major macro economic indicators
|2020||2021||2022 (e)||2023 (f)|
|GDP growth (%)||-3.9||4.9||4.5||1.8|
|Inflation (yearly average, %)||1.3||2.7||10.0||4.2|
|Budget balance (% GDP)||-3.7||-2.6||-1.1||-3.4|
|Current account balance (% GDP)||5.1||7.3||4.4||5.0|
|Public debt (% GDP)||54.7||52.4||49.5||51.0|
(e): Estimate (f): Forecast
- Port activity (Rotterdam is Europe’s number-one port and world Top 10)
- Installation of local international companies working with a dense network of SMEs
- Diversified and flexible exports (services have a 39% share of total export turnover), external accounts in surplus
- Strong agri-food sector which is less dependent on the business cycle (almost 10% of the national income and employment)
- Strong digitalisation
- High quality infrastructure and good standard of living
- Exposure to the European economy, especially Germany and Belgium (25% and 12% of all goods exports in 2021, respectively)
- High exposure to European gas prices (gas represents 38% of total energy consumption, 71% of all Dutch residents heat their home with gas)
- Debt of private households is very high (222% of disposable income in 2021, mainly related to the housing market)
- Ageing population, pension system under pressure
Modest growth in 2023
The Dutch economy is set for a year of modest growth, as some obstacles that held back economic growth in the second half of 2022 are also weighing on the outlook for 2023. The gas supply for next autumn remains in question. In 2022, the Netherlands covered 52% of its gas consumption by domestic sources, 59% via sea extraction and 41% offshore. The gas field of Groningen is the country’s biggest. Its production will be cut from 4.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) in 2022 to 2.8 bcm in 2023. The plan is still in place to terminate all extraction in Groningen by October 2023 to limit seismic risks in the region, with gas only to be extracted thereafter in the event of extreme weather or unforeseen circumstances. In addition, before the war in Ukraine, 15% of consumed gas was imported from Russia via the now damaged Nord Stream I pipeline. To balance out this lack of gas supply, the Netherlands has installed a floating LNG terminal at the port of Eemshaven, in tandem with the already existing LNG terminal in Rotterdam. The demand for natural gas decreased in 2022 by an astonishing 22% compared to 2021 as private households and companies implemented energy-saving measures. This resulted in relatively well-stocked gas storage capacity of 58% in spring 2023 compared to 21% a year earlier. Prices have eased on back of the relative downward pressure on the gas market, and albeit still high, they have fallen markedly. While gas companies pass this decline on (at least in part) to households, it will have a strong direct effect on the inflation rate as gas is the main heating source in the Netherlands and 3.5 million households, i.e., 44% of the total number, have a variable heating contracts for a term of 6 months. What has worked against a stronger downward movement of prices at the beginning of 2023 is the 10% rise in the minimum wage. The FNV, which the biggest union in the Netherlands, won an 11% wage rise in the metal sector. Even if other unions do not manage to secure such a result, the average nominal wage will rise substantially this year, allowing households to recover some of their purchasing power losses of 2022, at least at the beginning of the year. Even if there is some pass-through from wage rises to prices, the inflation rate should fall significantly. In that context, private consumption should remain robust. Private investments, especially in the construction sector, however, should suffer further from increasing interest rates. The ECB already hiked its interest rates by 350 basis points since mid-2022, bringing its main refinancing rate to 3.5%. Further hikes of a total of 50 basis points may be further in the pipeline in 2023. Furthermore, the ECB started to reduce its monthly balance sheet by €15 billion from March 2023 on. This volume could be increased quarterly over the year. Foreign trade is expected to be sluggish at the beginning of the year, with most Western European economies stalling. However, while the Covid-19 pandemic should have dragged on China’s economic activity at the start of the year, it is set to recover more sharply in spring 2023, which should drive foreign trade in Western Europe, especially the Netherlands. State support for private households and energy-intensive companies will take the form of a cap on gas and electricity prices (€1.45 per cubic meter of gas and €0.4 per kWh of electricity), lower income tax for the lower tax bracket and an increase in the employment tax credit. These measures started in January 2023 and should run until the end of the year. This support comes on top of the already planned €20 billion public investment package (2.5% of GDP) to use over the next five years, which would include the €6 billion in grants out of the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility.
The public deficit will widen again, but debt remains low
2023 is set to see the fourth public deficit in a row. The Dutch deficit will even widen to exceed the Maastricht target as the higher energy-related expenditures and lower revenues from the private income taxes cannot be balanced out by the introduction of a windfall tax for energy companies and higher corporate income taxes. This will nudge up public debt, which still remains relatively low.
The Dutch current account surplus should recover a bit, albeit lower than the pre Covid-19 level. The decrease of the trade in goods surplus at the beginning of the year should be levelled out via a recovery in the second half. The trade in services surplus reached one of the highest levels in 2022 than that reported in the last decades as more international service companies set up in the Netherlands. This surplus should therefore remain high. The deficit in the balance of income could increase somewhat due to a recovery in global stock markets. The Netherlands’ net international investment surplus fell noticeably to 84% of GDP in the fourth quarter of 2022, compared to 107.6% in Q4 2020 owing to the slide in financial markets. Nevertheless, it remains on a robust level as corporate and households are creditors compared to the rest of the world.
Rutte’s disparate coalition is losing popular support
Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the VVD conservative-liberal party is leading a coalition composed of the VVD (34 out of 150 seats in the House of Representatives) together with the social-liberal D66 (24 seats), the Christian-democratic CDA (14 seats) and the centrist CU (5 seats). The coalition was not formed so much out of the existence of common political ideologies than through a lack of alternatives in the wake of coalition negotiations in 2021, which brought the Dutch political system to a standstill for months. The government parties lost support among the population as a result of the drawn-out launch. Sentiment changed for a short time after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when Prime Minister Rutte was able to come across as a strong leader (in polls, he would garner 28 seats, up from a previous 24). However, his popularity suffered when domestic topics came back into focus. The compensation for homeowners in Groningen affected by gas extraction belongs to it. The further production in this area could be a topic for political debate in 2023, too. In spring 2023, the need to comply with a legal ruling to reduce nitrogen-based emissions has increased again tensions between the parties in Parliament, especially between the parties that rely on the votes from rural areas and the others, as farming is a major contributor to these emissions. As a result, Rutte’s VVD lost a lot of support in the polls and would reach only 19 seats. The Farmer-Citizen Movement however, is the main winner with 33 seats and is by far leading the polls. The next election in the Senate (that can reject legislation) at the end of May 2023 will be another major touchstone for the government.
Last updated: April 2023
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.