2020 Priorities for a Prosperous Belgium
Recovery and long-term growth through collaboration
The Priorities for a Prosperous Belgium (PPB) is our flagship policy publication, in which we pull together our main recommendations for the federal and regional governments in Belgium.
We presented the 2020 PPB (#PPB20) on October 1, 2020, the day the new Federal Government took office. This new edition reflects the profound changes in the world in the 16 months since the May 2019 elections, including the early lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe that international companies should be part of the solution if we want Belgium to recover quickly from this crisis and achieve sustainable economic growth. Our recommendations address both our member companies' concerns about doing business in Belgium as well as our ambition for Belgium to become a top destination for foreign direct investment. With these goals in mind, the main themes of the 2020 PPB are: country governance; mobility, infrastructure and digitalization; taxation; healthcare; and the labor market.
Good collaboration between international businesses and the government will be crucial to tackle this crisis and prepare for a more prosperous future. We have to move forward together.
Chief Executive, AmCham Belgium
Belgium in the ranks
AmCham Belgium benchmarks the country’s performance against neighboring countries based on the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Index. Before the 2019 elections, we set the challenge and ambition for Belgium to achieve a top ten ranking within the next ten years. Belgium is currently ranked 22nd out of 141 countries.
The COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity for a small, open economy like Belgium to distinguish itself from competitors, but it will require a strategic long-term vision for the country.
To attract new and retain existing foreign investment, the business and economic fundamentals which inform the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Index need to be addressed urgently in Belgium. Our 2020 PPB calls on the federal and regional governments to: simplify the governance structure of the country; make the tax environment more predictable and competitive; invest in transport, energy and digital networks; develop effective patient-centered and integrated healthcare policies; and increase the flexibility of the labor market.
Manage the country more efficiently
- Simplify the organization of the state and the decision-making processes by, for example, clearly defining who is responsible for making choices when there is no agreement or when a decision urgently needs to be made.
- Focus on a coherent and efficient government operating model across all government levels.
- Stop the fragmentation of competences and bundle these in homogeneous packages at the appropriate government level.
- Create a sustainable and accurate legal framework and avoid gold-plating. When important issues are being negotiated at the EU or OECD level, refrain from launching national initiatives which could harm Belgium’s competitiveness until there is a broader international agreement.
Manage government spending more efficiently
- The Government should focus on its core competences and make clear budgetary choices in order to promote economic recovery and growth. “Business as usual” is financially unsustainable.
- Invest in projects that have a long-term positive impact on the country and society, building on European ambitions (for instance on climate, digitalization, health, etc.).
- Increase public revenues by increasing the employment rate (e.g. through activation, reskilling and healthy living).
Cut administrative burdens
- Simplify, speed up and digitalize administrative processes (e.g. permits), including judicial procedures, further building on good (and sometimes new) practices from the COVID-19 crisis.
- Improve the overall framework for companies to inspire initiatives and attract foreign investors.
- Address sector-specific complexities (e.g. energy, healthcare, mobility).
Mobility, Infrastructure and Digitalization
Invest in public transport
- Improve the quality and frequency of public transport, especially at peak times and including in early mornings or in late evenings.
- Expand Brussels’ subway network and finalize the Regional Express Network (RER-GEN).
- Promote multimodality between private and public transport modes, for instance by allowing commuters to use multiple means of transport with a single ticket at an affordable price.
Foster innovation to tackle traffic problems
- Develop an appropriate policy framework organizing teleworking (when possible).
- Implement creative and coherent smart mobility solutions by using new technologies and focusing on improved collection and processing of data (e.g. to analyze users’ and drivers’ needs to adapt the (public) transport offer, speed limits or the duration of traffic lights).
- In legislation, take a technology-neutral approach – do not specify technological solutions to stimulate more innovation.
Invest in infrastructure
- Introduce a fast-track permit procedure for projects of general interest to avoid consecutive appeals and long delays.
- Improve dialogue and coordination between all stakeholders (authorities, utility companies, businesses…) to anticipate the impact of roadworks and reduce their duration, e.g. by creating an “Inter-federal Mobility Council.”
- Massively invest in (energy) infrastructure (e.g. pipelines) and incentivize technologies to allow for a successful shift to a low-carbon society (hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, wind, solar).
- Create more “Park and Rides” around big cities, well connected to public transport, and finalize important public works in or around big cities.
- Coherently invest in bike infrastructure and parking for bikes.
Invest in digital infrastructure
- Invest in digital education, training and reskilling of the current and future workforce while promoting lifelong learning.
- Build the long-awaited 5G network and refrain from gold-plating.
Adjust the tax framework to today’s realities
- Implement international taxation standards, for instance the European Commission’s Action Plan on Taxation, when required but without gold-plating.
