Drop in permit applications signals challenges for industry in Flanders
In 2023, industrial companies based in Flanders applied for 2,830 permits for new projects, expansions or replacements of expiring permits. This is 14 per cent less than in 2018-2022, when an average of 3,290 applications were submitted annually, according to data from the Flemish Environmental Permitting Agency, as reported by De Tijd.
"This is a sign that our industry is facing significant challenges," said Frank Beckx, director of the research department at the employers' organisation Voka. "The economic situation and competitiveness of Flanders and Europe are under pressure. As a result, investment projects are being put on hold or even cancelled."
Both macroeconomic trends and local obstacles are hampering the development of industry. Energy prices in the US are much lower than in Europe, and Belgium faces a wage cost disadvantage after a substantial indexation at the beginning of last year. At the same time, Flanders cannot compete in the subsidy race between EU countries.
"In the ongoing global subsidy race, we often lose out"
There are fears, for example, that materials group Umicore will choose northern France over Flanders for its new battery recycling plant because of the range of subsidies available there.
"In the ongoing global subsidy race, we often lose out. I will address this issue as chair of the European Industrial Council," said Flemish minister for Economic Affairs Jo Brouns, of Christian democrats CD&V.
"We are hearing from many companies that they are holding off on their investment or expansion plans until there is a nitrogen decree"
Other challenges in Flanders include land scarcity, a tight labour market and the issue of nitrogen emissions regulations.
"We are hearing from many companies that they are holding off on their investment or expansion plans until there is a nitrogen decree," Beckx said. "Once the majority in the Flemish Parliament has approved it, I expect to see an increase in applications."
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