Estudos Económicos
Belgium

Belgium

Population 11.3 million
GDP 41,248 US$
A2
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A1
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Synthesis

major macro economic indicators

  2015 2016 2017(f) 2018(f)
GDP growth (%) 1.5 1.2 1.7 1.8
Inflation (yearly average, %) 0.6 1.8 2.2 1.4
Budget balance (% GDP) -2.5 -3.0 -1.5 -1.4
Current account balance (% GDP) 0.4 -0.4 -0.4 -0.1
Public debt (% GDP) 105.8 105.7 103.8 102.5

 

(f): forecast

STRENGTHS

  • Optimal location between UK, Germany and France
  • Presence of European institutions, international organisations and global groups
  • Ports of Antwerp (second largest in Europe) and Zeebrugge, canals, motorways
  • Well-trained workforce through professional education, multilingualism
  • Net external creditor position
  • Excellent business climate

WEAKNESSES

  • Political and financial tensions between Flanders and Wallonia
  • Complex institutional structure and multiple administrative levels
  • Strong dependence on the Western European situation (goods and services exports = 82% of the GDP)
  • Exports concentrated on intermediate products and the European Union
  • High level of structural unemployment
  • Heavy public debt
  • Tight housing market
  • Saturation of transport infrastructures

RISK ASSESSMENT

Consolidation of growth in 2018

Growth accelerated in 2017. The components of demand, with the exception of the investment in housing, generally posted more dynamic growth than in 2016. Net exports, however, contributed only slightly to this recovery. While exports, which account for 85% of the GDP, benefited from strong growth in the Eurozone, imports rose, driven by rising energy costs and domestic demand. The recovery in growth should be consolidated in 2018. Household consumption will remain the main driving force. Purchasing power should benefit from an increase in disposable income as a result of tax cuts granted to households as part of the tax shift and lower inflation. The good performance of the labour market would continue to favour employment. Favourable financing conditions and declining employer contributions would support the rise in investment, while the rate of utilization of production capacity will remain above its long-term level. The wage moderation measures (index jump calculated on the basis of the health index) have also helped to improve the profitability of Belgian companies, but the latter should only progress slightly following the restoration of the index. Public investment is also expected to increase more rapidly than in 2017, driven by Flanders investment in the Oosterweel link (Antwerp ring road).

Exports should remain strong thanks to the expected growth of Belgium’s three main trading partners, namely Germany, France and the Netherlands. However, they could suffer from the decline in their competitiveness because of the rising cost of labour. The contribution of net exports would remain low as domestic demand will continue to pull imports.

 

Slower decline in the structural public deficit in 2018

The fiscal deficit contracted in 2017 largely due to higher budget revenues that benefited from the economic recovery and low sovereign rates. However, it should stabilize in 2018 despite a more expansionary fiscal policy. In fact, the government plans to encourage activity by lowering taxes for households and businesses. Current spending is also expected to decline, but total spending would decrease to a lesser extent as a result of higher investment spending. The 2018 budget should result in a structural improvement of the budget balance of only 0.3% of the GDP at the risk of not meeting the requirements of the European Commission. Belgium has committed to reducing the structural deficit by 0.6% per year until 2019, which would eventually allow it to bring the public debt closer to 100% of the GDP threshold. The weight of the latter remains substantial and translates into an interest charge equivalent to more than 2% of the GDP. However, debt service would continue to contract as maturing government bonds will be refinanced at more favourable rates for the government. The resale of part of the state’s stake in BNP Paribas will not, however, compensate for the progress of loans granted under the social housing policy.

The current account would remain in equilibrium. The trade surplus would fall slightly under the pressure of imports. Services will remain in surplus through IT, telecommunications, concession fees, transportation and trading.

 

The coalition remains in power

The federal government of Charles Michel is a centre-right coalition resulting from the federal elections of the 25th May 2014 and dominated by the Flemish parties. It includes Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA), Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams (CD&V) and Open Vlaamse Liberalen in Democraten (Open VLD). The three Flemish parties of the coalition a few months earlier formed the same coalition within the Flemish government. As for the Reformist Movement, it is the only French-speaking party of the federal majority. The socialist party relegated to the opposition after 26 years of uninterrupted presence in the Belgian federal government, remains the top political force among Francophones. However, it seems to be weakened. The party has in fact been shaken by the proliferation of political scandals in 2017. At the beginning of this year, Wallonia was rocked by the Publifin affair, a public company that shares the management of local authorities (electricity, etc.) based in Liège, which has paid local elected representatives for services that have not been rendered. In May 2017, the Samu Sociale case triggered a controversy related to the compensation of its directors and resulted in the resignation of Yvan Mayeur, mayor of Brussels. These revelations should somewhat change the political landscape in Belgium, while 2018 should experience both a regional and municipal election. The results of these two deadlines should also give an overview of the electoral dynamics that should operate during the legislative elections of 2019.

 

Last update : January 2018

Payment

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

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

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

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

Debt collection

Amicable phase

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

 

Legal proceedings

Judgments are normally delivered within 30 days after closure of the hearings. A judgment is rendered by default in cases where debtors are not present, or represented, during the proceedings.

 

Fast track proceedings

This procedure is rarely used in B2B; and when the debt is disputed, it cannot be implemented. A 2016 law implemented a new set of procedural rules, creating an out-of-court administrative procedure for non-disputed debts. When an order of payment has been issued, the debtor has a month to pay the amount. If the debtor refuses, the creditor can request a bailiff to issue a writ of execution. Furthermore, under the new rules, lodging an appeal against a judgment will no longer suspend the enforceability of this judgment. Consequently, even if the debtor starts appeal proceedings, the creditor will be able to pursue the recovery of the debt.

 

Retention of title clause

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

 

Ordinary proceedings before the commercial court

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

 

Summon on the merits

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

 

Attachment procedure

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

  • 1. Urgency of the measure
  • 2. Prior authorisation of the judge is required to lay a conservatory attachment
  • 3. The debt must be certain, collectable and liquid

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

Enforcement of a legal decision

A judgment becomes enforceable once all appeal venues have been exhausted. If the debtor refuses to execute payment, a bailiff can attach the debtor’s assets or obtain payment through a third party (Direct Action). Foreign awards can be recognised and enforced in Belgium, provided that various criteria are met. The outcome will vary depending on whether the award is rendered in an EU country (in which case it will benefit from particularly advantageous enforcement conditions), or a non-EU country (for which normal exequatur procedures are applied).

Insolvency proceedings

Bankruptcy proceedings

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

Since 2017, submissions of claims where bankruptcy procedures are involved must be made electronically, via the www.regsol.be website. This site is also a central register which records all bankruptcies over the last 30 years.

 

Judicial restructuring process (reorganisation judiciaire)

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

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

Insolvency trend Belgium
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