Multinational groups in Belgium

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Datalab - Multinational groups in Belgium

Datalab - Multinational groups in Belgium

As a result of the globalisation of the economy, the share of multinational groups is becoming more and more significant. The purpose of this page is to give some basic statistics on their weight in the Belgian economy.

First, let’s define the concept of “enterprise group”. It is an association of legal units (CBE number[1]) bound together by direct or indirect links that are mainly financial (shareholding or control), but also frequently organisational (management, strategies, etc.) and economic (pooling of resources).

A European initiative has made it possible to create a register of multinational groups. The following figures come from this register, called the EuroGroups Register (EGR)[2].

The EGR is the statistical business register of multinational enterprise groups having at least one legal unit in at least one European Union Member State. The EGR was created for statistical purposes only, with the aim to facilitate the coordination of survey frames in the European Statistical System (ESS) for producing high quality statistics on global business activities, like Foreign Affiliates Statistics (FATS[3]) and Foreign Direct Investment statistics (FDI[4]). For information on units resident in EU Member States and in EFTA countries[5], the EGR uses data from the respective national statistical business registers, while commercial sources are used for covering units outside the EU and EFTA countries.

Further in this analysis, we present the results broken down according to the concept of “group head”. In order to understand this concept, we distinguish within a group:

  • the unit “leading the group”, i.e. the legal unit which is not controlled either directly or indirectly by any other legal unit (see diagram below).
  • the unit deciding on the economic policy (ultimate decision-making unit)

We consider that a group’s nationality is that of its decision-making unit: the objective is to avoid locating groups too systematically in countries where only their financial holding companies reside. So, a group whose decision-making unit is in Belgium and whose unit “leading the group” is in Luxembourg will be considered as a Belgian-headed group.

There is another underlying concept: we speak here exclusively of multinational groups in the sense that the group has legal units in at least 2 countries, one of which is a Member State of the European Union.

The results presented here are based on statistical processes that have not yet reached full maturity in terms of harmonisation, coverage or methodology. We therefore present them here in the form of “experimental statistics”. This publication focuses on data for EU and EFTA territories, for which the quality of the data is better. Although included in the EGR, branches (branches of foreign legal units) are not included.

Evolution of the register over time

The experimental nature of the evolution figures presented here becomes clear when we look at the numbers of groups and subsidiaries over the years 2018 to 2021. The coverage in the database in terms of groups has increased by 136% between 2018 and 2021 (which is significant). Regarding subsidiaries, we note a regular annual growth of about 25% between 2019 and 2021. Knowledge about the subsidiaries continues to increase, it has not yet fully stabilised.

The table below shows the weight of multinational groups in Belgium.

Year Number of groups present in Belgium Number of Belgian legal units in these groups Compared to the whole economy Employment in Belgian units Compared to employment in Belgium
2014 3,141 10,125 1.2% 887,161 23.2%
2015 5,457 13,925 1.6% 972,929 25.2%
2016 6,796 17,041 2.0% 1,031,761 26.4%
2017 6,969 17,375 2.0% 1,054,535 26.6%
2018 7,459 19,024 2.1% 942,440 23.4%
2019 9,196 21,822 2.3% 1,060,921 25.9%
2020 10,885 25,406 2.6% 1,188,411 29.3%
2021 10,716 25,907 2.6% 1,259,852 30.4%

We note that in Belgium, the weight of multinational groups is significant because, even if less than 3% of legal units belong to such structures, they account for more than 30% of jobs in 2021.

You will find below the figures regarding groups whose decision-making body is in Belgium.

Year Number of Belgian group heads Number of Belgian legal units Compared to the whole economy Employment Compared to employment in Belgium
2014 2,029 5,879 0.7% 336,115  
2015 2,933 8,067 0.9% 410,553  
2016 3,833 10,325 1.2% 427,203  
2017 3,664 9,940 1.1% 420,527  
2018 3,847 11,837 1.3% 497,929  
2019 4,087 11,991 1.3% 479,037  
2020 4,549 13,450 1.4% 458,293  
2021 4,645 14,228 1.4% 537,079  

A comparison of the 2 tables shows that the majority of groups present in Belgium have a foreign group head. In terms of employment, groups with a Belgian head account for almost 40% of the employment of groups present in Belgium. It should also be noted that the number of Belgian-headed groups is relatively stable over time compared with the number of foreign-headed groups. This can be explained by the maturity of the processes for collecting and processing sources concerning Belgian groups. It should also be noted that the register is completed from year to year, which is why the rest of the publication will focus on the latest year available, 2021, which is the most complete. Data for the other years are available under the “data” tab.

