- The total number of foreign investments (FDI) in Belgium retreated by 4% compared to 2021. In total, Belgium registered 234 projects in 2022, compared to 245 in 2021.
- The various FDIs carried out in Belgium in 2022 generated the creation of 8,071 jobs in 2022, up by 16% compared to 2021.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Belgium, in a global economic context plagued by the war in Ukraine and its impact on the energy market and supply chains, has delivered a mixed bag of results in which a slight drop in the number of investments generated a marked growth in employment.
This is what emerges from the 2023 edition of the Belgian Attractiveness Survey, an annual study conducted by EY to assess Belgium’s attractiveness as an investment location. Belgium clearly remains a prime target for foreign investors, but it received less FDI in 2022 compared to other European countries, causing it to drop from 6th to 9th place in the ranking of most attractive European countries. Two good news are pointed out by EY: job creation is on the rise and the outlook is encouraging for 2023.
Following two difficult years linked to the Covid-19 pandemic, there was hope that foreign direct investment (FDI) in Belgium would quickly pick up again. However, this recovery was dampened by the uncertainties and economic crisis linked to the military conflict in Ukraine. The total number of foreign investments in our country retreated by 4% compared to 2021. In total, Belgium registered 234 projects in 2022, compared to 245 in 2021.
In terms of employment, the figures are more encouraging. If we look at the FDI situation in Belgium in 2022, we see that the number of projects is falling, but on the other hand, job creation is rising, which is exactly the opposite of what is happening at European level. The various FDIs carried out in Belgium in 2022 generated the creation of 8,071 jobs in 2022, up by 16% compared to 2021. At first sight, this obviously seems like good news, except that on this point too, Belgium could not keep up with the European average, with an average of 38 jobs created per project, compared to 82 at European level.
Very different results from one country to another
If we look at the evolution of foreign investment in all 44 countries analyzed by EY, we see a 1% increase in the number of FDIs on the continent. But the results vary greatly from one country to another. Belgium is an underperformer in 2022, as are Germany (-1%), the United Kingdom (-6%), the Netherlands (-3%) and Switzerland (-23%). Conversely, other countries show strong increases, such as Turkey (+22%), Portugal (+24%), Italy (+17%) or Poland (+23%). Romania even recorded a spectacular increase of 86%. This growth in FDI projects in several Southern and Eastern European countries is at least in part due to the reconfiguration of global supply chains and an inclination towards cost-competitive European locations for manufacturing and back-office operations.
As a result, Belgium is losing ground in the ranking of European countries that attract the most foreign investment. Our country drops three places from sixth to ninth. The European ranking remains dominated by France, with a 3% growth in the number of projects in 2022. The leading podium is completed by the UK and Germany, with these three countries alone accounting for 50% of total FDI on the European continent.
The US still leads in foreign investment
When we look at where the foreign investments in Belgium came from in 2022, we see that eight countries accounted for 70% of the FDI: the United States (41 projects), France (30), the United Kingdom (27), Germany (19), the Netherlands (17), China (11), Japan (11) and finally Denmark (7). Despite an 11% drop in the number of projects compared to 2021, the United States thus remains the largest foreign investor in Belgium.
The EY study on the attractiveness of Belgium also shows that five sectors accounted for 59% of the projects and 62% of the jobs created in 2022. Transportation and logistics (40 projects) and business services and professional services (36) accounted for the majority of projects, followed by software and IT services (25), chemicals, plastics and rubber (21) and transportation manufacturers and suppliers (16).
“When we look at the figures at European level, we see that 2022 was not very favorable for countries such as Belgium or Spain, because these countries had already rebounded strongly in 2021 after the worst of the Covid crisis,” comments Tristan Dhondt, partner at EY Belgium. “In 2022, the countries that have managed to attract the most foreign investment were mainly in southern, central and eastern Europe. However, 2023 looks much more promising for Belgium, as prospective investors say they are particularly interested in logistics, which is an essential activity for our economy and in which we are among the European champions.”
Belgium attractive again in 2023?
In parallel with its study on investments in 2022, EY effectively conducted a survey of international decision-makers to ask them about their investment intentions for 2023. The results are very positive for our country, since the investors consider Belgium to be the 4th most attractive FDI destination in Europe in 2023, behind Germany, France and the United Kingdom. This study also seems to indicate that European companies believe that the worst is behind us. A large number of companies surveyed (67%) say they intend to expand or establish operations in Europe in the coming year, which is an all-time high and an increase from 53% the previous year. At Belgian level, 61% of the decision-makers say that they intend to expand or establish operations in Belgium over the next year. In last year’s study, this figure was only 52.9%, which shows that the attractiveness of our country is on the rise again.
“The economic effects of the uncertainty linked to the war in Ukraine have clearly slowed the recovery in foreign investment in Belgium in 2022, but the signals are encouraging for 2023,” concludes Marie-Laure Moreau, partner at EY Belgium. “It is expected that a large number of companies will make the investments this year that were postponed in 2022 and it is clear that Belgium remains a preferred target for many foreign investors. It is up to us to continue to put forward our strengths, particularly in terms of logistics. In our study, we see that a large number of executives are planning to relocate their supply chain functions to Europe in order to minimize future disruptions. And in this area, Belgium is well ahead of other countries in which to invest. This is a very encouraging signal.”