The EU and Business in Belgium
Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in Belgium have access to various European Union (EU) financing tools. Most EU-linked financing is available indirectly through local, regional and national partners of the European Union and the European Investment Bank Group. Direct funding is also available through grants from the European Commission.
The only source of direct EU funding for businesses are grants from the European Commission and related executive agencies. Grants are used to help support business activities that contribute to achieving EU policy objectives. They are provided on a competitive basis through calls for proposals. Funding is available for new projects only and must not be used to assist businesses with achieving a profit. For more information about direct grants from the European Commission and for the latest calls for proposals, visit http://ec.europa.eu/contracts_grants/grants_en.htm.
EU Structural Funds in combination with national sources of funding are used to provide financing to Belgian businesses. Supports for small and medium enterprises contribute to regional development programmes delivered by national and regional authorities. Each delivery agent is responsible for selecting projects and establishing eligibility criteria. Through these programmes, supports in the form of loans and equity capital are offered to a variety of businesses in Belgium.
Loan programmes from 2007 to 2013 supported by Structural Funds are delivered in partnership with IMBC Convergence (www.imbc.be) for businesses in Mons-Borinage-Centre, La Société des Cautions Mutuelles de Wallonie (SOCAMUT; www.socamut.be) and Novallia (www.novallia.be) for Wallonie, and Luxembourg Development (www.luxpme.be) for businesses in Arlon. Other partners include Menusinvest (www.menusinvest.be) for enterprises in Liege, Namur Invest (www.namurinvest.be) for companies in Namur, Société Régionale d'Investissement de Bruxelles for businesses in Brussels, and WAP Invest (www.hoccinvest.be) for businesses in Wallonie picarde. High-risk capital and financing is also available from Sambrinvest (www.sambrinvest.be) for Belgian businesses in all sectors for research, development and innovation activities except for retail businesses, restaurants and cafes, liberal professions, banking and insurance.
From 2014, Horizon 2020 will guide new investments and inform programmes funded through EU Structural Funds. The framework programme will largely consolidate EU supports for innovation, research and development. It will make it easier for businesses to access research and innovation grants through a streamlined application process. Additional information about funding programmes from 2014 is available on http://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020.
European Investment Bank
The European Investment Bank (EIB; www.eib.org) works with financial institutions and other partners in Belgium to provide affordable financing products, particularly for high-risk investments. The EIB backs financing for largely research and development related investments of up to €7.5 million for mainly mid-sized companies, including loans and equity capital through its Risk Sharing Instrument (RSI) Facility. EIB partners in Belgium include BNP Paribas Fortis (www.bnpparibasfortis.be), ING Belgium (www.ing.be), and KMC Bank (www.kbc.be).
European Investment Fund
A major source of indirect financing from the EU is the European Investment Fund (EIF; www.eif.org). Part of the European Investment Bank Group, the EIF facilitates access to financing for small and medium sized businesses, particularly for high-risk investments. Local and national financial institutions partnered with the Fund make case-by-case decisions on investments. Most investments backed by the Fund target information technology, life sciences and cleantech businesses, although financing is available for all sectors.
The Participatie Fonds or Fonds de Partcipation (Participation Fund; www.fonds.org) is a national financial institution of Belgium's federal government. The Fund supports self-employed, small and medium enterprises, start-ups, jobseekers, professionals and others who are interested in starting a new business. The Participation Fund is supported by the EIF and provides financing products to Belgian businesses, as well as technical and administrative services. Credit services include short-term credit for small businesses directly from the Fund and longer term financing products such as loans from various partners, including various credit institutions, professional organisations, business angels, venture capital companies and others.
CIP and COSME
The Programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and SMEs (COSME) is an initiative spanning from 2014 to 2020. The programme supports entrepreneurs and SMEs by helping businesses getting off the ground, increasing access to financing, and providing supports that improve the EU's business environment and economic growth. Part of Horizon 2020, COSME primarily replaces the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP). The CIP supported business competitiveness from 2007 to 2013 by providing loans and other financing products through local and national intermediaries. Financing options of up to €8 million were available to Belgian businesses through the CIP. Like the CIP, COSME is delivered by local and national fund managers who make individual decisions on how investments are made.
For microcredit, the European Progress Microfinance Facility put loans of under €25,000 in the hands of small businesses with less than 10 employees. Financing may be used to starting or developing a microenterprise. In Belgium, the programme is delivered through the Crédal Societé Cooperative (www.credal.be) and MicroStart (www.microstart.be). Financing is available in most sectors, although investments from MicroStart are focused on research and development, information technology, life sciences and cleantech sectors. Eligible recipients are generally those who are unemployed, have traditionally found difficulty accessing conventional sources of credit (for example, women, disabled persons, and other disadvantaged groups), or are interested in starting a social enterprise.
Finding an EU Financial Partner
Contact information for financing partners and details on eligible investments under the EIF, EIB, Structural Funds and other indirect EU financing sources is available at http://europa.eu/youreurope/business/funding-grants/access-to-finance.
Information on financing and other EU-related issues is also available through the Enterprise Europe Network. To find a local branch in Belgium, visit http://een.ec.europea.eu.