Economic studies
Netherlands

Netherlands

Population 17.1 million
GDP per capita 48,555 US$
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Synthesis

major macro economic indicators

 

  2016 2017 2018 (e) 2019 (f)
GDP growth (%) 2.1 3.0 2.7 2.2
Inflation (yearly average, %) 0.1 1.3 1.6 2.4
Budget balance (% GDP) 0.0 1.2 0.9 1.0
Current account balance (% GDP) 8.0 10.5 10.0 10.0
Public debt (% GDP) 61.9 57.0 54.0 51.0

(e): Estimate. (f): Forecast.

STRENGTHS

  • Port activity (Rotterdam is Europe’s number-one port)
  • Dense network of SMEs working with large groups
  • Diversified exports and external accounts in surplus
  • Attractive: high quality infrastructure and good living standards

WEAKNESSES

  • Exposure to the European economy: exports to the United Kingdom generate 4% of the country’s value added
  • Household wealth concentrated in housing and pension funds, which are not very liquid
  • Banks dependent on wholesale financing (loans/deposits = 136%) and the real estate sector
  • Ageing population; second pillar of the pension system under pressure
  • Labour market duality: prevalence of precarious work, especially among young people, and part-time work

RISK ASSESSMENT

Growth driven by consumption and expansionary fiscal policy

Growth will be down but still robust in 2019, with consumption the main contributor, ahead of investment. Household consumption (44% of GDP) will increase again, but at a slower pace. On the one hand, unemployment is expected to fall further (to 3.6%) while disposable income will rise more rapidly, following more favourable collective bargaining agreements and lower income taxes. On the other hand, inflation will be boosted by the hike in the reduced VAT rate from 6% to 9% on January 1, 2019 and the increase in energy taxation. The wealth effect linked to home values is set to fade as price increases moderate. Public consumption (24% of GDP) will continue to grow vigorously, supported by the expansionary fiscal policy contained in the agenda of the coalition government formed in September 2017. The health, education, and defence sectors will be the primary beneficiaries. Investment (21% of GDP) could lose some of its spark. Companies, although still benefiting from favourable financial conditions and facing high capacity utilisation rates, are feeling less confident.

The same is true for households, which could translate into reduced interest in house purchases. House prices have risen sharply since the low point of 2013, significantly outpacing income growth, and are above the peak of 2008. However, the increase is currently concentrated in the largest cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague) and is mainly due to the shortage of new and social housing, the rent ceiling, and tax incentives to purchase. Household debt, although still high (200% of net disposable income as of November 2018 according to Eurostat), has declined, particularly in terms of its real estate share.

All sectors are expected to remain on a positive trend, except gas development, which is causing earthquakes in the north and is set to end in 2030. The favourable macroeconomic environment is reflected in the low number of business failures, including in trade and construction. However, Coface expects a 2% increase in failures in 2019.

 

Government balance and current account in surplus

With trade in goods and services accounting for more than 150% of GDP, the Dutch economy is very open. It mainly supplies agri-food products (plants, flowers, dairy products, meat, vegetables), chemicals, medicines and medical equipment, refined petroleum, aluminium, packaging and turbines. Services, including transport, logistics and tourism, make up one quarter of exports. Although import growth could exceed export growth, the trade surplus is still expected to reach 9% of GDP in 2019. However, a hard Brexit would be likely to affect performances, as exports to the United Kingdom account for 8% of the total. Industry – but also wholesale trade and transport, through re-export – would be affected. Re-exporting, linked to the country’s role as Western Europe’s maritime gateway, accounts for two-fifths of the surplus. This activity focuses mainly on petroleum products, as well as electronic and computer equipment. With other items close to equilibrium, the trade surplus shapes the current account balance. The balance of the financial account moves erratically, but is typically negative due to Dutch investments abroad allowed by the recurring current account surplus. Reflecting this, the country has a net external asset position equivalent to about 60% of GDP.

Despite the country’s accommodative and somewhat pro-cyclical fiscal policy, the small overall fiscal surplus will continue. The revenue generated by growth is used to offset the reduction in gas royalties, reduce the tax burden and increase expenditure. However, when adjusted for the favourable impact of the economic situation, the deficit is just balanced out. Nevertheless, this is sufficient to obtain debt relief.

 

A four-party centre-right coalition with a narrow majority

Seven months after the parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Mark Rutte was successfully able to form his third government in October 2017. This coalition is comprised of his own Liberal Party, the Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie, the progressive Democraten 66 Party and two Christian parties: the centrist Christen-Democratisch Appèl Party and the more conservative Christenunie Party. The coalition has a majority of just one seat in each of the two chambers of Parliament. It could be challenged in the Senate, which will be renewed at the end of May 2019 based on voting by the provincial assemblies, whose own members will appointed by direct elections held in March 2019.

 

Last update : February 2019

Netherlands

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.

Netherlands
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