Belgium shows the way

Brussels – Greece’s bureaucracy has played a notorious role in holding back development and discouraging investment, either domestic or foreign. According to European Union data on the 15 «old» EU members, that is, excluding the 10 newcomers who joined in May 2004, Greece lay in 13th place on the length of time it took to approve the setup of a new business, currently 38 days. This survey was based on official figures and, as experts acknowledged, a rather idealized situation which hides the months-long hassle that awaits would-be entrepreneurs. Here in Belgium, a radical reform has allowed this former EU laggard to reduce the days it takes to register a new company from 56 to 3. The reform, especially coming from a country historically plagued by a pervasive, overstaffed and increasingly inefficient bureaucracy, vindicates the American adage that «where there’s a will, there’s a way.» The Belgian government made it its top priority to simplify administrative procedures across the board through the so-called «Kafka Program» and the creation of a «Simplification Agency» headed by a deputy minister. The program, which could serve as a blueprint for reform in Greece, given sufficient will, has helped not only enterprises but all citizens. For example, a residence permit can be renewed within two minutes. In the case of businesses, the founder or founders deposit the initial working capital at a bank, a notary public prepares the legal paperwork the following day, providing the entrepreneur with a registration number which is activated online by the third day. As a result, 57,000 companies were set up in 2005, up 40 percent from 2004.

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