- Align VAT and excise late payment interests with the interest rate applicable to customs duties (2%) while ensuring that the statute of limitation for VAT payable and the VAT deduction/refund is the same as in other EU Member States.
- If new taxation proposals are being discussed at EU or OECD level, refrain from introducing them in Belgium until there is an international consensus.
- Embrace automatization and standardization in both business and tax administration processes, in accordance with international standards, building on the COVID experience.
- Strive for a greener economy through targeted incentives and by shifting taxes, not raising them.
Create a stable tax environment
- Further enhance recent measures, such as the Tax Shift, and benchmark them against neighboring countries and other relevant jurisdictions. No new personal and corporate income (or other business) taxes should be levied, and existing income taxes should be decreased rather than increased.
- Ensure that implemented and upcoming tax legislation can withstand any test by national and supra-national courts or institutions. Companies require certainty to remain focused on their main mission of doing business.
- Simplify tax legislation and enhance cooperation between businesses and tax authorities, in a spirit of mutual respect.
Reduce the cost of labor
- Enable investments in new business models by reducing labor costs and increasing flexibility.
- Offer companies the ability to grant tax-friendly incentives to highly skilled and internationally mobile employees.
- Re-introduce a cap on employer social security contributions.
Now is the time to act and start building the future
- Start expert groups now to simplify the multi-layered hyper-complex organization of healthcare and optimize communication, collaboration and coordination between different stakeholders.
- Depoliticize healthcare reform by ingesting industry expertise and split power between preparation and decision.
- Reduce cost through enhanced focus on eliminating waste in the healthcare system and re-invest gains in healthcare innovation.
Digitize value-based healthcare
- Accelerate healthcare digitization to improve outcomes, remove red tape, speed up decision-making, reduce costs and increase effectiveness of healthcare workers and solutions.
- Invest in the technical and intellectual skills of the healthcare workforce to adapt to and speed up digitization in healthcare.
- Provide tech-based touch points with citizens to improve interaction and to unlock the potential of real world data while investing in advanced analytics and AI to target the right interventions for the right people.
Build a foundation for healthcare innovation
- “Innovation tax kills innovation.” Remove innovation blockers, simplify rules and regulations, expand funding mechanisms to stimulate the healthcare R&D ecosystem and reimbursement systems to embrace the sandbox principle.
- “IP stimulates innovation.” Encourage an open and future-oriented policy framework based on a strong commitment to intellectual property (IP) rights to foster creativity and innovation in the Belgian healthcare landscape and guarantee future innovation for patients.
- “A good data framework stimulates innovation.” Invest in accurate data collection, digital access and data provision to accelerate discovery and involve expertise from the field for the development of evidence-based healthcare solutions.
Stimulate lifelong health for all
- Accelerate investments in patient education, patient empowerment, prevention (including vaccination) and health promotion, to improve health literacy and influence citizen behavior.
- Learn from the COVID-19 outbreak and build a plan that guarantees integrated and continuous care for (chronic) patients, even during a health crisis.
- Enhance investments in an integrated health infrastructure, care facilitation, integrated care pathways and access to data and information.
Improve the flexibility of work organization and remuneration
- Increase the possibility to organize work in a flexible manner, especially in terms of night, weekend and seasonal work. Combine it with simplifying employee timekeeping. Relax the rules on the lending of personnel to stimulate skill-sharing between different entities/companies.
- Create a platform economy credit to support initiatives in this field.
- Simplify and harmonize existing legal framework(s) of extra-legal benefits.
- Relax the language regulations and make English a possible official working language, in line with neighboring countries.
- Introduce the concept of exceptional teleworking (next to structural and occasional teleworking); this should be less formalistic, and it should also be possible to address ad hoc situations by ad hoc teleworking. We would also be in favor of reducing the administrative burden of structural teleworking.
Facilitate talent acquisition
- Facilitate the immigration of qualified talent through an efficient implementation and execution of European immigration directives. Avoid gold-plating or implementing Belgian-specific requirements or restrictions.
- Invest in reskilling employees.
- Stimulate dual-learning and extend the duration of internships.
- Increase the number of STEM graduates.
- Stimulate cooperation between universities and companies.
- Stimulate the digital approach as an accelerator for a faster and better exchange of knowledge, talent and competences, both nationally and internationally
Reduce labor cost and introduce a ceiling on employer social security contributions
- Continue lowering employer social security contributions.
- Re-introduce a ceiling for employer social security contributions to attract more highly qualified people to Belgium, in line with neighboring countries.
- Adjust the automatic wage indexation to apply only up to an agreed salary level to ensure that the wage increases are targeted at those with low incomes.