Société Générale de Belgique

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The Société Générale de Belgique (Dutch: Generale Maatschappij van België) (SGB) was one of the largest companies that ever existed in Belgium. It was founded in 1822 by William I of the Netherlands, and existed until 2003, when its then sole shareholder, Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux, merged it with Tractebel to form Suez-Tractebel. Between 1830 and 1850 it served as the Belgian national bank and subsequently was an important source of investment in the Belgian economy during the Industrial Revolution.[1]


As part of the terms of the Treaty of Paris in 1814, the countries of Europe agreed to augment their armed forces from militia to a standing army. Although Belgium had been offered independence by the Prussians, Lord Castlereagh vetoed it on the grounds that the country was too small to be economically viable, and the question then arose of who should govern it, the Austrians having washed their hands of it as a historical accident of the breakup of the Habsburg empire.

Although William I of the Netherlands refused initially on the grounds of the added expense involved in maintaining the said army, Castlereagh persuaded him by asking him if he preferred to be Prince of Orange or King of the Netherlands, adding that from a practical point of view the Belgian Ducal Estates amounted to a third of the country. He therefore founded the company in 1822 to administer these estates under the name Algemeene Nederlandsche Maatschappij ter Begunstiging van de Volksvlijt ("General Netherlands Society for Advantage to the National Industry"), with the overt goal of increasing the welfare of the country, but with the covert objective of covering these costs.

As the Standing Army project never got taken seriously by the rest of Europe in practice, and the delivery of the Company proved insufficient, the objectives changed in 1826 to the delivery of ƒ 500 000 a year as a "pension" to the King's personal account.

After the Belgian Revolution of 1830, the company became Belgian, under the French name Société Générale de Belgique, and it retained the Estates, which were sold off at low prices to the immediate circle of the Board. It then served until 1850 as the National Bank of Belgium. The Société Générale was an important provider of capital for the upcoming industry of Belgium in the 19th century.

In the years before the Second World War the company invested in roads, railroads and canals. It was also the main operation in the Belgian colony of Belgian Congo. After the 1929 Crash, the company split off its banking segment (1934), becoming the Generale Bank (now Fortis, which was later sold to BNP Paribas, resulting in BNP Paribas Fortis), but remained its largest stockholder.

Starting in the end of the 1980s, the Suez company started to obtain a large portion of the Société Générale's shares, which resulted in the full take-over of the company in 1998, by Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux.

Subsidiaries once (majority) owned by the Société Générale[edit]



  1. ^ "Banking in Belgium". London Bankers Magazine. 1857. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Société Générale de Belgique at Wikimedia Commons