Dutch transport hubs need more government input, says employers’ chief

Photo: jvanderwolf via Depositphotos

KLMDutch transport hubs are a valuable Dutch asset but the state needs to get more involved, writes VNO-NCW chairman Hans de Boer

A structural growth rate of 1% to 1.5% a year? VNO-NCW has more ambitious plans for the Dutch economy. We are confident that upcoming entrepreneurial talent will put the Netherlands in the economic Champions League. Economic growth is not an end in itself. It is what it takes to get to grips with the great social challenges of the next decades. Growth means Peter and Achmed won’t have to compete for the same job. It also means sustainable long-term investment in health care, the environment and energy transition. A world class economy can tackle social issues. Growth is good.

Attactive for multinationals
That is why VNO-NCW and MKB-Nederland are putting together an agenda for growth which puts forward our transport hubs as one of the mainstays of a welcoming business climate. Strong hubs as well as an excellent international connectivity have already attracted some 20,000 international companies providing some two million jobs. The presence of these corporations, which are also twice as productive as the average company, has also proved to be a boost for innovative start-ups.

Schiphol and KLM: a crucial combination
In 2025 another 7,000 multinationals will join the world economic ranks. These companies will need European headquarters. The powerful combination of Schiphol and its network carrier KLM, the worldwide network of 200 ‘bridges’, i.e. direct links between KLM and its partners, and the great service of Schiphol Inc. combine to make the Netherlands an attractive option for international companies.

This combination is an important Dutch asset but it’s not without its problems. There are outside threats (competition) as well as threats from within (adjustment speed) we must tackle. This is a national priority which demands new and decisive policies.

Air France needs to reorganise too
VNO-NCW is of the opinion that, in principle, KLM has a good partner in Air France. The combination has been advantageous to KLM, our international destinations and, consequently, to Schiphol and the Dutch business climate. Continued growth will benefit the Netherlands in particular because the total traffic volume will always be handled via both Paris and Schiphol.

We now see that KLM is reorganising and that is a good thing. But it is clear Air France should do the same. As a constructive partner, the Netherlands should lend economic and political support, not raise an admonishing finger.

Dutch control and involvement
After a process of reorganisation has been started at both carriers, we will see increased support at Air France- KLM holding level through investment decisions, new partners and a possible recourse to the capital market.

The Dutch public interest served by these choices is important enough to warrant a far more extensive safeguarding of state control and involvement at this level. There are a number of options for the government to consider, including acquiring a stake in the holding company.

Of course, all this would be subject to the proper conditions. What matters is that a more intensive state commitment to Air France-KLM will boost the common continuity strategy, the credibility of the holding company on the capital market, a structural governance contribution from the Netherlands and the partnership with France.

Central management
It is of the utmost importance that Schiphol’s limited capacity is divided according to the importance of the additions made to the airport’s network quality. This should be guaranteed by a framework of public regulations so the assignments of slots find its basis in this framework.

Transport hubs operations, including decisions about additional landside infrastructure, state policy and the costing of airport safety policy need to be centrally managed at government level. Economic-strategic considerations should prevail and that would have to be clear from the way policy responsibility is unequivocally accorded within the cabinet.

Hans de Boer is chairman of the Dutch employers organisation VNO-NCW

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