2.6. OWNERSHIP OF BELGIAN FIRMS. Why are there no belgian multinationals?

Familial economy:

The ownership of belgian firms has been decisive in the economic evolution of the country. Most of the firms were owned by belgian households. For that reason, we say that Belgian economy was a very familial economy, made up of family led enterprises.

Most of them refused to take unnecessary risks and decided to keep acting in their comfort zone, without stepping out of it. This aversion to risk and limited frame of action prevented progress development.

Another characteristic of family owned companies is that they center on short-term profits, which does not allow for long-term planification.

Multinationals drastically transformed Belgian economy. With the arrival of globalization, many foreign multinational firms started establishing their headquarters in Belgian territory (for further information, see: 1.5.2. THE RISE TO POWER OF FLANDERS). The combination of these two factors has resulted in the scarcity of Belgian multinationals.

Foreign firms  aided Belgium’s economy because they brought with them a different way of doing business. They are strong investors, focused on long-term projects, that plan their actions and act with a specific pattern.

The importance of holding companies:

Aside from the fact that Belgium’s economy was familial, we also have to relate this to the importance of holding companies in Belgium throughout the XXth century.

A holding company is a company which, through the purchase of shares of other firms, acquires a high degree of control over them.

(Roberts, 2015)

In Belgium, holding companies had a very particular development. Previous to World War One, these companies were seen as important tools to mobilize capital throughout the economy and as providers of economic growth.



However, during the interwar period, they started concentrating exclusively in the domestic market and in the Congo. Instead of representing economic growth, they started symbolizing anti-competitive behaviour and control. This was because they focused on keeping control over their subsidiaries instead of promoting development, which led to many people arguing that they were aiding the creation of cartels. As we now know, this is partly true, because many holding companies tried to keep hold of the coal and steel market, letting it develop, even if they knew it was becoming obsolete.


(Public domain)

A perfect example of this is the case of the Société Générale de Belgique, one of the biggest holding companies in Belgium at the time, which invested in the domestic market and in the Congo.






Roberts, P. (5 de November de 2015). Reasons To Do Business In Ireland – Holding Companies. Retreiverd from Roberts Nathan: http://www.robertsnathan.com/reasons-to-do-business-in-ireland-holding-companies/


Centre for Economic Policy Research. (1996). Economic Growth in Europe Since 1945. Cambridge; New York; Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.


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