Economic Analysis
Netherlands

Netherlands

Population 17.2 million
GDP per capita 52,646 US$
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Synthesis

major macro economic indicators

 

  2018 2019 2020 (e) 2021 (f)
GDP growth (%) 2.4 1.7 -4.0 3.5
Inflation (yearly average, %) 1.7 2.6 1.3 1.7
Budget balance (% GDP) 1.4 1.7 -7.1 -5.5
Current account balance (% GDP) 10.8 10.2 8.5 9.0
Public debt (% GDP) 52.4 48.7 59.4 61.7

(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% in total exports value added) and external accounts in surplus
  • Strong digitalization with lot of home-office, home-schooling and online retail made possible
  • 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 (236% of disposable income in 2019)
  • Banks dependent on wholesale financing (loans/deposits = 136%) and real estate
  • Ageing population; pension system under pressure

RISK ASSESSMENT

A bumpy road to economic recovery

The conditions for reviving the economic are in place for 2021. However, the course of the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cause punctual setbacks, as it was already the case in 2020. After the virus hit the Netherlands in the spring of 2020, the government reacted cautiously. Public life was partly shut down, but shops remained open, private gatherings were allowed and facemasks were not a part of the public scenery. However, as a result, COVID-19 cases reached very high numbers relative to the population and the Netherlands were among the top 26 countries with the highest COVID-19 death rate in autumn 2020. The economic impact of the pandemic in the Netherlands was as strong as in other Northern European countries. Not only hit by the sharp drop in private consumption and investment in the first half of 2020, the Netherlands were also strongly impacted by the lack of foreign trade, which is crucial for the Dutch economy as it is the “door” to Central Western Europe via its (air-) ports. With the resumption of global trade and the end of the first lockdown, the recovery was therefore even stronger thanks to the revival of foreign trade and, especially, of consumption, as the Dutch people stayed at home for holidays (the Netherlands have a high tourism deficit). Nevertheless, the second wave of COVID-19 in mid-autumn turned out to be almost 8 times stronger than the first wave and the government introduced another lockdown with stronger gathering limitations. Therefore, the economy went into a contraction at the end of the year, as private consumption declined again. For 2021, the outlook is cautiously positive, dependent on the pandemic’s development and the future trade relationship with the UK. Private consumption, but also private and public investments, should pick up again, as the government has extended its current programs for furlough and help for the self-employed, as well as the public credit guarantee scheme until the end of June 2021 (EUR 12.5 billion, 1.7% of GDP). Moreover, the government has decided to ease the tax system, i.e. to lower the first bracket of the income tax (for the majority of people) by 0.25 percentage points to 37.1% and an increase of the labour tax credit (by EUR 324 to max. EUR 4,205), as well as the general income tax credit (for all income sources, by EUR 82 to max. EUR 2,837). Furthermore, several investment projects are planned (on top of the EUR 2 billion into the housing market) for security projects, education and climate protection. Additional support should come from the ECB, which should extend its asset purchase programs (APP with the normal EUR 20 billion per month and PEPP by an additional volume of around EUR 680 billion) until the end of 2021, alongside another extension of its targeted long-term refinancing operations (T-LTROs).

 

Public balance remains in the red, external ones in the green

After a record high public deficit in 2020, the public balance should only improve lightly in 2021, as, on the one hand, corporate and income taxes will generate lower revenues than in former years and, on the other, the government’s expenditures will remain high. This will bring the public debt ratio slightly above the Maastricht-target of 60% of GDP. The Dutch current account surplus, however, should recover in 2021. It is still strongly dependent on the trade in goods surplus, which should improve in line with the main export destinations in the Eurozone, the UK and the US. Moreover, the balance of income, which registered a deficit in 2020, could turn to a surplus again thanks to the recovery in revenues from Dutch assets abroad (net foreign assets reached a record of EUR 267.1 billion in 2019).

 

Strong public support despite of a high mortality rate

Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD, conservative-liberal) is successfully leading his third government since October 2017. His conservative coalition comprises four parties and holds only 75 out of 150 seats in the House of Representatives. The government has no majority in the Senate, which is needed for the legislative process. Rutte’s VVD gained support for the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also thanks to the PM’s role as the unofficial leader of the group of countries fighting for a frugal EU fiscal policy during the negotiations over the EU Recovery Fund. Despite the very high COVID-19 mortality rate, the Dutch public support for the VVD reached a two-year high in late 2020, far above the levels of other parties (15 seats ahead of the next party). Therefore, the chances for Mark Rutte and the VVD to lead the next coalition are high in the next general election in March 2021.

 

Last updated: February 2021

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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