Estudos Económicos
Netherlands

Netherlands

Population 17.4 million
GDP 52,456 US$
A2
Country risk assessment
A1
Business Climate
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Synthesis

major macro economic indicators

  2019 2020 2021 (e) 2022 (f)
GDP growth (%) 2.0 -3.8 5.0 3.6
Inflation (yearly average, %) 2.6 1.3 2.7 10.0
Budget balance (% GDP) 1.7 -4.2 -4.4 -3.1
Current account balance (% GDP) 9.4 7.0 9.5 9.2
Public debt (% GDP) 48.5 54.3 55.1 54.1

(e): Estimate (f): Forecast

STRENGTHS

  • Port activity (Rotterdam is Europe’s number-one port)
  • Establishment of home-grown international companies working with a dense network of SMEs
  • Diversified and flexible exports (services have a share of 45% in total exports), external accounts in surplus
  • Strong digitalization with lot of home office, home schooling and online retail possible
  • High quality infrastructure and good living standards

WEAKNESSES

  • Exposure to the European economy, especially Germany and Belgium (25% and 12% of all goods exports 2021, respectively)
  • High exposure to European gas prices (gas represents 38% of total energy consumption, 71% of all Dutch residents heat their home with gas)
  • Debt of private households is very high (230% of disposable income or 102% of GDP in 2020)
  • Banks dependent on wholesale financing (loans/deposits = 195% in Q1 2021) and real estate
  • Ageing population, pension system under pressure

RISK ASSESSMENT

Price shock somewhat tarnishes the recovery

Although the Dutch economy started the year 2022 on the wrong foot due to severe lockdown measures implemented until mid-February, the signs for another year of dynamic recovery were strong. However, the war in Ukraine, and the related sanctions and trade barriers adopted by all sides, have cooled the high hopes of a strong recovery. The direct impact of the conflict on the Dutch economy is limited. The total trade between the Netherlands and Russia/Ukraine is less than 3% of Dutch trade (2021). Major Dutch exports include machinery, pharmaceutical products and flowers. However, 15% of Dutch gas consumption is imported from Russia and cannot be easily substituted with other gas sources. The Netherlands also produce their own gas (accounting for 52% of domestic gas consumption), with 59% of the extraction at sea and 41% offshore. The gas field of Groningen is the biggest one. However, in terms of operations of gas extraction in Groningen, the Dutch government confirmed in late March its plan to end extraction by October 2022 to limit seismic risks in the region, with gas only to be extracted thereafter in the event of extreme weather or unforeseen circumstances. To balance out the decrease in gas production and the dependence on Russian gas imports, the state wants to increase its capacity to import liquefied natural gas (LNG), for instance at the existing terminals in Rotterdam. However, in the meantime, European gas prices increased by 55% between the beginning of the year and early April. Because gas is the main heating source in the Netherlands and 3.5 million households (44% of all households) have a variable heating contract (with a term of 6 months, after which the prices are adjusted again), while another 2 million households will see their fixed contracts expire, the increase in gas prices is rapidly reflected in inflation rates. In addition, gas is the main source for electricity and a major input for manufacturing production in the Netherlands. The high energy prices are also increasingly mirrored in producer prices, as well as consumption goods, especially in the food sector. Combined, this could push the inflation rate up to a double-digit figure in late summer 2022, which would be a first since the first oil-price shock in 1975. The ECB is slowly reacting to this strong inflation dynamic. The central bank ended the Pandemic Emergency Purchasing Programme in March and could end all QE-purchases in Q3 2022. Although a first increase of the deposit rate is expected towards the end of the year, the central bankers will probably be cautious with rate hikes, as they want to soothe financial markets and keep yields of European bonds low. Nevertheless, the high inflation will decrease the purchasing power of the households noticeably and could even lead to a temporary reduction of consumption expenditures, notwithstanding their very high savings from the last two years of pandemic. They should get some support from the government, which announced a one-off energy allowance for low-income households, a decrease of the VAT on energy, a cut of the excise duty on petrol and diesel, and a financing package of EUR 150 million to support with energy-saving measures. Private investments should increase, but with a slower pace due to higher geopolitical uncertainty and higher prices. While international trade should still grow in 2022, global supply chain disruptions and trade barriers to and from Russia will cushion the pace. Besides the energy support measures, public investment should be lower this year. The government’s parties are planning a EUR 20 billion investment fund (2.5% of GDP) to use over the next five years, which would include the EUR 6 billion grants out of the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility. 