Table of contents

Nationality of groups operating in Belgium (2021)

Among multinational groups operating in Belgium, Belgian-headed groups account for 40% of the groups. The remainder is divided as follows:

The largest part of groups present in Belgium are groups controlled by a Dutch group head, followed by German-headed and French-headed groups. Overall, we can see that neighbouring countries are strongly represented.

Geographical breakdown of subsidiaries of groups controlled by a Belgian group head (2021)

The figure below shows the countries in which the subsidiaries of Belgian-headed groups are located in terms of employment or legal unit. For multinational groups whose decision centre is located in Belgium, Belgian subsidiaries account for around 40% of the total number of subsidiaries. Neighbouring countries such as France, the Netherlands and Germany are logically the countries where most of Belgian groups are established. The nationality breakdown of our subsidiaries according to employment is not in the same order. We note that the Netherlands, where 15% of our subsidiaries are established, only account for 7% of the employment in our subsidiaries at European level.

Another way of presenting the establishment of our groups in other countries is to consider the size of the subsidiaries. In the chart below, we show the breakdown of the number of subsidiaries by country of location and by employment size class ([0;10[ - [10;50[ and [50 and over[).

This chart shows that the establishments of Belgian groups are mostly small, that the legal units tend to be larger in Eastern countries (Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria) compared to those present in Belgium or even France.

Main economic sectors in which groups are active

The group register also provides information on the activity carried out by the subsidiaries. The two charts below provide a breakdown of the main activities in terms of number of subsidiaries and employment.

Below is a breakdown of the group's main activity according to the Nace 2008 nomenclature (source…). These are the main aggregates of the economic activity. There are 21 in the 2008 nomenclature.

A joint analysis of the previous chart shows that:

  • manufacturing is the main economic sector (in terms of employment) of groups controlled by a Belgian group head
  • the sections “trade and repair of motor vehicles” and “professional, scientific and technical activities” rank first in terms of the number of players (legal units), but their weight in terms of jobs is lower.

Complexity of groups controlled by a Belgian group head

In this part, we focus on the concept of group complexity. Two criteria have been established:

  • Geographical complexity makes it possible to apprehend geographical dispersions.
  • Economic complexity makes it possible to see whether the groups are essentially active in a given economic section, or rather active in several simultaneously.


We divided the groups into three classes:

  • low complexity: if the group is present in 2 countries at most (Belgium and another European country),
  • medium complexity: if the group is present in 3 to 5 countries (Belgium and at least one other European country),
  • high complexity: if the group is present in 6 countries or more (Belgium and at least one other European country).

These thresholds have been chosen to be in line with the European thresholds used by Eurostat[6].

Over the year 2021, 16% of Belgian-headed groups are present in more than 6 countries, the major part (78%) is only present in two countries (Belgium and only one other country). It appears that groups controlled by a Belgian group head are less dispersed geographically than all groups present in Belgium.

If we look at the latter, those present in 3 to 5 countries are more numerous than those present in more than 6 countries. This shows another facet of globalisation in our country.


We can also look at economic complexity. In order to grasp this complexity, we divided the groups as follows:

  • mono-active group if a section accounts for more than 80% of the group’s total employment
  • dually active group if two sections together account for more than 90% of total employment
  • otherwise, pluri-active group.

We can see that the majority of groups are active in only one or two sections.


We provided in this report a snapshot of the groups active in Belgium, according to whether or not they are controlled from Belgium. Groups account for more than 30% of Belgian employment. Those controlled from Belgium are mainly located in neighbouring countries and, symmetrically, Belgian units controlled by foreign entities are controlled from neighbouring countries. In terms of activity, manufacturing is by far the most represented.

It should not be forgotten that these are experimental statistics, they present at times some breaks due to the relative youth of the data but also due to the complexity of their elaboration.

An update of these figures will be proposed every year.

[1] CBE-number

[2] EGR

[3] Foreign Affiliates Trade Statistics

[4] Foreign Direct Investment

[5] European Free Trade Association,

[6] Eurostat