On February 1, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Employment, Economy and Consumers Kris Peeters addressed Belgium’s international reputation during a walking dinner at the historic Rockoxhuis in Antwerp. Over 40 participants attended this Antwerp Chapter event, sponsored by KBC.
After an introduction by Joost Van Roost, President of ExxonMobil Petroleum & Chemical and Chair of our Antwerp Chapter Steering Group, Minister Peeters immediately addressed the negative portrayal of Belgium in some international media in recent months: “Trust is a very delicate commodity, because trust is something you can lose by containers and only recover in a wheelbarrow. It slips away overnight, and it takes years before it returns.”
As Prime Minister Charles Michel prepares to set out on his international promotional tour to reassure investors that Belgium is a safe and attractive place to invest, Minister Peeters emphasized, “Belgium is not a dangerous country; Belgium is not a failed state.” On the contrary, Belgium is a very safe country. Ranked 15th in the Global Peace Index Report 2015 – a higher ranking than neighboring countries such as France, Germany or the Netherlands, as well as the United States – the country’s crime rate has fallen by nearly 20% since 2011.
However, Minister Peeters also noted that “when PR is nothing but an empty shell, people will see right through it.” He stressed the importance of real government action, such as a tough crackdown on crime and terrorism and actively boosting the country’s competitiveness. And while some work remains to be done, a lot has been already achieved by the tax shift and the reduction of employer social security contributions, as well as labor reforms for specific sectors, such as night work for e-commerce activities and reforming port labor regulations.
The Minister also touched upon the European Commission’s recent decision condemning Belgium’s ‘excess profit’ tax rulings as illegal state aid, noting that Belgium is not alone in this matter, but that many other Member States, including neighboring countries, have been the subject of similar cases. He stated that the government hopes “the Commission is not only tackling small countries like Belgium, but also the bigger ones like France.” At the time, Peeters said there was a high chance that Belgium would appeal the decision, not only for legal reasons, but also to buy time and see how the Commission will act in other countries’ cases. On February 5, a few days after our event, Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt confirmed that the Belgian Government will appeal.
— Kris Peeters (@peeters_kris1) February 1, 2016
Deputy Prime Minister Peeters concluded his keynote address by saying that “American companies are an important part of the solution to improving our image. The solution lies not only in our hands but in your hands, of Americans who know first-hand what it means to do business in Belgium and Belgians who work for leading American companies.” As word-of-mouth remains the most powerful marketing tool, even in our technology-driven society, Minister Peeters expressed the hope that everyone will spread the message that Belgium is still a fully secure and reliable place for investors.
Here at AmCham Belgium, we agree that Belgium continues to be an attractive location to invest. Read our open letter signed by 14 foreign Chambers of Commerce in Belgium.