As would be expected, Belgium is very heavily reliant on international trade and foreign investment. Its geographic location and prominent position within the EU structure has made the country and Brussels in particular a haven for inward investment.
The cosmopolitan nature of the business environment has obviously had an impact on the development of business structures.
Traditional Belgian companies, controlled by French-speaking Walloons, were characterised by vertical hierarchies with all decision-making functions centralised on a strong leader – somewhat like the French model (see country profile on France.) Yet the enhanced business-status of Flanders, which demonstrates a more Dutch-like penchant for an egalitarian approach, coupled with the influence of external Anglo-Saxon business models has helped Belgium to move towards flatter, more open organisational structures where the emphasis is placed on quicker information flow and delegation.
As the country is currently going through this change process from strict hierarchical alignments to a more matrix approach, it is dangerous to make any assumptions about a potential client or collaborator in advance. Do the necessary research before entering into negotiations.
It is interesting to contrast the approach of the Belgian government with that of its southerly neighbour, France. Unlike the heavily interventionist French governments, successive Belgian governments have refrained from direct involvement in industry – other than in helping restructure areas badly affected by the demise of more traditional, dying industries. The Belgian government has tried, through the use of tax incentives and other measures, to foster an environment beneficial to the development of a flourishing private sector economy.
Written and Produced by Keith Warburton
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: