AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Netherlands government on Saturday said it is considering a law that would give Dutch publicly listed companies a one-year period of “thinking time” during which they could freely reject any approach by a foreign buyer.
The announcement by Economic Affairs Minister Henk Kamp comes amid a surge in nationalist and protectionist sentiment in the Netherlands.
It also comes as U.S. paint-maker PPG Industries (PPG.N) seeks to buy Dutch based rival Akzo Nobel (AKZO.AS) with a 26.3 billion euro ($29.47 billion) offer that is widely backed by the company’s foreign shareholder base but opposed by the company’s Dutch-controlled board.
Kamp has said a takeover of Akzo Nobel is not in the Dutch national interest.
The idea of a one-year cool-down period when a foreign company tries to buy a Dutch one has enjoyed backing from several prominent Dutch business leaders, notably former Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer, and from a range of political parties on the right and left.
There is also a backlash among several academics and thinkers who ridicule the idea and say it risks trashing the country’s reputation as a place to do business.
Kamp said the government is still investigating whether such a law is feasible and will consult with “experts and those involved.”
If the law is enacted it is unlikely it would effect the Akzo Nobel case. A court is due on Monday to hear complaints from Akzo shareholders who are seeking the removal of Chairman Antony Burgmans.
PPG must decide by June 1 whether it will file formal bidding papers -- along with proof it can finance a bid -- to Dutch regulators.
It argues Akzo’s reluctance to enter talks on a merger is hypocritical, given that the multinational company itself grew by foreign takeovers, notably of Sweden’s Nobel and Britain’s ICI. Of the company’s 46,000 employees, only 5,000 are Dutch, and of its shareholders, 93 percent are foreign.
Akzo argues that PPG’s takeover would lead to job losses, that its own corporate values are more focused on sustainability, and that it has a better corporate plan to sell its chemicals division and issue more dividends to shareholders.
Akzo CEO Ton Buechner has also advanced the argument that keeping multinationals headquartered in the Netherlands is vital to the country’s economic ecosystem, as they provide a disproportionate amount of investment in research and development.
($1 = 0.8925 euros)
Reporting by Toby Sterling Editing by Jeremy Gaunt