Populistic Approach in Netherlands is not Good for Businesses

The evolving regulatory framework is no longer merely an annoyance for businesses but a substantial impediment to investment in the Netherlands. (Credits: Piroschka Van De Wouw)

Unilever, a renowned entity in Dutch business annals, serves as both a symbol of past glories and a barometer for the future trajectory of what was once the most liberal economy in continental Europe.

Having relocated its Dutch headquarters to the U.K. four years ago, the consumer goods titan is now contemplating listing its €17 billion (¥2.8 trillion) ice cream division on either the Amsterdam or London stock exchanges.

CEO Hein Schumacher, speaking on the Buitenhof TV program, underscored that this decision hinges on the attractiveness of the Dutch business environment, a factor that remains uncertain.

“We have observed unexpected developments in recent times,” he remarked. “A stable regulatory framework and government policies are of paramount importance.”

The introduction of recent legislation aimed at taxing share repurchases, curtailing tax advantages for expatriates, and proposing limits on foreign student admissions has sparked apprehension among companies reliant on international talent.

Such concerns have been exacerbated as the Netherlands, long celebrated for its liberal consensus, appears poised to adopt stricter immigration policies.

The decisive electoral triumph of far-right figure Geert Wilders in last November’s elections underscores a marked shift in public sentiment among Dutch voters since 2022 when the influx of migrants surged by 60%. (Credits: Carl Court)

While Wilders has abandoned his bid for prime minister, his enduring political influence positions him as a potential kingmaker. Notably, all three major parties likely to secure seats in the forthcoming government campaigned on anti-immigration platforms.

The backlash within the Netherlands, home to corporations like ASML, Boskalis, and NXP Semiconductors NV, underscores a broader challenge facing businesses across Europe: the rising tide of populist sentiment jeopardizing access to the foreign labor upon which they depend.

“Large enterprises with substantial operations here are expressing concerns about recruitment challenges and declining interest in relocating,” remarked Marjella Lecourt-Alma, CEO of Datamaran, a software analytics firm specializing in ESG risks.

As coalition negotiations continue, the political trajectory of the European Union’s fifth-largest economy remains uncertain. In response, corporate leaders are speaking out, with some contemplating relocation or expansion abroad rather than domestically.

Peter Berdowski, CEO of dredging and salvage firm Boskalis NV, recently indicated the company’s deliberation over relocating its headquarters outside the Netherlands.

This aligns with findings from a 2023 report commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, which revealed that 16% of Dutch companies are considering shifting at least a portion of their operations abroad within the next two years. This figure rises to approximately 33% among predominantly global organizations.

Expressing concerns over potential restrictions on hiring foreign talent and existing regulatory complexities, Kaan Terzioglu, CEO of Amsterdam-listed telecommunications company Veon Ltd, highlighted challenges with the country’s visa processes.

Under current regulations, Terzioglu lamented the prolonged visa application timelines, hindering the mobility of employees from Pakistan and Bangladesh without EU passports.

Among the array of enterprises uneasy with prevailing conditions, tech firms wield significant influence. ASML, a semiconductor equipment manufacturer with a market capitalization of €360 billion, occupies a pivotal position in the Dutch economy.

The company, which employs over 40% non-Dutch nationals in the Netherlands, would be profoundly impacted by constraints on hiring foreign talent.

Similarly, chipmaker NXP relies on foreign nationals for over half of its new hires. Foreigners constitute roughly 70% of the workforce at DataSnipper, an Amsterdam-based AI auditing software company valued at $1 billion.

In anticipation of potential challenges in securing qualified personnel domestically, corporate leaders have cautioned that they will pursue talent wherever necessary.

“If the Netherlands becomes inhospitable, impeding immigration and foreign student admissions, then we must accept the repercussions,” asserted ASML CEO Peter Wennink. “As a global entity, we will relocate as needed to foster growth and serve our clientele.”

While the anti-immigrant, anti-business sentiment gripping the Netherlands has become more palpable since the November elections, its roots trace back years.

According to business leaders, public sentiment toward large corporations soured during the financial crisis, exacerbated by taxpayer-funded bailouts of banks.

Some companies have already responded to what they perceive as unfavorable tax policies by relocating headquarters.(Credits: Piroschka Van De Wouw)

Despite efforts by figures like Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who has advocated for business-friendly policies, including encouraging CEOs to engage with the public via media appearances, challenges persist.

Rutte’s inability to prevent measures such as increased bank taxes and limitations on share buybacks underscores the shifting political landscape.

In 2021, energy giant Shell PLC relocated to London following Dutch government decisions to tax dividends and legal rulings mandating accelerated emission reductions.

During a recent parliamentary debate, Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs Micky Adriaansens voiced concerns regarding the country’s global reputation.

In response to mounting apprehensions, the Dutch finance ministry is crafting alternative proposals to bank and share buyback taxes, as well as revising expatriate tax incentives. Ministry officials anticipate presenting these proposals to parliament imminently.

In the absence of clarity regarding future policies, businesses grapple with uncertainty.

“Companies can adapt to populist governments,” remarked Corné van Zeijl, a strategist at Cardano Asset Management. The primary challenge lies in the unpredictability of governmental actions.”

Josh Linardos
Joshua is more into technological stuff. He covers gadgets and utility news. He has over 14 years of experience in the tech niche. He is honored to share his experience here at Today's Ecom.