Belgium – The Land of Waffles, Chocolate, Fries, and Beer
Belgium is located in Western Europe and shares its borders with four other countries: Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Luxembourg. It has a population of 11.4 million (est. 2020) living in an area no more significant than 30,689km2, which gives it one of the highest population densities in Europe. It also has 66km of coastline on the North Sea, where several of the countries ports are located. The capital city of Brussels lies in central Belgium and is the commercial and economic center, and other notable cities include Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent.
The political system is based on a constitutional monarchy, with the country being divided into 589 municipalities, each with a separate governing council that deals with matters concerning the operation of local services. Belgium was a founding member of the European Union, and in 2002 it adopted the euro (EUR) currency system, which replaced the old Belgian franc (BEF).
Most of the country’s economic activity takes place in the Northern Flemish territory and the capital city of Brussels. The service sector contributes towards 75% of the total GDP figure for the country – which is $557 billion (CIA Factbook 2022). The largest employers in Belgium include Anheuser-Busch InBev, KBC Bank, Ageas, and Solvay S.A.
Industry and manufacturing are prominent in the economy, and the countries positioning allows for goods to be exported to worldwide markets, although 75% of all stock is shipped to European countries. In 2019, the total value of exports (FoB) was 445,214 million; major products exported included machinery, chemical, automobiles, metals, and finished diamonds.
Agriculture accounts for less than 1% of the total GDP, but most agricultural land is used for farming vegetables, fruits, and tobacco, along with the rearing of animals to produce meats such as beef, veal, and pork.
Belgium has a strategic Western European positioning and a good transportation network that allows for easy traveling in and around the country and other European destinations. There are 43 airports in the country, the largest and most important is Brussels Airport (BRU), located 11km northeast of the city center. Not only does it serve most European destinations, but it offers flights to the United States, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East and handles over 16 million passengers annually. A separate cargo terminal transports freight worldwide, and in 2020, 511,613 tonnes of air cargo were transported from the Brussels Airport, up 2.2% in 2019.
The road system is modern and consists of several linking highways, driveways, national roads, and secondary national roads. It has 152,256km of roads that connect all major towns and cities and link to neighboring countries such as France and the Netherlands. The high-speed Eurostar train link connects London St.Pancreas with Brussels Midi/Zuid and allows commuters to travel between the two cities in under 2 hours. Metro, tram, and light rail systems operate in the country.
Due to Belgium’s coastal location on the Northern Sea, four ports are located in Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, and Ostend. The largest and busiest in the Port of Antwerp, which is also the busiest port in Europe.
Belgium Labour Force
Belgium has a total labour force of 4.122 million (2020 est. CIA Factbook), of which 97% live in urbanized areas. Approximately 92% of the population are classed as official Belgian citizens, and the remaining foreign nationalities comprise mainly of Europeans coming from France, the Netherlands, Morocco, Italy, Turkey, and Germany.
What language is mainly spoken in Belgium?
Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French, and German. The number of people who speak Dutch and French as their first language is roughly equal, while German is only spoken as a first language by 1% of the population; most of the German speakers live in the country’s Eastern region, next to the German border. English is also spoken in Belgium, particularly among the younger generations, as English is a compulsory language taught in schools to IGCSE levels.
All citizens must study up until 18, which is two years higher than many other European countries such as England and Spain. After completing secondary schooling, many students continue to study at a higher level. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranks the education system in Belgium as having a higher standard than all of its combined members average. Twenty-eight universities and university colleges are issuing internationally accredited bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Registration and tuition fees for universities are set at a fixed rate, and there are numerous bursary and financial loans available to lower the costs for students with a low income. This gives a more significant percentage of citizens the choice to continue education if they wish. The educational system helps produce a skilled workforce with a high literacy rate of 99%
Business Costs in Belgium
Not surprisingly, commercial office rentals are highest in the CBD of Brussels. Office space in Brussels Quartier Leopold district costs $43.56 per square foot per annum, ranking much lower than other European hubs like Paris, Milan, London, and Amsterdam. Brussels has the fourth-best European location for business, based on familiarity of the area and easy access to other markets.
Belgium has set a national minimum wage to protect workers and stop labor exploitation. Anyone legally working in the country is entitled to a minimum of EUR 1,625.72 per month (est. 2020), and is one of the highest minimum wages in Europe, ranking in fourth place. While highly skilled professionals can enjoy salaries equal to the world’s largest economic cities such as New York and London.
The corporate tax rate in 2022 is 25% and an additional 3% ‘crises surcharge’ on all profits for companies operating within the country. Several allowances help ease the tax burden for companies that fit specific requirements, including the national allowance for corporate equity. Personal taxes are calculated depending on an individual’s residency status. Residents are classed as anyone who has their main home in Belgium and is registered to a commune. Personal taxes work on a progressive scale, and for residents, it ranges from 25% to 53.5%. Discounted VAT rates apply for goods such as books and medical items, while the flat fee has remained at 21% for most goods and services.