by Tiziana Pisano, Membership Experience Assistant, AmCham Belgium
On July 14, 2020, we hosted the second edition of the “AmCham Belgium meets Political Leaders” event series – an initiative that offers our member community the opportunity to connect with policymakers during these uncertain times. This time, AmCham Belgium members had the pleasure to e-meet Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Development Cooperation Alexander De Croo.
During the discussion, moderated by Ine Lejeune, member of our Legal & Taxation Committee, and Anneliese Daelemans, a Vice-Chair of our Government Relations Forum, Mr. De Croo shared his view on the Belgian Government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Belgian economic outlook and the European Recovery and Resilience Facility.
The Deputy Prime Minister started his speech by emphasizing the importance of the US-European relationship. Belgium should have more of a long-term vision on that, he said, and focus less on the short-term differences of opinion. Moving on to the evolution of the coronavirus situation, Deputy Prime Minister De Croo is strongly convinced that the comprehensive tracking and counting of COVID-19 cases in Belgium has been done the right way. Even though the infection rate in Belgium remains quite high, it is important to be cautious when comparing to other countries as Belgium is densely populated. On the economic side, many measures have been taken over the past months to support people and businesses during these challenging times. While the Belgian measures are of great importance, the European Recovery Plan is also crucial, according to Deputy Prime Minister De Croo. Coordination with the European Union is essential for the economic rebound. In this regard, he underlined the importance of the Green Deal as a key element of the recovery. During the crisis, many companies are re-evaluating their business models and sustainability should be part of this assessment. Belgium has energy-intensive industries as well as activities which are extremely efficient and environmentally friendly in terms of production. This is the right moment to push for the Green Deal and implement it at the European level, said Deputy Prime Minister De Croo.
According to the Minister, the budget deficit will reach about 10% of GDP this year due to the COVID-19 crisis and 5-6% next year without additional measures to help relaunch the economy. One of the main weaknesses of the Belgian system is the low labor force participation rate, which obviously has an impact on the budget. Now more than ever, as unemployment is increasing, the Belgian Government should consider the possibility to reform the labor market in the coming months. People who lose their jobs should go immediately into re-training or the government should ensure that they can keep on working.
Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo continued by emphasizing Belgium’s strong social security system, which has always helped the country rebound faster after an economic shock. The measures taken during this crisis, such as the temporary economic unemployment, are good examples of this. These measures were necessary during the lockdown period, but they are supposed to be only temporary measures. To prevent them from becoming structural, the government should gradually scale back these measures, as their costs cannot be justified for a very long time.
AmCham Belgium thanks Deputy Prime Minister De Croo for the interactive discussion with our members during this online meeting. As the Minister himself said, we all miss participating in physical events, so we look forward to meeting Mr. De Croo in person, as soon as this is possible again.
Save the date for the next event in this series: AmCham Belgium meets Willy Borsus on Friday, September 11!