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
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.
- 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 inheritance 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.
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
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.
Eva Paunova is a Bulgarian MEP in the EPP and is a member of the IMCO committee. We caught up with her a couple of weeks ago for another insight into the day to day lives of MEPs at the European Parliament.
No day is ever the same for a MEP: I cannot sleepwalk through even a minute of it, I’m constantly challenged, constantly alert. It’s the greatest privilege of my job and definitely one of the reasons why I love doing it. Allow me to elaborate…
24th of May 2016
The 24th of May is a special day in Bulgarian culture – it commemorates the brothers Cyril and Methodius, whom we credit with inventing and popularising the Cyrillic alphabet, thus effectively transforming the Bulgarian state and society into a modern, Christian one (well, as modern as a society could possibly be in 884 A.D.). More generally, it is a celebration of Bulgarian culture and literature, and the teachers, lecturers, authors and journalists who preserve and expand it. It is also, more importantly, my parents’ 31st wedding anniversary, so not waking up early enough to be the first one to congratulate them in their own time zone was out of the question.
8.00 – On the rare days I don’t need to rush to the office, my day starts with a home-made smoothie and a quick browse through the early news. Not today – at 8am I had already skyped in to a Bulgarian morning show, where I talked about the importance of quality education and introduced ‘Education Bulgaria 2030’ – a project I founded with a number of local and international stakeholders to tackle low educational achievement and increase opportunities for young people.
8.30 – An all too brief meeting with representatives of the 25 most promising Bulgarian start-ups, on a visit to the Parliament at my invitation. What a lovely, energising way to start the day – 25 bright and ambitious leaders, eager to see a more innovative and connected digital Europe.
9.00 – Fresh orange juice on the go (I know, I like to live on the edge!) and time for committee work – attended a discussion on some of the current files and voted on a report on the accessibility of public sector bodies’ websites by the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) Committee.
11.00 – Possibly the highlight of my day! After having spent most of last year speaking about technology at over a hundred events all over Europe, my team and I finally managed to put together a high-level conference on #Regulation4Innovation, the common European response to our changing digital landscape. In a two hour debate, moderated by Alex Barker, Brussels FT Bureau Chief, together with Commissioners Moedas and Vestager, the UK Minister for Europe David Lidington, and senior representatives of leading global companies (including Amazon, IBM, Spotify, Uber and CGSH), we ironed out our vision for a 21st century Europe – both business- and consumer-friendly, unencumbered by unnecessary regulation but still true to its values.
Out of the conference and immediately into a series of short interviews with media outlets from around the continent, outlining the progress we’ve made. No time for lunch today, but still high on the buzz of seeing people come together to shape the future of the Union. I only really have light lunches anyway – a salad while going through e-mails at my desk or attending a lunch debate with colleagues – unless it happens to be a nice day (a regrettably rare occurrence), when my team and I get the chance to luxuriate in the sun, de-briefing on Place Lux.
14.00 – Arrived at Makerstown, where I opened a panel on Female Entrepreneurship. Shared my experience of running an office as a start-up and the importance of having a female role model. I also had a chance to walk around the Makers’ stands chaperoned by a drone and had the honour of shaking a 3D-printed robot’s hand (a bit clammy!). In the Parliament I work for better access to capital and support for entrepreneurs and innovators, so it is important for me to meet the Makers and have their input on how to make the process simpler, more helpful and effective.
15.00 – I literally had to run back to the Parliament to not miss my speaking slot on the report on Contracts for Supply of Digital Content at the IMCO Committee. It is an important legislative dossier part of the Digital Single Market package, which I have been working on for a while.
17.00 – Took part in the SME Europe board meeting, planning our upcoming initiatives related to Industry 4.0 and the Investment Plan for Europe.
18.00 – Six month ago I was invited by Commissioner Thyssen to support the Pact for Youth initiative, a joint agreement by businesses and EU leaders to develop or consolidate partnerships in support of youth employability and inclusion. Today stakeholders from all sectors gathered to measure progress. The initiative is already operational all across Europe and aims to create over 100 000 opportunities for young people by 2020 – including quality internships, traineeships and entry-level jobs in a variety of fields.
