Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Picture: UPSPLASH/FREDERIC PAULUSSEN
Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Picture: UPSPLASH/FREDERIC PAULUSSEN

The Hague — The Netherlands is going all out to attract companies leaving Britain after Brexit in search of a new EU-based home, offering sweet tax deals, a business-friendly climate and a population largely able to speak English.

With less than a year before Britain formally leaves the EU at midnight on March 29  2019, the Dutch government has deployed a small army of lobbyists hoping to persuade companies to pick Rotterdam or Amsterdam over Paris or Frankfurt for their new base.

Via the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency, an official arm of the economic affairs ministry, the Dutch government is "in touch with more than 200 companies", said spokesman Michiel Bakhuizen.

"These are companies wishing to leave Britain, or international businesses who are looking to set up in an EU country, and from now on have to avoid London," he said

Modern infrastructure

So far, things have been going well, from a Dutch perspective.

In March, Anglo-Dutch consumer products giant Unilever decided to end its dual-headed legal structure, severing its London base and regrouping around its headquarters in Rotterdam. The company denied the decision had anything to do with Brexit, but that did not lessen the blow to the British.

And Amsterdam is now preparing for the arrival of the European Medicines Agency, after winning a battle against Milan to be the new home of the agency and its 900 staff when it leaves London in 2019.

Dutch officials say the Netherlands has modern infrastructure and good digital and communications providers, while 90% of the people speak English. "We’re no island," the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency says somewhat snidely on it website. "We’re on the continent, close to Europe’s 500-million consumers, not to mention your business customers."

Roel Beetsma, an economist from the University of Amsterdam, agreed, saying the country has "a good business climate, encouraged by government measures, a good level of education, a high quality of life and a central place in the heart of Europe with a focus on the international."

Three successive governments led by business-friendly Prime Minister Mark Rutte have made the country attractive for investors and those seeking to draw international talent. "Business taxes and the 30% tax reduction rule for qualified expats are advantageous," said Bakhuizen, Brexit spokesman at the economic affairs ministry.

To those still hesitating, the agency promises to "roll out the orange carpet", saying it is a one-stop-shop with "tailor-made" guidance for companies wanting to establish or expand in Europe. In 2017, a total of 18 companies chose the Netherlands "for reasons linked to Brexit", said Bakhuizen.

Many international firms have been seduced by Amsterdam’s picturesque canals and its Zuidas business district, easily reached by train or from Schiphol airport.

The financial sector is the city’s most important, representing 25% of the local economy and providing 255,000 jobs, about 19% of the total workforce, according to the municipality.

Dutch capital

More than 50 European and international banks call Amsterdam home to their branches or subsidiaries. They were joined in September by Japanese mega-bank Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, which chose the Dutch capital over Paris as the European headquarters of its brokerage activities.

"We have great digital connectivity," added Vera Al, spokeswoman for the city’s deputy mayor, Udo Kock. "We have a big creative and tech hub." She said that was "the reason why, Netflix, Facebook, Uber and Google have offices in Amsterdam".

Uber, Netflix and Amazon also recently announced they were expanding their Amsterdam bases, hiring hundreds of new staff.

With the city already overcrowded, some analysts fear it could struggle to provide office space and housing.

Dutch officials, however, point to other big cities, such as Rotterdam, all linked by highly efficient public transport.

After the 2016 Brexit vote, the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency swiftly boosted its team, taking on six more staff based in London, The Hague and the US.