Belgium

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DOING BUSINESS IN BELGIUM

As one of the founding and central members of the European Union (EU) and home to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) headquarters, Brussels is one of the most important business hubs in the world which might seem surprising given the country’s modest size and economic influence. Classed as ‘moderately free’ from governmental interference the Belgian administration have abstained from intervening too much in industry unlike the extremely interventionist governments of southern neighbour, France. Via tax incentives and various measures, the Belgian government has endeavoured to create a business environment ideal for a thriving private sector economy. The Belgian economy is also aided by an openness to foreign trade and investment with free-market competition. All this contributes to making doing business in Belgium an appealing prospect.

When considering doing business in Belgium it is important to bear in mind that Belgium is a divided nation. Comprising ten provinces and 589 communes, Belgium is divided by two main ethnic groups – the French-speaking Walloons based in the Wallonia located in the south of the country and the Dutch-speaking Flemish population of Flanders in the north. Tensions often arise between the two groups with the traditionally influential Walloons being surpassed by the rising prosperity of the Flanders. How does this effect professionals doing business in Belgium? As a result of the tensions inherent in Belgian society compromise is often a major factor in being successful in the Belgian business setting.

Balance must be struck between the inclusiveness of employees’ opinions and a directional management style. Concessions must be made to reach a workable and acceptable solution. English is the advisable language for foreign and visiting professionals to speak, even if they are fluent in French or Dutch, to avoid inadvertently aligning with one ethnic group. The downside of compromise is that decision-making can take time and change in the world of Belgian business can be slow.

The World Business Culture website has all the logistical recommendations and market-entry tips based on first-class expertise and experience to help you understand Belgian dualism, overcome the associated challenges and flourish when doing business in Belgium.

OVERVIEW

This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in Belgium. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.

With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in Belgium and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.

Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips