Belgium’s finance minister has no problem with bitcoin, he said last week, although he pointed out that there are few people there using it.
Minister of finance Koen Geens responded to a parliamentary question about bitcoin, commenting that he wouldn't see the Belgian National bank having any objection to bitcoin, and stating that for the moment its use is limited to a handful of traders.
The nation’s anti-money laundering organization – the Cellule de Traitement des Informations Financières - hasn't received any guidance on the cryptocurrency.
Geens reportedly added that although privacy and anonymity were a big part of bitcoin, there was no indication that the cryptocurrency is used on a large scale for money laundering. Any exchange of large amounts of bitcoin would be detected by the financial control systems, he argued.
Chris D’Costa, chair of the Belgium chapter of the Bitcoin Foundation, admits that the Belgian bitcoin economy has yet to develop.
There are some promising signs, though, with biweekly meet-ups, which have created some innovative projects including the first full bitcoin client on Raspberry Pi, he says. These in turn have spawned other projects.
“Unfortunately, the minister is correct. There really aren't many startups using bitcoin here just yet, and that was my main motivation in starting the Foundation Chapter - to bring about some education into the start-up scene,” says D’Costa.
However, he also points out that Brussels is the center of the European political system, calling it the “heart of Europe”. Although it isn’t the official capital of the EU (the EU doesn’t have one), it has long been seen as the EU’s de facto home.
Tuur Demeester, Belgian publisher of investment newsletter MacroTrends.be, says that he knows several Belgian investors who are considering investments in the space, including Barend Van den Brande of technology VC fund Hummingbird Ventures.
“I think in the medium term, bitcoin's safe haven attribute will prove to be its major point of attraction for Belgians,” Demeester said. “Quiet as things may seem on the surface, I sense a strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the way the authorities are handling the problem of bureaucratization and overspending.”
D’Costa, who is himself developing a bitcoin wallet project called Meek, has been working with a local accountant to obtain a formal position from the Finance Ministry.
“I feel positive that existing regulation will class bitcoin as a foreign currency and treat it as such for tax purposes. This would be very good for Belgium, because foreign exchange gains do not attract capital gains tax,” he says.
Germany, which is the EU's largest economic power, made its own advances in this area last month, when its own finance ministry officially recognized bitcoin as private money.
The Belgian chapter will hold elections for board members in October, and it will follow a similar non-profit strategy to the main US-based Foundation, with legal and financial experts holding board or advisory positions.