Background To Business in Belgium


Belgium plays a role in the global business world, which is probably disproportionate to its size and economic power. Brussels, with its armies of Eurocrats, Natocrats and multi-nationals, has become one of the most important business centres in Europe, and Antwerp has developed into one of the largest ports in the world, servicing massive volumes of inward and outward trade for the EU.

Yet Belgium is itself not internally cohesive, with massive differences of approach and attitude being discernible between the two ethnic groupings of the Walloons and the Flemish. The traditional supremacy of the French-speaking Wallonia in the south has been superseded over that past twenty years or so by the growing affluence of Flanders in the North and this change of fortune only serves to further heighten tensions. (Brussels sits uncomfortably as a French-speaking enclave in the midst of a Flemish speaking-region.)

Indeed, Belgium finds itself at times unable to form a governement - mainly due to the very real tensions that exist between the North and the South of the country and the question which is being increasingly asked is, 'Can Belgium survive as a singlecountry?'  Nobody seems to be able to answer this question.

An awareness of this central dichotomy at the heart of the nation of Belgium is critical for an understanding of the Belgian approach to business. Everything has to be a compromise; inflexibility of opinion is unacceptable. Thus, to consider the Flemish as 'honorary Dutchmen' or Walloons as 'quasi-French' would be to underestimate the country and its people. Belgians do, in many instances, exhibit a tangible 'Belgian' approach to many business issues. This country profile attempts to highlight some of the unique qualities of the Belgians, as well as bringing out some of the dilemmas resulting from Belgian dualism.