Economic studies
Netherlands

Netherlands

Population 17.2 million
GDP per capita 53,228 US$
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Synthesis

major macro economic indicators

 

  2017 2018 2019 (e) 2020 (f)
GDP growth (%) 2.9 2.6 1.7 -6.3
Inflation (yearly average, %) 1.4 1.7 2.6 1.8
Budget balance (% GDP) 1.3 1.5 1.5 0.5
Current account balance (% GDP) 10.8 10.9 9.6 8.9
Public debt (% GDP) 56.9 52.4 48.8 46.9

(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 is highly attractive for foreign investors
  • Diversified and flexible exports (services have a share of 11.2% of total value added) and external accounts in surplus
  • High quality infrastructure and good living standards

WEAKNESSES

  • Exposure to the European economy, especially Germany and the UK: exports to the United Kingdom generated 3.3% of the country’s value added in 2018
  • Debt of private households is very high (239% of disposable income in 2018)
  • Banks dependent on wholesale financing (loans/deposits = 136%) and the real estate sector
  • Ageing population; pension system under pressure (pension funds with a coverage ratio lower than 90% are facing pension cuts in 2020)

RISK ASSESSMENT

Growth driven by consumption and expansionary fiscal policy

Growth will be down only slightly in 2020 and will continue on the 2019 growth pattern with private consumption (44% of GDP) being its main contributor. Several factors are supporting private households’ consumption: the unemployment rate is, with 3.5% in the autumn of 2019, at one of the lowest levels since the beginning of the statistic in 2003. While employment growth is decreasing slowly since mid-2019, wages react with a time lag on the labour market development and are set to increase more dynamically. Inflation should slow, as the base effect from an increase in the low-VAT rate, as well was higher energy taxes for households in 2019, runs out in January 2020. However, the main factor that helps the purchasing power of private households is a tax reform. From January 2020 onwards there will be a two-bracket tax system (instead of four brackets). The earning threshold will be €68,507 with rates of 37.35% under and 49.5% above it. This means an increase in disposable income for everybody earning more than €40,000 a year compared to 2019. In addition, tax credits (on work and the general one) will increase in 2020, more families will be entitled to child budget and the energy tax will be reduced. Some few pension funds are facing pension cuts in 2020, however the majority of pensioners are not affected. Public consumption (24% of GDP) will be supporting growth too, with higher expected spending. The health, education, infrastructure, immigration and defence sectors will be the main beneficiaries. Investment (21% of GDP) will lose its dynamic. Companies, although still benefiting from favourable financial conditions and facing high capacity utilisation rates, are feeling less confident. With a weakening of the German industry (the main trading partner), new orders declined. Additionally, gas production in the province of Groningen will be scaled back faster than planned originally (end in 2022 vs. 2030 before), so that investments in this field come down stronger. Residential investments should keep on, but at a slower pace, as prices have moderated and capacity constraints increased due to fewer permits on new construction.

 

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, chemicals, medical products and refined petroleum. Services, including transport, make up one third of exports in value added terms. Due to decreasing global trade activity, Dutch exports are hit heavily, especially as re-exporting, linked to the country’s role as Western Europe’s maritime gateway, accounts for a major part of Dutch trade activity. The turn from a net-gas-exporter to a net-importer will weigh on trade too. Nevertheless, the Dutch economy is not that affected by the decrease of Chinese demand, as China is “only” N°9 in the Netherlands’ export partners. In addition, services exports are increasing, especially towards the UK, as multinational companies need help in dealing with the Brexit. The services balance is in surplus, and will therefore balance out main parts of the decrease in the trade surplus. However, in 2020 the drag from decreasing goods trade will become more imminent. The income balance will weigh on the current account surplus, as the deficit in the balance of transfers has increased over the year 2019. In total, the current account balance will still be very high in 2020, but again will not reach the record surplus of 2018. Despite the country’s accommodative fiscal policy, a small overall fiscal surplus will continue, thanks to higher tax revenues from companies. This will help to reduce public debt further.

 

A four-party centre-right coalition with a narrow majority is actually working

Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD, conservative-liberal) is successfully leading his third government since October 2017. His conservative coalition is comprised of four different parties holding only a minimum seat share of 50% (75 out of 150 seats) in the House of Representatives. The coalition gained stability with successfully implementing income and corporate tax cuts but also a major labour reform. However, in the election in May 2019, the government parties lost their majority in the Dutch Senate (now 32 out of 75 seats), which has to approve the new laws coming from the House of Representatives. With this, the work for Rutte’s cabinet gets more complicated until the official end of its term in March 2021.

 

Last update : February 2020

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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