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. 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 The traditional supremacy of the French-speaking Wallonia in the south has been superseded over the past twenty years or so by the growing affluence of Flanders in the North. 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 government – 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 single country’? Nobody seems to be able to answer this.

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.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in Belgium

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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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