Combating the economic consequences: the work of the Economic Risk Management Group

How great is the impact of this crisis on the economy? How can we ensure that critical enterprises and infrastructures remain operational? What measures have already been taken to counter the impact of the crisis? The Economic Risk Management Group is putting forward answers on these and many other issues.

ERMG

The coronavirus pandemic does not only imply numerous challenges for our health care system.  Businesses, the self-employed and households are also feeling the consequences. The absolutely vital preventive measures are actually bringing some economic sectors to a total standstill. Others continue to operate, but in slow motion. Almost every business is now feeling the impact.

On 19 March 2020 the Government decided to set up the Economic Risk Management Group (ERMG) in order to analyse and combat these economic consequences.

What is the task of the Economic Risk Management Group?

The Economic Risk Management Group has 3 tasks:

  • Measure the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on businesses, sectors and the financial markets (“monitoring”)
  • Ensure that businesses and infrastructures which are particularly critical for the country continue to operate (“business continuity”)
  • Play a coordinating role by listing the measures that have been taken to tackle the economic fallout from this crisis

In carrying out these missions, the ERMG has become a forum for its members to reflect on the economic impact of the crisis and on the action that needed to be taken. The co-chairs of the ERMG reported regularly back to the government on the general conclusions reached in this work.

To start with, the objective was for the ERMG to also put forward proposals to the government for specific measures for tackling this crisis, but it soon became clear that the ERMG was not the appropriate forum to do this and its value lay mainly in its three above-mentioned missions.

The ERMG met regularly in the period up to July 2020. Although the ERMG has stopped meeting since then and the activities of the Business Continuity Planning Task Force have been put on hold, the National Bank and its partners within the ERMG are relentlessly continuing to monitor the economic impact of the crisis.

How serious is this crisis?

The National Bank regularly publishes a full set of indicators, in the form of a COVID-19 Dashboard, enabling interested parties to closely follow the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the Belgian and international economy. This Dashboard reflects the situation facing companies and the financial sector as well as households.

Task Force Business Continuity Planning

Within the ERMG, under the chairmanship of Piet VANTHEMSCHE, the Business Continuity Planning (BCP) Task Force has been set up, with the support of Jean‑Marie DOCHY and Bert MATTHIJS, both of whom serve as Director-General of the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC). They were both selected because of the vast experience in the field of crisis management that they have acquired from various crises that have hit the food and farming sector. The job of this Task Force is to ensure that critical production chains continue to function during the crisis period. The Task Force Business Continuity Planning is striving, wherever possible and in close concertation with the sector itself, to come up with potential solutions to propose to the competent levels of authority and is working closely with the government’s crisis centre on this, as well as with the relevant the Federal Public Services.

This Business Continuity Planning Task Force has been on hold since July 2020.

Click here for more information and an overview of the main achievements of the Business Continuity Planning Task Force.

Who are members of the Economic Risk Management Group?

ERMG

The ERMG is chaired by the National Bank Governor Pierre Wunsch and Dr. Piet Vanthemsche. While the Governor concentrates mainly on the economic impact and the consequences for Belgium’s financial system, Dr Vanthemsche focuses primarily on business continuity and coordination with the working group dealing with the medical and preventive aspects of tackling the crisis.

The ERMG’s members also include the leading organisations representing employers and workers. For example, the employers’ organisation VBO/FEB, Unizo and the Union Wallonne des Entreprises, VOKA, Febelfin, the Boerenbond, the 3 major unions, etc. Some public entities are also involved, such as the Federal Planning Bureau and the Federal Participation and Investment Corporation.

The ERMG can rely on extensive support from the National Bank. More than 100 staff from the Research department, the Statistics service, banking and insurance supervision, the macroprudential services, economic relations and communication are offering full-time support.

Can I as an individual firm present my problems to this Group?

The ERMG collects the necessary economic data on the situation in Belgium’s various economic sectors via the employers’ and workers’ organisations and via its own research.  It also holds focused discussions with firms. It is therefore not the intention that individual firms should contact the ERMG themselves. We advise individual firms to pass on information meant for the ERMG to their sectoral organisations.

How is the work allocated within the ERMG ?

ERMG org chart

The ERMG has set up eight working groups, each with a specific task. These working groups comprise experts from the employers’/workers’ organisations and public entities such as the National Bank, the Federal Planning Bureau, the Federal Participations and Investment Corporation and Economic Affairs. Below is a summary:

  • Real-time monitoring of the economy (led by Geert Langenus/NBB)
    This working group charts the economic impact as accurately as possible and for that purpose has developed numerous (new) parameters and (business) surveys).
  • Macroeconomic forecasts and scenarios (led by Xavier Debrun/NBB)
    This working group analyses the crisis mainly from the macroeconomic angle and examines the many macroeconomic scenarios and their implications for the Belgian economy.
  • Budgetary implications (led by Philippe Donnay/Federal Planning Bureau)
    What is the financial impact? What will the proposals cost? What about the government budget and the debt burden? This working group answers these and many other questions.
  • Feedback from the field (led by Luc Aucremanne/NBB)
    This working group analyses any problems and proposals from those in the field.
  • Finance and support for large firms (led by Koen Vanloo/SFPI)
    This working group focuses on the finance and support needed by large firms.
  • Finance and support for SMEs and the self-employed (led by Pierre Hermant/Finance Brussels)
    This working group focuses on the finance and support needed by small and medium-sized firms and the self-employed.
  • Finance and support for individuals and workers (led by Tim Hermans/NBB)
    This working group focuses on the support needed by households, individuals and workers.
  • Communication (led by Geert Sciot/NBB)
    This working group coordinates all the ERMG’s communications.

The above overview reflects the situation from the establishment of the ERMG to its last regular meetings over the summer of 2020.

ERMG surveys

Periodically, thousands of Belgian firms are surveyed on the impact of Covid-19 on their business activities.

Under the coordination of the NBB and the FEB/VBO, several federations representing enterprises and the self-employed (BECI, Boerenbond, NSZ, UCM, UNIZO, UWE and VOKA) have joined forces to periodically conduct a large-scale survey, as part of the ERMG’s work, among firms established in Brussels, Wallonia and Flanders. On the basis of this survey, they examine the impact of the coronavirus crisis on economic activity in Belgium and on the financial health of the Belgian companies questioned.

It should be pointed out that the survey targets private sector firms, so please note that certain public sectors, such as education, are not taken into account, even though they are also suffering from the effects of the crisis.

The results of the latest poll and those of previous surveys can be consulted here: Results of the ERMG survey.

ERMG