Taxation with (too much) representation?

The EU Commissioner for Competition opening an investigation on Belgian tax rulings
The EU Commissioner for Competition opening an investigation on Belgian tax rulings

After the previous article on Belgium, its rather complicated state structure and its political parties, allow me to briefly dwell on the different taxes . Let’s not forget that Belgium has the highest average tax pressure in the world, only marginally behind Denmark.


All governmental levels in Belgium (and there are many), except the European level, have the authority to impose taxes on the population. Many of us who lived in Brussels have already experienced the €90 or so annual regional tax, aimed to finance the work of the Brussels region. Don’t be astonished to find that the Bruges municipality or the province of West Flanders send you letters with some tax due to them, now that you are officially a resident of the beautiful city of Bruges. However, does the taxation balance out against representation?


In fact, yes it does. Belgium’s many layers of elected democracy means that there is always some elected organ doing the job of approving the tax rates and what exactly is taxed. A couple of years ago, the municipality of Zaventem was running a deficit, and wanted to make up for it by (how creatively) taxing airplanes, thereby taking full advantage of the fact that Brussels Airport almost exclusively lies on its territory. This effort triggered a quick backlash by the overseeing government (the Flemish region as well as the province of Flemish Brabant) and the measure had to be pulled before it was even properly implemented. However, you can’t blame them for not trying…


Overall, Belgians do get a lot in return for their taxes. Ranging from free to heavily subsidized education, paid-back healthcare, culture and sports subsidies, a broad number of government jobs and a (at times unreliable) national train network, the taxpayer’s money is spent in a broad variety of ways. And as many a Belgium would concur: as long as democratic control over this process is maintained, who am I to complain?


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