A ship sails down an Amsterdam canal in March last year.EVA PLEVIER / Reuters
In 2018, when the first round of negotiations for the United Kingdom's exit from the EU had been underway for a year, a quiet exodus gave the starting signal: that of British companies heading to the Netherlands.
Almost three years later, the movement seems to have no end: equally silently, the city of canals and tulips has seized the European stock market scepter.
Its market moved in January a volume four times higher than that of the British capital, thus taking advantage of the non-equalization - until now - of the once all-powerful British financial industry to that of its peers on the Old Continent, a huge obstacle to operating on community soil.
As the mess clears, Amsterdam shines - not only managing a fifth of the $ 40 billion in shares that circulate daily across Europe, but also leading European IPOs - and London is going dark.
The Dutch city is taking advantage of its unique position, in the heart of Europe, and the permanent Dutch willingness to do business on all fronts: they take advantage of what is good even in a disadvantageous situation.
Looking back, a movement of tokens in 2017 led the way: the EU, in search of headquarters for the European Medicines Agency (EMA) after the British referendum, ended up opting for Amsterdam.
Then, like today, his competitors were many, but the faithful of the balance ended up leaning on the Dutch side.
Four years later, the same could be said for seizing economic opportunities after Brexit: Amsterdam did not top the list of cities that could benefit most from the stampede of companies from the British Isles, led by Frankfurt, Paris or even Dublin, which did not hide your interests.
But he has ended up taking the cat into the water.
The Netherlands, one of the great commercial powers of all time, chose to play the card of modesty and preferred to base its bet on the attributes that could most seduce those who were forced to pack their bags after Brexit.
His liberal economic approach is similar to that of Britain;
its attractive fiscal framework;
its regulations, open to those who come from abroad;
the command of the English language, unbeatable;
its communications network, powerful and well established;
and its geographic location - in the heart of Europe, but also a step away from the British coasts, an important factor for expatriates from that country - is unique: it allows it to act as the undisputed nerve center of continental distribution.
The landing of the EMA, the first major consequence of Brexit, has generated around it a nucleus of pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical firms.
The Japanese multinational Sony announced in 2019 the installation of its European headquarters in the Netherlands, a step similar to the one announced in 2018 by its rival, Panasonic.
Among those that have transferred part of their operations to the Dutch city, the senior researcher at the Clingendael Institute for International Relations Rem Korteweg cites the Spanish infrastructure firm Ferrovial, which in 2018 announced the move of its international corporate network from Oxford to Amsterdam.
But the final push has come in recent times, in which there has been a real take-off in both physical transfers and market operations.
Also around the corner is the battle to attract small and medium-sized European firms that are considering packing their UK suitcases after the recent consummation of Brexit.
The big names in the financial sector are leaning towards Dublin
In February 2019, the Institute of Directors, a British association for business leaders, surveyed 1,500 of these and concluded that "one in three firms" planned to relocate.
They showed no preferences, so Ireland, Germany, Spain or France had the same opportunities as them.
But according to Rem Korteweg, almost a hundred companies had already established themselves on Dutch soil last August, with various sectors beyond the markets leaning towards the Netherlands.
“Some financial firms, such as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, a US group specializing in financial derivatives, took the plunge in 2019. It needed to do business in nanoseconds, not seconds, and Amsterdam is one of the global hubs of the Internet, so for its clients it has advantages over France, in this case, ”Korteweg explains by phone.
The Royal Bank of Scotland has also moved stocks and accounts there.
And the big Japanese banks Norinchukin and MUFG have chosen the country as their European base.
The power of attraction of the Dutch capital has been considerable on the very specialized fund managers,
No, however, on investment banks, a true jewel in the crown that seems to have inhibited the Dutch limitation on bonuses for its top executives.
There, Dublin remains the favorite destination of the big names in the British financial sector, followed by Luxembourg, Frankfurt and Paris.
Amsterdam is relegated to a discreet fifth place that it shares with Madrid, according to the latest count by the EY consultancy.
There are also some buts.
Most of the companies chosen by the Netherlands are highly technical and, in the case of financial operations, are not very labor intensive.
That will keep the pull on employment low.
According to the City Council of Amsterdam, by far the largest Dutch city, half of the 4,000 new jobs that will be created there until 2022 are directly caused by Brexit.
In 2018, there were already 3,055 jobs generated in the same area and in the same period of time, due to the expansion of already established foreign companies.
A great distance from - for example - more than half a million employees that at the beginning of 2019 the City of London still sheltered only in terms of financial services.
All in all, the numbers are not negligible if one takes into account that the cost of attraction has been minimal - not to say zero - and that the real boost will be in tax revenues.
Nor if you think about its enormous potential in a sector in which the Netherlands exhibits enormous strength: logistics.
There, Korteweg emphasizes, the Dutch also have the upper hand: given the delays caused by the new customs procedures, he does not rule out that British manufacturing companies choose to focus the distribution of their products for the European market on Dutch soil.
Rotterdam is running at this point to take the baton from Amsterdam: everything stays at home.