"The Government have clearly sent the message to Shell, ‘you can do whatever you want’. Fortunately due to protest, the refinery remains unconnected to the gas field. If, as Shell planned, gas had been flowing by now, we would potentially all be dealing with a gas leak and explosion.”
The chief executives of the top five industrial companies in the Netherlands have called on European leaders to show the “political courage” needed to save the euro and stay competitive against emerging-market rivals. The five chief executives, Peter Voser of Shell, Paul Polman of Unilever, Frans van Houten of Philips, Feike Sijbesma of DSM and Hans Wijers of Akzo Nobel, in an open letter to the Financieele Dagblad said the eurozone crisis had reached “one minute before midnight”. They said that they wanted to ensure that, if their children asked them whether they had done enough to prevent things from “going wrong with Europe”, they could answer yes.
The letter appeared to be largely aimed at the Dutch government, which had been accused in recent months of being inward-looking in both its economic and foreign policies. The executives noted the Dutch economy’s dependence on trade and warned against “retreating behind the dikes,” saying more internationalism was needed to keep the Netherlands and Europe competitive.
“This last point is crucial, in view of the enormous economic shift in power taking place in the direction of emerging markets. These newcomers on the international playing field are often cheaper, faster, and sometimes more innovative,” they said.
Each of the five companies are confronting challenges from emerging markets. Philips, Europe’s largest electronics manufacturer, spun off its television division this year in the face of low-cost Chinese and Korean rivals. Unilever’s main growth prospects are in emerging markets, but the group is only now beginning to recover from disappointing results over the past decade.
The executives called for “measures that re-establish monetary and financial stability in the short term, and measures that in the mid- to long term advance the competitiveness and growth potential of the economy.”
The letter is the latest in a series of criticisms in diplomatic and business circles that the conservative Dutch government is too narrowly focused on the country’s short-term fiscal interests and has adopted a politically driven foreign policy. Last month the German, Japanese, Indian and Israeli ambassadors were quoted in the Dutch press openly criticising the country’s inward-looking stance, with the German ambassador saying the Dutch were “too busy with yourselves.”
Last week Mr Wijers, a former Dutch finance minister who has led Akzo Nobel for nine years, told the Financial Times the company had been preparing for a possible break-up of the eurozone, but said the effects were almost impossible to calculate.
“Just like after Lehman collapsed, we have created different scenarios and done some exercises. But it’s difficult to assess what an event of that size would imply. We know it would make it very tough to pass on the costs,” Mr Wijers said.