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Dutch government to rethink plan to curb foreign takeover attempts
July 4, 2017 / 12:41 PM / 3 months ago

Dutch government to rethink plan to curb foreign takeover attempts

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch government signaled on Tuesday it would rethink a plan to delay or prevent unwanted takeovers of Dutch companies by foreign firms partly over concerns about its possible impact on the investment climate in the country.

In a letter to parliament ahead of a vote on proposals offering Dutch firms more protection from takeovers, Economic Affairs Minister Henk Kamp said his proposal might conflict with European law as well as discourage foreign investors.

The plan, which envisages a one-year grace period in which companies could refuse integrating with a foreign buyer, should be seen as “still under construction”, Kamp added.

Parliament had been expected to reject the Kamp plan in its current form, though a majority of lawmakers is likely to back a more general motion asking the government to research other options to protect Dutch companies.

The political jockeying follows recent attempts by U.S. companies to buy Dutch paint maker Akzo Nobel (AKZO.AS) and Anglo-Dutch multinational Unilever(UNc.AS). Both advances were made public in the run-up to a Dutch parliamentary election in which anti-immigration and nationalist themes predominated.

Kamp’s shift on Tuesday comes less than a week after parliament also passed a motion telling the incoming government to drop a 20 percent cap placed on bonuses in the financial industry.

The cap had been blamed by the Dutch Employers’ Association VNO-NCW for the failure of the Netherlands to capture much “Brexit business” -- relocation of operations leaving Britain after the country’s vote to leave the European Union -- despite Amsterdam figuring prominently on lists of cities likely to benefit.

INVESTMENT WORRIES

VNO director Hans de Boer told Reuters in an emailed response that the bonus cap had “sent the wrong message to investors ... and is causing us to miss out on jobs and tax revenues that we could really use.”

Kamp’s anti-takeover plan was opposed by his own conservative VVD party during a debate last week.

“Of course our companies deserve protection, but they already have it,” said VVD MP Aukje de Vries.

“For what problem is this a solution, and isn’t the medicine worse than the cure?” she said.

Investor groups also opposed the plan, including the International Corporate Governance Network, which represents investors holding $26 trillion in assets.

“We believe the negative consequences would... entrench ineffective company managers and disenfranchise institutional investors,” the ICGN wrote in a letter to Kamp last month.

The VVD, which is expected to lead a new government under Prime Minister Mark Rutte, is currently in coalition-building talks with the Christian Democrat and centrist D66 parties. Both favor some new anti-takeover protections.

The Dutch debate coincides with wider concerns in Europe over a more protectionist stance on trade taken by U.S. President Donald Trump, who attends a summit of the G-20 largest economies in Hamburg, Germany, later this week.

Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Gareth Jones

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