision to move to phase two. We urge the Commission to proceed swiftly with the negotiations on a withdrawal agreement incorporating the terms of the joint report of 8 December. We also urge the Council to grant the Commission a mandate to open negotiation on a transitional period at the earliest possible occasion. We stress that the withdrawal agreement which includes the transitional arrangements should be adopted well ahead of the 29 March 2019 deadline. We further welcome the Council’s intention to start discussions on a negotiation mandate for the future EU-UK relations early in the new year.
Our member companies have a common interest in the success of Europe as a whole, including both the EU and Britain. We hope that the EU27 and the UK will negotiate a deep and comprehensive agreement that supports the invaluable relations between the two partners.
First and foremost an orderly withdrawal agreement must be reached, which includes a transitional period that allows all economic activity to continue unhindered during and after Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. The transitional arrangements shall ideally maintain the status quo and ensure the application of the acquis communautaire in the UK for the period necessary to grant businesses certainty, until the full implementation of the future relationship.
With little time available for extremely complex negotiations and ambitious objectives, we are calling for profound and constructive progress in the weeks ahead on negotiating the transitional arrangements and a framework for the future. We will continue working with the negotiating authorities and national business representatives across the UK and EU27 to forge common understanding that a strong and close future relationship is in the best interest of everyone.
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Press Contact: Uzma Lodhi – Head of Communications – +32 2613 2855
About the Chamber
The chamber has been serving the international business community here for over 100 years and we are committed to the long term – continuing to be the ultimate Gateway to Europe. Our members are small to large businesses from Britain and across the world – all with a stake in the success of Europe and its economy. They employ 1.2m people in the UK alone, with at least as many again in the rest of Europe.
It’s obvious that young people are the one’s with the highest stake in the debate over the future of Europe. BNG Chair Amelie Coulet argues that to engage the younger generation in the UK, referendum campaigns need to be more positive.
Last week, I spoke to an event organized by the Young Professionals Network of the Council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe (COBCOE) in London about “Brexit: what would it mean for young professionals?”. It was a great opportunity to show the multinational perspective of the BNG group (Brussels New Generation) on this important issue: what would Brexit actually mean for all the young working Europeans, many of whom have studied, lived and worked in more than one EU member state or may be currently working in a country that is not their own.
Since the start of the campaign, we have heard the views of many politicians and business leaders both in the UK and outside. However, it is the younger generation who will be living with the consequences of the Referendum, no matter the outcome. Yet, current polls show that young people below 35 years old do not share the same views than the older demographic. A recent poll found that 25% of 18- to 34-year-olds would vote to leave the EU compared to 46% of those aged 55 or older, with the age group in between remaining relatively neutral. But more importantly, the younger generations are also much less likely to vote: this British Election Study poll shows that more than 22-23% of 18- to 34-year-olds would not vote while they are less than 8% among the 56 to 65 age group.
There are many interpretations as to why a generation who would rather keep things the way they currently are, would take the risk of letting other voters with opposite views take control of the debate? Bad timing of the Referendum has been pointed out as one of them (end of year exams, summer holidays, etc.). From our perspective as young professionals, we believe that our generation does not share the same view of the EU than those who remember the UK before it joined in 1973. Young professionals are more mobile and ‘pan-European’: they have long taken advantage of Erasmus programmes, the rise of low-cost airlines in a free movement area, or the growing cross-border job opportunities offered by international corporations. They do not see the EU in terms of costs vs. benefits but more as something they have always lived with, whether they agree with all its policies or not, or whether they found it to be a successful or a dysfunctional project. This ‘sense of normality’ may be one of the reasons why they feel less strongly about the issue than those aged 55 or older.
Negative campaigning is also the dominant trend at the moment: from being overtaken by migrants if the UK stays, to the collapse of the entire British economy if they leave, it is difficult to find positive arguments coming out of the ‘IN’ or ‘OUT’ campaigns. Yet ‘Project Fear’ will not work with young people on the long-term. As the Scotland experience has taught us, if it may work to keep the status quo on the short-term, it won’t convince voters that they have made a conscious choice nor will it close the debate: following the Referendum on Scotland’s independence, SNP recorded a historic landslide general election victory and the idea of Scotland leaving the UK has resurfaced facing the possibility of a ‘Brexit’.
Both sides of the campaign need to better inform and involve younger people in the debate, not scare them off. The younger generation, and particularly the young professionals, also need to make their voice heard. For that, it is everyone’s role and responsibility to encourage young people to take part in a campaign that will strongly impact their future.
The Referendum will be held during the 2016 Glastonbury music festival: its organisers have quickly reacted to inform their audience about how they can vote while still enjoying the festival. We should all do the same with all our young British friends and colleagues.
Last week’s European Council Summit sparked a lot of media attention for the chamber. We’ve put the pick together here so you can catch any of the TV, radio and newspaper interviews from the week.
On Thursday, on the bill with former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, CEO Glenn Vaughan was interviewed live on euronews
Vice-President Tom Parker also spoke to RTBF on Sunday morning, you can listen here:
Tom also appeared on Sunday night’s televised news, you can watch that here (from 23 mins)
President Thomas Spiller was also quoted in The Bulletin, warning of the negative impact drawn out negotiations can have on business
Tom Parker speaks to Share Radio on the EU reforms and June’s Referendum from the Brussels perspective!
Glenn Vaughan was also interviewed on Estonian National Television, EER.
EU Committee chair James Stevens was also quoted in a recent article in Politico