Will Holland become the new Venice? I wonder more and more about that. After eleven centuries of stability and prosperity, the Republic of Venice fell into disrepair. The Venetians believed that their prosperity was eternal and their administrative structure paralyzed determination. They could not withstand the competition from new maritime countries such as Portugal, England and the Netherlands.
That money is made in the Netherlands seems obvious to many. Are we sufficiently aware that companies are the engine of our economy and our society? They provide the money we pay for our blue on the streets, our schools and our hospitals. The idea seems to be prevalent that it is not a bad thing if there is less activity. The labor market is structurally tight, so we have a job anyway. We are sticking our heads in the sand for the tensions that arise in society when there is no or almost no growth at all and we need to cut back again.
Like the Venetian Republic, our country is also struggling with a paralyzed administrative structure. There are no prerequisites for companies to become more sustainable. For example, it takes about eight years to grant permits. If they are granted at all because of the nitrogen problem. There is also no space on the electricity grid, and necessary changes to the legislation are too slow. The government makes demands, but does not ensure that citizens and companies can also meet them because there is a lack of coherence in decision-making. For example, the cabinet decided that you will need a heat pump from 2026 when replacing your central heating boiler. But the manufacturer can not get permission to build a new factory due to nitrogen. In addition, these heat pumps run on electricity while the electricity grid is already full.
This combination of administrative powerlessness and the belief that our prosperity is obvious means we are playing with fire. Although protected by companies still establishing themselves here, our country is no longer a logical place to settle, reside or become more sustainable. This applies not only to large companies where an emigration is now visible, it also applies to start-ups and scale-ups and traditional Dutch family companies wondering if they are actually still wanted here.
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The Netherlands excelled for a long time because of the high quality of our working population, our tax system, our good relations with the world and a government that could create good conditions for growth and innovation. It has made us one of the richest countries. But neighboring countries have copied and improved our approach on many points while under pressure here. For example, the quality of our schoolchildren has deteriorated for years, and the tax burden on companies has even become one of the highest in the EU in a few years.
This leads to fewer investments in, among other things, sustainability. The extra tax increases in September last year alone led to about 10 percent fewer investments. Even on new investments that do not yet make a profit, the Netherlands collects four times more tax than the EU average. And the Business Succession Scheme, which is crucial for the survival of family businesses, is less favorable here than in neighboring countries and – with shaky underpinnings – again up for discussion.
The network of frequent, direct air connections with all economic centers in the world is one of the last, if not the only, points where the Netherlands still excels in a positive way. But it is also under pressure. Instead of finding a faster solution to emissions and noise pollution, the answer is: shrinkage. History shows: When such a network collapses, it never comes back.
At the same time, our government is not in a position to create the conditions for companies to innovate here. This situation is exacerbated by the persistent negative way in which companies are treated. If there are no further reasons to stay here, to make it more sustainable, to expand here, it could be the familiar straw. Those who decide are also human beings. Words mean something.
To stop the free fall of our business climate, of course, several actions are important, but four things are necessary with priority in any case. For example, the quality of our education needs to improve rapidly. The government’s plans are good, but let’s make sure we implement them quickly. The starting point for our tax policy should be that we focus on the European average. We do not want to entice companies with tax breaks, but it is also useless to shoot ourselves in the foot. Make sure that the Netherlands is on an equal footing with other countries and that it pays to make sustainable investments here. In addition, it is important to maintain the important network of KLM and Schiphol by reducing emissions and noise pollution much faster. Finally, it requires a more efficient organization on the part of the government. Across the boundaries of departments and administrative layers. With a new policy, all conditions for implementation must be organized, including necessary legislative changes and timely permission. This requires interdisciplinary teams without leading to extra bureaucracy. It requires tight control and pace. In business, you would use the scrum method for this. This also includes a clearly recognizable customer who monitors that the desired result is delivered on time. It would be the most involved minister, or our prime minister.
There is reason to be seriously concerned. We know what happened to Venice. Tourists wonder about the history while the city threatens to disappear into the sea. That should and cannot be the scenario for the Netherlands. Our generation of administrators and politicians are not only responsible for making our society more sustainable. We also have a responsibility to ensure that our children and grandchildren can earn enough money for themselves and pay for their public services.