20.00 – We continued the discussion over dinner with the Commissioner and 20 CEOs of multinational businesses and organisations, agreeing on the need for a skilled and well-trained workforce, as well as for a modern educational infrastructure attuned to the demands of the labour market. Currently there are 70 million Europeans who lack basic reading and writing skills; digital skills are yet to cross the 50% threshold and that’s hurting European competitiveness on the world stage. Initiatives such as Pact for Youth and Education Bulgaria 2030 are vital if we want to remain at the forefront of the digital revolution and the business opportunities it does and will continue to provide.
22.00 – En route home, going through emails and updating my Twitter and Facebook pages, so that I can dedicate the evening to spending some precious time with my fiancé (he doesn’t get to see much of me these days, but gets to enjoy my full attention when I’m there). When I don’t have an evening engagement we always try to go to the gym or go swimming together, or eat out at one of the few top culinary spots Brussels has to offer.
This week it’s the second installment of our Day in the Life of an MEP’s Assistant. Alina Totti, Assistant to Claudia Tapardel who is part of the S&D party.
In trying to describe a typical day in the life of an MEP assistant I was presented with a very big challenge – having the actual time to sit down and write something. However, since I also want my two seconds of fame in the Eurobubble, I decided to make the time and offer a glimpse into my daily activities. I wondered, though, – how honest should I be in describing my relationship with this position? Because like the best relationships, it is both passionate and complicated…
To begin with a cliche: there is no such thing as a typical day at the parliament. On a quiet day I can finally read a report about the reduction of rail noise in Europe and reply to the couple of hundred unread emails in my inbox. Other days I spend 12 hours writing two speeches, a press release and meeting four lobby groups with four different ideas about the European Aviation Strategy. Both and many more combinations are possible.
9:00 (ish) – By this time I am in the office, having already read the Politico Playbook and a couple of newsletters on the bus to work. This means I have the small talk covered for possible conferences later that day.
The first thing I do is write a list of my tasks for the day. This is probably one of the best tips I ever received in my professional life and also what I would recommend to anyone working on a lot of topics. Not only because it helps me structure my day and clears my mind, but also because ticking the boxes after completing a task is one of the most gratifying feelings. Normally, this list means replying to emails, reading a transport-related report and summarizing it for my MEP, writing a speech for an event back in Romania and meeting representatives from various organisations. On top of that, there is usually a TRAN committee meeting.
10:00 – Time for an unexpected meeting with another MEP who wishes to organise an event about the problem with seasonality in tourism. As my MEP is very passionate about the subject, we agree to co-host the debate in two months. That means we have to book a room, find speakers, make a poster and organise the catering. Thank God we have trainees.
11:00 – A committee meetings is where you get to see politics in motion, MEPs arguing with each other – politely of course – and also where you receive an unlimited number of water bottles. I sit in the back of the room and take notes together with the other assistants.
13:00 – I somehow manage to run to a conference about transport decarbonisation. I find this very useful for the files we are working on, plus I enjoy talking to people and taking cards. Someone asks me (again) if I am a trainee… I am quite jealous of the assistants who can grow a beard.
14:00 – Many afternoons are filled with stakeholder meetings – hotel associations, truck drivers unions etc. Some I attend with my MEP, others it is just me and my serious face. I must say I really enjoy this part of my job. You can learn a lot from people who have often spent years promoting a cause. As I listen to them I already start visualising amendments to the legislative proposals we are working on.
16:00 – Finally the time to write a speech. I love to go through my research, determine with my MEP the position we want to take and build a convincing story. The last speech I wrote was about what European integration brought to Romania.
18:00 – Still writing. I am wondering if anyone can hear that I have Nordic black metal playing in my headphones.
19:00 – There is no denying that I love my job, but there is a special feeling I get when I hear the sound of the computer shutting down. It is time to go home, but that doesn’t mean I don’t squeeze some files into my purse so I can (willingly) read more at home…