 

Another year with a public deficit

2022 will be the third consecutive year with a noticeable public deficit in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, the deficit should decrease thanks to higher income tax due to the further economic recovery, as well as a reduction in COVID-19 related expenditures, as most will end in late June 2022. Even the new energy prices related measures should not change the improvement in public finances. Accordingly, the public debt ratio should fall and remain limited. The Dutch current account surplus will decrease, but remain at a high level. While the exports of goods should still moderately increase, nominal imports will increase noticeably, especially due to high import prices. The balance of income should retain the small surplus it regained in 2021, after a strong deficit in 2020, thanks to the ongoing recovery in revenues from Dutch assets abroad. The Netherlands’ net international investment surplus reached 114% of GDP in early 2021 as corporate and households are creditors to the rest of the world.

 

The resurrection of the previous Rutte government

In March 2021, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his party VVD (conservative-liberal) won the general election for the fourth consecutive time, although the government had been involved into a social benefit scandal that made it step down from office two months before the election. The VVD secured 34 out of the 150 seats in the lower house (1 more than in 2017). Right after the election, coalition negotiations failed. Nevertheless, after months of standstill, the caretaking government coalition made of the VVD, the social-liberal D66 (24 seats), the Christian-democratic CDA (14 seats) and the centrist CU (5 seats) was sworn in as the new government in early January 2022, because of a lack of alternatives. Due to this unusual time of political uncertainty, the coalition parties noticeably lost some support in the population (the VVD went down from its 34 seats to a minimum of 24 seats in the polls, still in the leading position). However, the sentiment changed with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when Prime Minister Rutte could present himself as a strong leader (his polls went up to 28 seats). The next election of the Senate (that can reject legislation), which will take place before May 2023, will be a major touchstone for the new government.

 

Last updated: April 2022

Payment

In the Netherlands, bank transfers are by far the most common payment method for both domestic and export business-to-business transactions. All Dutch banks are linked to the SWIFT electronic network, which provides low-cost, flexible and rapid processing of international payments. Direct debit and different centralised local cashing systems are also widely used. Online sales are increasingly popular and most companies now use digital banking software. Cash payments are gradually disappearing and other payment methods, like cheques and bills of exchange are rarely used.

Debt collection

Amicable phase

A debt collection process usually begins and ends by sending the debtor a (sometimes registered) collection letter. Sending letters (only) by email is becoming more and more customary. Besides the principal claim amount, the collection letter usually also includes a demand to pay accrued interest and extrajudicial costs. If the interest rates and/or costs have not been agreed by contract, Dutch law regulates the limits for both. If amicable actions, which include reminders by phone and possibly a debtor visit, do not result in full payment, the creditor can initiate legal action, in accordance with Dutch civil law.

 

Legal process
Fast-track procedures

In urgent cases, claims can be submitted for a fast track procedure (kort geding). These proceedings resemble those of the regular civil court but, if convinced of the plaintiff’s arguments, the judge (ruled by the President of the district court) delivers a verdict within a very short period of time – usually between two to four weeks. During this somewhat simplified procedure, the judge often makes a temporary or provisional ruling for more urgent matters. If, subsequent to this provisional decision, the parties do not reach a final settlement on all issues, they then need to obtain a final judgement in a “regular” civil suit (bodemprocedure). The fast track procedure in the Netherlands differs from the (European) payment order procedure used in many other European states. It always requires the assistance of a lawyer and personal appearances by all parties before the judge. As this makes the fast track procedure rather expensive, it is not often used in regular collection cases.

