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Belgium

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Belgium has traditionally maintained an open economy that is highly dependent on international trade.  Since WWII, foreign investment has played a vital role in the Belgian economy, providing technology and employment.  It is a key economic policy of the government to make Belgium a more attractive destination to foreign investment. Though the federal government regulates important elements of foreign direct investment such as salaries and labor conditions, it is primarily the responsibility of the regions to attract FDI.  Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT), Wallonia Foreign Trade and Investment Agency (AWEX), and Brussels Invest and Export are the three investment promotion agencies who seek to attract FDI to Flanders, Wallonia and the Brussels Capital Region, respectively.

The regional investment promotion agencies have focused their industrial strategy on key sectors including aerospace and defense; agribusiness, automotive and ground transportation; architecture and engineering; chemicals, petrochemicals, plastics and composites; environmental technologies; food processing and packaging; health technologies; information and communication; and services.

Foreign corporations account for about one-third of the top 3,000 corporations in Belgium.  According to Graydon, a Belgian company specializing in commercial and marketing information, there are currently more than one million companies registered in Belgium. The federal government and the regions do not have specific policies that prioritize investment retention or maintain an ongoing dialogue with investors.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There are currently no limits on foreign ownership or control in Belgium.  There are no distinctions between Belgian and foreign companies when establishing or owning a business or setting up a remunerative activity.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Over the past 3 years, the country has not been the subject of third-party investment policy reviews (IPRs) through a multilateral organization such as the OECD, WTO, or UNCTAD.

Business Facilitation

In order to set up a business in Belgium, one must:

  1. Deposit at least 20 percent of the initial capital with a Belgian credit institution and obtain a standard certification confirming that the amount is held in a blocked capital account;
  2. Deposit a financial plan with a notary, sign the deed of incorporation and the by-laws in the presence of a notary, who authenticates the documents and registers the deed of incorporation.  The authentication act must be drawn up in either French, Dutch or German (Belgium’s three official languages);
  3. Register with one of the Registers of legal entities, VAT and social security at a centralized company docket and obtain a company number.

In most cases, the business registration process can be completed within one week.

https://www.business.belgium.be/en/managing_your_business/setting_up_your_business  

http://procedures.business.belgium.be/en/procedures-iframe/?_ga=2.174982369.210217559.1555582522-1537979373.1536327711  

Based on the number of employees, the projected annual turnover and the shareholder class, a company will qualify as a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) according to the meaning of the Promotion of Independent Enterprise Act of February 10, 1998.  For a small or medium-sized enterprise, registration will only be possible once a certificate of competence has been obtained. The person in charge of the daily management of the company must prove his or her knowledge of business management, with diplomas and/or practical experience. In the Global Enterprise Register, Belgium currently scores 7 out of 10 for ease of setting up a limited liability company.

Business facilitation agencies provide for equitable treatment of women and underrepresented minorities in the economy.

The three Belgian regions each have their own investment promotion agency, whose services are available to all foreign investors.

Outward Investment

The Belgian governments do not promote outward investment as such.  There are also no restrictions to certain countries or sectors, other than those where Belgium applies UN resolutions.

Germany

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Germany has an open and welcoming attitude towards FDI.  The 1956 U.S.-Federal Republic of Germany Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation affords U.S. investors national treatment and provides for the free movement of capital between the United States and Germany. As an OECD member, Germany adheres to the OECD National Treatment Instrument and the OECD Codes of Liberalization of Capital Movements and of Invisible Operations.  The Foreign Trade and Payments Act and the Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance provide the legal basis for the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy to review acquisitions of domestic companies by foreign buyers, to assess whether these transactions pose a risk to the public order or national security (for example, when the investment pertains to critical infrastructure).  For many decades, Germany has experienced significant inbound investment, which is widely recognized as a considerable contributor to Germany’s growth and prosperity. The German government and industry actively encourage foreign investment. U.S. investment continues to account for a significant share of Germany’s FDI. The investment-related challenges foreign companies face are generally the same as for domestic firms, for example, high marginal income tax rates and labor laws that complicate hiring and dismissals.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Under German law, a foreign-owned company registered in the Federal Republic of Germany as a GmbH (limited liability company) or an AG (joint stock company) is treated the same as a German-owned company.  There are no special nationality requirements for directors or shareholders.

However, Germany does prohibit the foreign provision of employee placement services, such as providing temporary office support, domestic help, or executive search services.

While Germany’s Foreign Economic Law permits national security screening of inbound direct investment in individual transactions, in practice no investments have been blocked to date.  Growing Chinese investment activities and acquisitions of German businesses in recent years – including of Mittelstand (mid-sized) industrial market leaders – led German authorities to amend domestic investment screening provisions in 2017, clarifying their scope and giving authorities more time to conduct reviews.  The government further lowered the threshold for the screening of acquisitions in critical infrastructure and sensitive sectors in 2018, to 10 percent of voting rights of a German company. The amendment also added media companies to the list of sensitive sectors to which the lower threshold applies, to prevent foreign actors from engaging in disinformation.  In a prominent case in 2016, the German government withdrew its approval and announced a re-examination of the acquisition of German semi-conductor producer Aixtron by China’s Fujian Grand Chip Investment Fund based on national security concerns.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Bank Group’s “Doing Business 2019” and Economist Intelligence Unit both provide additional information on Germany investment climate.  The American Chamber of Commerce in Germany publishes results of an annual survey of U.S. investors in Germany on business and investment sentiment (“AmCham Germany Transatlantic Business Barometer”).

Business Facilitation

Before engaging in commercial activities, companies and business operators must register in public directories, the two most significant of which are the commercial register (Handelsregister) and the trade office register (Gewerberegister).

Applications for registration at the commercial register, which is publically available under www.handelsregister.de  , are electronically filed in publicly certified form through a notary.  The commercial register provides information about all relevant relationships between merchants and commercial companies, including names of partners and managing directors, capital stock, liability limitations, and insolvency proceedings.  Registration costs vary depending on the size of the company.

Germany Trade and Invest (GTAI), the country’s economic development agency, can assist in the registration processes (https://www.gtai.de/GTAI/Navigation/EN/Invest/Investment-guide/Establishing-a-company/business-registration.html  ) and advise investors, including micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), on how to obtain incentives.

In the EU, MSMEs are defined as follows:

  • Micro-enterprises:  less than 10 employees and less than €2 million annual turnover or less than €2 million in balance sheet total.
  • Small-enterprises:  less than 50 employees and less than €10 million annual turnover or less than €10 million in balance sheet total.
  • Medium-sized enterprises:  less than 250 employees and less than €50 million annual turnover or less than €43 million in balance sheet total.

Outward Investment

The Federal Government provides guarantees for investments by German-based companies in developing and emerging economies and countries in transition in order to insure them against political risks.  In order to receive guarantees, the investment must have adequate legal protection in the host country. The Federal Government does not insure against commercial risks.

Investment Climate Statements
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