Whether the federal coalition agreement is appreciated by entrepreneurs strongly depends on the sector in which they operate.
In addition to relief about the fact that there is a government and praise for the many federal ambitions, the business community also criticizes the vagueness of the coalition agreement. Many sectors are therefore waiting to see how it will be translated into regulations.
This is the case, among others, for pharmaceutical companies, which are looking at a savings on the pharmaceutical budget of 250 million euros. The sector federation Pharma.be says it is pleased with the extensive attention for healthcare and the fight against Covid-19, but finds it ‘too early for a more substantive appreciation’.
Tobacco companies also become the child of the bill. The government hopes to extract 480 million euros from higher VAT and excise duties on tobacco products. It is not yet clear how much more expensive tobacco will be. That will depend on the concrete products that the government is aiming for and the gradual progression with which VAT and excise duties are increased. In addition, manufacturers can still play with their profit margins.
Filip Buntinx, the spokesman for tobacco giant BAT, doubts whether the government will be able to support the budget with tobacco. “The Belgians will buy their tobacco in Luxembourg or on the illegal market,” he says. ‘In recent years, higher taxes have no longer resulted in hundreds of millions less in revenue for the government.’
Belgians will buy their tobacco in Luxembourg or on the illegal market.
Anti-tobacco expert Luk Joossens points out that tobacco in our neighboring countries, after Luxembourg, is more expensive than in Belgium. He recommends raising the price of a parcel to the average of France and the Netherlands, which would amount to 9 euros, against more than 6 euros today.
Friend and enemy of the tobacco sector agree that a global anti-tobacco plan is missing in the coalition agreement. However, for the anti-tobacco associations, this should mainly concern a smoking cessation policy and a reduction in the number of points of sale, while the tobacco giant Philip Morris is drawing attention to ‘innovations’ such as its electronic cigarette.
The reactions from the construction sector to the coalition agreement are predominantly positive. The VAT reduction to 6 percent for demolition and reconstruction has been on the sector’s wish list for some time. Yet here too there are still some doubts about the scope of the measure. Robert de Mûelenaere of the Confederatie Bouw hopes that the low VAT will also apply to so-called ‘renewals’, where a real estate promoter demolishes an old building, builds a new home on it and then sells it.
The Vivaldi agreement contains a few tasty chunks for Belgian SMEs. For example, they will be able to park their profits in a ‘reconstruction reserve’ for tax benefits, on the condition that the employment is maintained and no capital is paid out. This measure gets good marks, but again much depends on the concrete conditions. ‘And you can only profit from it if you have made a profit first,’ notes construction contractor Tom Willemen.
We are very concerned about how the government will pay for everything.
Danny Van Assche of the SME organization Unizo is generally satisfied with entrepreneur-friendly ambitions such as the equalization of the self-employed pension, administrative simplification and the absence of new taxes. ‘But the text is too vague on many points. An employment rate of 80 percent does not come naturally. And we are very concerned about how the government is going to pay for everything. There will be no new taxes now, but the question is whether they can keep that promise. ‘
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