Belgium takes umbrage at Rutte’s ‘economic desert’ claim

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Belgium’s finance minister has rebuked Mark Rutte for using his country as an example of what could go wrong if the Netherlands goes back on plans to scrap dividend tax.

The abolition of the tax, which will cost the treasury €1.4 billion, is one of the most controversial policies in the new coalition’s programme for government, partly because none of the four parties included it in their election manifesto.

Rutte has maintained that the move is necessary to keep multinational firms in the Netherlands after Brexit. Analysts expect the UK to try to lure companies away from the EU by undercutting its corporate tax rates.




In his weekly TV interview with NOS on Friday Rutte cited Belgium as an example of what could happen if the government failed to take pre-emptive action. ‘In Belgium there are no international companies left, with one exception. That has a huge effect on jobs.’

The Belgian government said Rutte was ill-informed and had gone too far with his insinuation that the Netherlands’ southern neighbour was an ‘economic desert’. ‘Our economy is currently very different and a lot better than the Dutch prime minister would have people believe,’ said finance minister Johan Van Overtveldt.

A spokesman for Belgian prime minister Charles Michel described Rutte’s comments as ‘very clumsy’ and called on him to phone Michel to clear the air.