Europe still counts, but needs to reform, say Dutch business leaders

Europe may be weakened, but it is still of considerable importance to industry and investors, according to a string of Dutch business leaders in Tuesday’s Financieele Dagblad.

The paper interviewed eight business leaders about the crisis, all of whom stressed that Europe remains a very important economic power, despite the rise of countries such as China, India and Brazil.

‘Europe is the biggest economy in the world, at least it is if we act as a single block,’ said DSM’s chief executive Feike Sijbesma. ‘We don’t realise how much potential we have.’

‘There are no easy solutions. We have to make structural investments in education, R&D and in making the labour market more flexible,’ says Unilever CEO Paul Polman. ‘However, a long-term view would appear to be difficult for today’s politicians and political cycles are getting shorter.’

The CEOs said they find it hard to understand why the EU still spends 40% of its budget on agriculture. ‘It is not necessarily wrong, but it does not generate new value. Every euro in subsidy generates zero,’ said Philips’ CEO Frans van Houten.

Europe should not be going for cheaper production but should focus on research and innovation, they argue. Heineken boss Jean-Francois van Boxmeer pointed out ‘almost all Heineken’s innovations – certainly 90% – come from Europe, and lots from the Netherlands.’