Country Rankings - The Netherlands
Jun 06, 2013 The Netherlands: centralizingI may be wrong (often am!) but I am suspicious of the Dutch Government's plan to replace corporate apprenticeship tax breaks with "targeted subsidies," because it seems to take decisions out of the hands of companies and puts power to dish out money in the hands of officials. It's not that I would suspect Dutch officials of venality – I am sure that they are impeccably honest and public-spirited; the problem is that the process inevitably becomes less transparent. The Government complains that the current scheme has become too expensive, i.e. that it is successful, and wants to allocate money "on the basis of need." But who is better equipped to decide on the need for apprentices? The firms that employ them, or the Government?
May 23, 2013 The Netherlands: against TobinDutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem has not had a good press in this column due to his involvement with the Cyprus bail-in, but now he is on the side of the angels, pitching in to the financial transactions tax debate, lining up the Netherlands against it. There is a growing chorus of opposition to the proposed tax, with even outgoing Bank of England Governor Mervyn King, not normally one to stick his neck out, saying that he cannot find anyone in Europe's banking community who believes that the proposed tax is a good idea. You'd expect bankers to be against it, of course, but when the Finance Minister of a core European Union member state raises his voice, that has to be taken seriously. What is going to happen? Too many senior European officials and politicians have invested too much of their credibility in the tax for it to be dropped, cold turkey, yet it is impossible by now to believe that it will be implemented in anything like its currently intended form. Fudge is what's going to happen, glorious, traditional euro-fudge, cooked up in the Brussels kitchen, until everyone is so fed up with the subject that it will go away and we will be able to focus on something more interesting like a bail-in for France or Italy.
May 09, 2013 The Netherlands: being unfairI find it really shocking that after five years of pressure and complaints, the Netherlands' Government is still refusing to level the playing field for its state-owned businesses when they compete against private sector equivalents. Of course this was the norm in pre-Thatcher days, when the finances of state-owned corporations were utterly obscure, and notions such as profit and loss were alien to the bureaucrats who had carte blanche to favour themselves over private competitors. Silly me, I thought that had all gone, but evidently not. I was writing about Fannie Mae and Fannie Mac last week, and that's unfair competition as well, although not quite so blatant. Then this week we also had the spectacle of the French government grandly announcing a rapprochement with business, while out of the other side of its mouth it was denying Yahoo's attempt to take over website Dailymotion – something the company itself and its other shareholders wanted – because it didn't suit part-owner France Telecom. France is altogether in a defensive posture as regards the Internet, as President Hollande made very clear back in January when he threatened Google with legislation if it didn't pay through the nose for linking to French content. The truth unfortunately is that the wave of privatization, or to give it a more accurate name, marketization, which bubbled up in the UK in the 1980s, and which had a major impact in many countries around the world, has largely passed by countries such as France and Italy. Even in a place like Cyprus, where you might have thought that the "Anglo-Saxon" influence would have been stronger, the state clings on to the telephone, electricity and water utilities: last month when the Troika tried to insist on privatization of the electricity company, the feather-bedded bureaucrats who run it as a kind of family retirement home offered to find the EUR1.5bn themselves if they could be spared! That would be funny if it weren't sick. We have a long way to go.
Apr 18, 2013 The Netherlands: mistreat ChinaOne country which is conspicuous by its absence from the TPP talks is of course China. Although there are ongoing negotiations between the Middle Kingdom and various other countries, and China has FTAs with a scattering of other countries, notably including ASEAN and New Zealand, on the whole it is lagging. And it considers itself as an injured party in trade affairs, complaining this week about the level of "dumping" and "counter-vailing" measures it is subject to, particular emanating from the USA. A lot of the problem revolves around the designation of China as a "non-market economy" (NME). For anyone who, like me, finds it extraordinary that China should still be regarded as an NME, a word of explanation is in order: an NME is a country in which the State subsidizes enterprises or indulges in other non-market behaviour, despite WTO rules against it. So, an NME is allowed to cheat, if you will; but the other side of the coin is that for an aggrieved counter-party, the burden of proof is lower in anti-dumping proceedings. China's accession agreement to the WTO allows it to retain NME status only until 2015; but the change is not in China's gift, and both the USA and the EU persist in regarding China as an NME, despite frequent requests from China for them to treat it as a market economy.
Dec 13, 2012 The Netherlands: goes barmyNow from the sublimely scarifying to the gorblimey, as they (used to) say in Covent Garden, with the news that the Dutch are going to arrest Belgians and Danes carrying kegs of duty-free beer across the border to sell in local pubs. Or something like that. Actually it's just an agreement between the Dutch government and the brewers to weep together over their tankards: there's nothing they can do about cross-border trade because of course inside Schengen there aren't any borders any more. All they can do is to raid a tavern near the ex-border and demand that the owner proves the beer has paid excise. But beer, like money, is fungible; untaxed beer looks, smells and tastes exactly the same as taxed beer. Perhaps they could do some molecular engineering on yeast to encode taxed status as a genetic marker? Don't laugh: one day, if you drink untaxed beer you'll turn magenta and you'll be able to sue the publican for GBH. Meanwhile, keep drinking.