 

Ordinary proceedings

The regular civil court procedure, held in one of the eleven district courts (Rechtbank), is the most frequently used recourse of action. Claims of €25,000 or less are heard by a judge of the cantonal sector of the district court (kantonrechter), while claims in excess of €25,000 are presented before the civil law sector. The main difference in the civil law sector is that both the plaintiff and the debtor have to be represented by a lawyer, whereas in the cantonal sector parties are permitted to argue their own cases. Both types of procedures begin with a bailiff serving the debtor with a writ of summons. In many cases, debtors do not contest the claim or appear in court. This results in a judgment by default being given, usually within six to eight weeks. If the debtor does appear in court, the judge sets a date for them or their lawyer to prepare a written statement of defence (conclusie van antwoord). However, when appearing before a cantonal sector judge, debtors can represent themselves and plead their cases verbally. After the first plea, it is standard procedure for the judge to schedule personal appearances by both parties to obtain more information and to see if a settlement is possible (comparitie van partijen). If not, the court can either pass judgement immediately or, in more complex cases, give the plaintiff the opportunity to deliver a replication (conclusie van repliek). The defendant can then reply by rejoinder (conclusie van dupliek). These proceedings take, on average, six to twelve months.

 

Winding-up proceedings

A third and often effective procedure for collecting payments is by filing a winding-up petition at the district court. This type of petition must be filed by a lawyer and the applicant needs to submit evidence of a payment default on an undisputed debt and of the existence of at least one other creditor having an undisputed claim of any kind (for example, commercial debt, outstanding alimony or taxes). The debtor is then formally notified by a bailiff that a winding-up petition has been filed. To avoid bankruptcy, the debtor can choose to appear in court to dispute the claim (or the fact that there are other creditors) or propose an out of court settlement. As most debtors try to reach a settlement, these proceedings are often cancelled before the date of the court hearing. Otherwise, and if there is sufficient evidence, the debtor is then declared bankrupt. Approximately 95% of all bankruptcies result in no payment being received by non-preferential creditors.

 

Retention of title and right of reclamation

Besides initiating legal action or claiming retention of title (if stipulated), sellers of goods can often exercise their right of reclamation (recht van reclame) for unpaid goods. This entails sending the debtor a registered letter which invokes this right. The contract is thus terminated and by law, ownership of the goods returns to the creditor. However, this recourse of action does require the goods to be in their original state. The registered letter must be sent within 6 weeks of the claim being due and within 60 days of the goods being delivered. 

Enforcement of a legal decision

If a debtor does not voluntarily comply with a court decision, the creditor can initiate actions to enforce the judge’s ruling. As most court decisions become effective immediately, creditors do not need to wait for the three month period of appeal to expire. Enforcement laws lay down statutory rules on coercive measures and how these measures can be applied. In the Netherlands, only bailiffs are authorised to levy enforcements and are instructed by the creditor. Two conditions need to be met before coercive measures begin. The bailiff must be in possession of a writ of execution (an original and enforceable judgment) and the party on which the enforcement will be levied must have prior official notification of the writ.

Court decisions rendered by other EU countries benefit from specific enforcement mechanisms, including the EU payment Order and the European Small Claims procedure. Decisions issued by non-EU countries can be recognised and enforced on a reciprocal basis, provided that the issuing country is part of a bilateral or multilateral agreement with the Netherlands. In the absence of such an agreement, an exequatur procedure can be carried out in the Dutch courts. 

Insolvency proceedings

Restructuring proceedings

Corporate debt restructuring entails using the suspension of payments (surseance van betaling) procedure. The debtor is granted temporary relief from creditors, in order to allow them to reorganise, continue with business operations and ultimately satisfy their creditors’ claims, all under the supervision of a court-appointed administrator. A plan is proposed and must be approved by two-thirds of the creditors representing three-quarters of the total outstanding debt.

 

Bankruptcy proceedings

The debtor’s assets are liquidated by the court-appointed trustee. This procedure commences when the debtor has ceased payments and the District court has declared the debtor bankrupt. If a creditor makes a request for the debtor to be declared bankrupt, there must be at least two creditors with overdue claims. However, when liquidation is requested by the debtor, evidence of additional creditors is not mandatory.

The trustee establishes a list of creditors, the debtor’s assets are auctioned and the proceeds then distributed between the creditors.

Insolvencies - Netherlands
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