Friday, 5 August 2011

Welcome to Brussels - Home of Bureaucracy and Red Tape

For the past 6 months I have been getting through all those once-off or yearly administrative business requirements such as registering, opening a business account, applying for and paying your VAT, compliance, regulations etc. To be honest, while it did take up time I did feel like the UK government and institutions had made a good effort in making as many of these requirements easy to understand and easy to get through (and many can be done online).

I applied for the business registration online - got it in a few hours. I walked into the bank and opened an account the very same day. I registered for VAT online, maid a claim to get back the VAT I spent on company expenses and got a deposit into my account just a few days later - which I found out about while checking my online banking. The truth is, I even got used to the amount of things I could do online and started taking this for granted.

A few weeks ago we came to the conclusion that we need a small office here in Belgium to facilitate a part of our business processes. So I planned to spend a week here to get things done. I started trying to do everything online - FAIL! Not only is there no English spoken or written in the home of the EU, but not much can be done online any way. Even the instructions regarding what to do when setting up were contradictory from one site to the other.

Land in Brussels and start visiting the organisations that are supposed to help me get things done. "No appointment, no meeting... sorry!" The biggest bank in Belgium does not work with companies in our industry - others don't seem to want your custom either. Documents must be written in French, Dutch or German and then once you spend a thousand hours preparing them, you take them to a notary (what the hell is that anyway???) and he charges you 1000 EUROS to put his signature on documents he couldn't even be bothered to write for you (after all you are funding his beach house).

The point of this rant is to (a) give my compliments to the team of people in the UK that have made taking care of our obligations to the state a breeze, and (b) to express my disgust as to how bureaucratic and anti-business Belgium is. This place would be nothing but a socialist non-country if it wasn't home to the EU parliament and institutions, with old grannies watching you as you empty your glass bottles into the recycling bins - ready to inform the authorities if you get it wrong - here "Big Brother" is no capitalist.

Necessity has made my tasks here a burden I have to face - but if we really had a choice, I would need a very good reason to set up a business or invest in Belgium.

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