Unilever and Shell did not directly threaten to move their head offices out of the Netherlands if the dividend tax was not abolished, senior officials told a parliamentary hearing on Friday, the Financieele Dagblad reported.
However, officials did make it clear they had warned about the possible consequences if the tax was not abolished, the paper said.
Both companies have split headquarter operations between the Netherlands and UK and are thought to have lobbied hard to get the new government to abolish the 15% tax. The UK does not charge a tax on dividends.
Unilever supervisory board chairman Kees van der Waaij told the parliamentary finance panel the decision about where to locate the company’s HQ will be made by shareholders ‘when the time comes’.
The majority of the shareholders are currently unable to set off the Dutch withholding tax of 15%, Van der Waaij warned, adding ‘that this an important consideration for every board that has to present a motion on the matter.’
Marjan van Loon, chief executive of Shell Nederland, told the panel the tax makes things ‘unnecessarily difficult’. ‘Abolishing it will retain jobs here,’ she said. ‘You make your decisions, we make ours. Red and yellow has been orange for a long time. I hope we can keep it that way.’
MPs will be asked to decide next year if the government should abolish the 15% tax on dividend payments, which will cost the treasury €14m if implemented.
Opposition parties regard the tax as a gift to foreign investors because Dutch stock exchange-listed firms can offset it against earnings. In addition, they say the government has failed to prove that the measure is good for employment levels.
The government’s macro-economic think-tank has also expressed its doubts about the plan, which was not included in any of the four coalition party manifestos.
Hans van den Hurk, a professor at Maastricht University, told the panel that the Netherlands has no choice but to abolish the tax, because employment is far more important. Van den Hurk said the Netherlands has already fallen out of the first division in terms of the business climate due to the recent tightening of tax rules.
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