Wilders threatens the European chips

He has only been in office for four months, but the gravity of the moment made the Executive of Mark Rutte, in the Netherlands, take action and activate the so-called Beethoven plan, with 2.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
01 April 2024 Monday 11:23
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Wilders threatens the European chips

He has only been in office for four months, but the gravity of the moment made the Executive of Mark Rutte, in the Netherlands, take action and activate the so-called Beethoven plan, with 2.5 billion euros in investments to try to retain on Dutch territory the chip manufacturer ASML, the jewel in the crown of the country's knowledge economy. Political instability and the hard line on migration that the four parties negotiating to form a government would prevent this and other companies from hiring the skilled labor they need to bring from abroad, and a growing number of companies are considering leaving of the country

The Netherlands has historically been one of the most open economies in Europe, but in recent years it has veered towards more protectionist positions, as seen in the November elections. The victory of the far-right Geert Wilders has only exacerbated the misgivings of companies dependent on skilled labour. For ASML, being able to hire abroad is a crucial issue: 40% of its 23,000 workers in the country are immigrants. "If we can't grow in the Netherlands, we will go elsewhere," said the company's CEO, Peter Wennink, in January. "If the country closes and we can't have immigrants or foreign students, fine, but you have to take the consequences." According to De Telegraaf, the company is considering investing in France.

ASML is not just any company, and The Hague cannot afford to lose it. If he took his investments elsewhere, the signal he would give to other companies in the sector who are asking the same questions about their future in the country would be ominous, admits the Dutch Government, which in recent years has departure of giants such as Shell and Unilever. In addition to being the world's largest supplier of photolithography machines, ASML has a monopoly on the extreme ultraviolet lithography machines used to manufacture the most advanced and tiny microchips.

Born from the Philips business ecosystem in Veldhoven in the mid-eighties, the company closed in 2023 with a capitalization of 280,000 million euros. So specialized is its technology that Washington successfully lobbied The Hague last year to impose export restrictions on its most advanced lithography machines to prevent China from copying them and applying them to the military sector. A global shortage of microprocessors and EU and US plans to boost local production to reduce dependence on Taiwan have boosted orders for ASML, which wants to double its machinery production capacity by 2026. specialized, an investment that would put existing infrastructures under pressure, the Dutch Government admits.

"ASML is one of the most important companies in the Netherlands and a global actor", emphasized the Acting Minister of Economy, Micky Adriaansens, in the presentation of the Beethoven plan on Thursday. "ASML is our Messi, and a star like that brings a whole team with her", he argued to justify the mobilization to retain the company. The plan, designed by the central government and the Eindhoven authorities, envisages investing 2.5 billion euros in the region to build more homes, boost professional training, improve transport connections and strengthen the electricity network.

Part of the money will come from a public investment fund. The rest should be financed through tax increases. The Dutch Government has also announced tax relief measures for companies, which from July will see the tax exemption that applies to the wages of highly skilled immigrants disappear and will face higher taxation in share buyback operations. The two measures, approved shortly before the elections, have already triggered criticism from employers.

The execution of the plan will be in the hands of the next executive. But what is in no way in the hands of the acting Government of the liberal Rutte, who before entering politics worked in the human resources department of Unilever, is to promise continuity in matters of migration policy. Both his own party, the VVD, and Wilders and his two potential Government partners advocate restricting the number of foreigners who arrive in the country each year, both asylum seekers and specialized workers and international students.

The Government says it "assumes" that, with these investment commitments, ASML will continue to invest in the Netherlands and maintain its corporate and tax headquarters there, but reserves the right to backtrack if these plans change. Rutte has met several times with his managers in recent months. The company, at the moment, does not promise anything. "The decision we have to make is not whether we stay, but where we grow", he replied in a statement in which he welcomes the Government's announcements, for which he asks for parliamentary support.