Friday, March 24, 2023

High energy bills deal heavy blow to glassware business: Belgium

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The Federation of Belgian Enterprises (FEB) warns of rising business costs due to higher energy prices and inflation-related wage increases.

  • Belgian glassblower Christophe Genard saw his monthly gas bill soar to $6,500 a month last year. (AFP)

When energy prices skyrocketed last year as a result of the EU’s draconian sanctions on Russia, Belgian glassblower Christophe Genard was forced to close for three months.

The 45-year-old’s gas bill had reportedly hit a whopping $6,500 a month.

Faced with the danger of giving up his beloved 20-year job as a glassblower, he was compelled to adapt to live by producing his glassware in a smaller oven.

“While I was closed, between July and September 2022, I thought about how I could keep earning a living, so I merely changed what tool I used,” Genard said as quoted by AFP at his studio in Liege, where he also hosts classes.

The Belgian glassblower has been using propane gas cylinders to power his smaller oven a couple of days a week.

Belgium’s Walloon regional administration introduced measures worth roughly 175 million euros late last year to help businesses deal with growing energy bills, but others are concerned that it would not be enough.

According to a November analysis issued by the Bruegel research tank, Belgium has budgeted only 4.3 billion euros to assist consumers and businesses with the energy crisis, roughly 0.8 percent of its GDP.

It ranked fourth among the EU’s 27 member states, trailing only the neighboring Netherlands, which spent 43.9 billion euros, or more than 5% of GDP, on such aid.

Even smaller economies have spent a greater proportion of their GDP on such assistance, with Romania allocating 8.5 billion euros (3.5 percent).

Read next: Europeans are blaming US for high gas prices – Ex-Italian official

This month, the Federation of Belgian Enterprises (FEB) warned of rising business costs due to higher energy prices and inflation-related wage increases.

The first half of 2023 will be “extremely difficult” for Belgian companies, the FEB warned, as fixed contracts for gas and electricity prices end during this period.

Another poll released last month found that over 76 percent of Belgian merchants are afraid of going bankrupt, citing a variety of issues such as rising energy costs. 

Three-quarters of the shopkeepers polled claimed they had decreased heating in their stores, and 66% said they had turned off neon signs outside of business hours.

In short, European economies are increasingly feeling the repercussions of the unprecedented sanctions against Russia that are also driving up inflation, owing to a steep rise in energy prices.

Read more: Greek citizens blame EU policies for high energy prices

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