For sale: The Netherlands

There is growing resistance to the all of Holland’s corporate assets, writes Jasper van de Kerkhof in the Parool.

What have KLM, bus company Connexxion and ABN Amro in common? The are all companies with a key role in the Dutch economy which have ended up in foreign hands.
SDU Identification, the company that makes our passports and driving licences, was bought by French firm Sagem Securité last year. There is no French politician who would support support the sale of such a strategic company, but in the Netherlands no-one turns a hair.
‘If you stand up for the national interest in the Netherlands, you are accused of misplaced sentiment,’ says Dick Sluimers, of pension fund ABP’s asset management arm. ‘But that is the most normal thing in the world. If you don’t think of your own interests, the others will.’
The fact that icons such as Hema, Mora snack food and Numico’s baby food are in foreign hands seen as a shame, but no more than that. But does the same feeling apply to crucial infrastructure with an important social function, such as telecommunications, banks and energy?
The Netherlands’ doors are wide open to foreign buyers, at least that is what an American government report says. In almost every other country, takeovers are checked to see how desirable they are, and vetoed in ‘strategic sectors’. But in the Netherlands, everything is for sale.
The economic affairs ministry does not see this as a problem. ‘As long as the public interest is guaranteed, takeovers are not a problem.’ And, the ministry says, there are laws to make sure this is the case.
But Alfred Kleinknecht, professor of innovation at Delft University, says the Netherlands does not have to be the best behaved boy in the class.
‘Some companies are too big to fail, such as Shell and Philips’ he says. ‘The Netherlands has to be able to step in if need be. If Philips went bankrupt it would be disastrous for Eindhoven.’
Jasper van de Kerkhof is a journalist with the Parool. This is an unofficial translation
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