Dutch Party Leader Seeks Protectionist Law Following Kraft Bid

  • Christian Democrat Buma wants to curb foreign takeovers
  • Dutch voters go to polls for national ballot on March 15

Dutch politician Sybrand Buma, whose Christian Democratic party is in line to join a ruling coalition after national elections next month, wants to introduce legislation to strengthen takeover rules, following Kraft Heinz Co.’s failed $143 billion bid for Unilever Plc.

“How naive can we be?” Buma asked in an interview with Dutch daily NRC. “Will we be able to keep intact the ability to steer the economy? Or will we soon be handed over to the Chinese and Americans?”

To read an explainer on the Dutch elections, click here.

The recent bid for Anglo-Dutch Unilever, a key employer in the Netherlands, and Belgium’s Bpost SA’s 2016 takeover offer for the Hague-based PostNL NV, has brought the issue of foreign ownership into the fore as voters prepare for a March 15 election that’s been influenced by a surge in nationalist rhetoric. Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose Liberal Party is polling just behind the anti-Islam Freedom Party of Geert Wilders, said the matter was for companies to decide, not the government.

Even though Wilders’s party is expected to gain the most seats in next month’s ballot, most mainstream politicians have ruled out governing with the Freedom Party, meaning it has little chance of forming a ruling coalition. With a slim chance of gaining power, the Freedom Party’s lead in the polls has started to narrow. The Christian Democrats are one of four mainstream parties that look likely to form the core of an anti-Wilders coalition government.

Wilders’s anti-elite message tailored to the disenchanted and disenfrachised may face more difficulty as a recent survey showed that a positive outlook of the nation has been increasing. In an I&O Research survey of more than 6,200 people, 14 percent said they were disappointed while 37 percent said they were hopeful about the future for the Netherlands.

Respondents to the survey cited strong economic forecasts and declining unemployment. Gross domestic product in the Netherlands is expected to slow to 2 percent in 2017 from 2.1 percent last year, according to European Commission data. But that still outstrips the 1.6 percent expected in the euro area. Unemployment in the Netherlands will fall to 5.2 percent next year compared with 9.6 percent in the currency bloc.

— With assistance by Corina Ruhe

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