Progress report on product and capital market functioning in the Netherlands 2004

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1 CEA Ministry of Economic Affairs Progress report on product and capital market functioning in the Netherlands 2004 This annual progress report was compiled in response to a decision by the European Council of Cardiff (June 1998) and is an update of the Progress report on product and capital market functioning of 2003.

2 Table of Contents Executive Summary 3 I Introduction 4 II Evaluation of the performance of markets and structural reforms 6 II.A Product markets 6 II.A.1 General evaluation 6 II.A.2 Government policy on product markets 7 II.A.2.1 Implementation of EU Directives 7 II.A.2.2 Competition policy 8 II.A.2.3 State aid 9 II.A.2.4 Tax policy 10 II.A.2.5 Government efficiency 10 II.A.2.6 Public procurement 11 II.A.2.7 Administrative burden 11 II.A.3 Utility companies and network sectors 12 II.A.3.1 Energy 12 II.A.3.2 Electronic communications 13 II.A.3.3 Public transport 14 II.A.3.4 Postal services 15 II.A.3.5 Water 15 II.A.4 Promoting the knowledge-based economy 15 II.A.4.1 Transition to the knowledge-based economy 15 II.A.4.2 Research & development and innovation 16 II.A.4.3 Information society 18 II.A.4.4 Supply of researchers and qualified ICT personnel 19 II.A.4.5 Developments in the education system 19 II.A.5 Environmental policy 21 II.B Capital markets and financial services 23 II.B.1 Developments relating to the Dutch capital market 23 II.B.2 Developments relating to the stock market 25 II.B.3 Regulations, legislation and structure of supervision in the financial sector 25 II.B.4 Cross-border and cross-sector mergers in the financial sector 26 II.B.5 Financial services and the consumer 27 II.C Other reforms influencing product and capital markets 28 II.C.1 Interdepartmental Commission for structure and regulation of markets 28 II.C.2 Corporate social responsibility (CSR) 28 II.C.3 Parliamentary hearings on the construction industry 29 II.C.4 Services 29 III Conclusions 31 2

3 Executive Summary The Dutch economy is currently performing weakly. To a large extent this is caused by the substantial deterioration in price competitiveness of Dutch exports over the past few years and weak consumer confidence. In addition, driving forces behind the exceptionally high consumption growth in the period , such as substantial job creation and the increase in household wealth due to sharp increases in share and house prices, are currently in reverse. Finally unfavourable conditions for private investment have contributed to the poor economic performance. On the structural side of the economy, a major problem is the relatively low productivity growth. Therefore the Netherlands has taken several measures in accordance with the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines In particular the Netherlands: - has announced various measures to increase the transposition rate of Internal Market directives (Guideline 9); - has taken a series of measures to introduce competition in the field of various liberal professions through deregulation and better regulation (Guideline 9); - is reforming the health care sector; - is strengthening the competition authority, and improving regulatory infrastructure; - is reviewing the supervisory system of financial market sector; - has developed a comprehensive policy to reduce the administrative burden throughout the central government (Guideline 11); - is setting up a financing facility for the provision of pre-seed and seed capital (Guideline 12); - has developed a corporate governance code (Guideline 12); - has established an Innovation Platform headed by the Prime Minister, which develops concrete policy recommendations and stimulates private initiatives to strengthen the innovative capacity (Guideline 13); - has set up a Technostart-up Infrastructure Scheme to improve the quality of knowledge transfer from public research institutes to start-ups (Guideline 13); - has launched a programme to increase the use of ICT by business and industry further (Guideline 13); - is stimulating the number of S&E students through various initiatives such as improving the possibilities to combine learning with practical experience (Guideline 13); - is developing a new legal framework for public procurement (Guideline 14); - is strengthening the demand side of markets, and is reviewing its consumer policy. Despite of these initiatives, much remains to be done. Priority areas that warrant further attention include: - a better functioning market in several crucial economic sectors, such as health care and other semi-public sectors, and more (international) competition in the commercial services sector; - the number of publicly advertised government tenders; - co-operation between private and public research institutions and the yield of public knowledge development; - the inflow of students into science and technology courses, and the availability of venture capital, especially for the initial stages of the development of a company. 3

4 I Introduction 1. Economic growth in the Netherlands has been low over the past four years. Despite the modest recovery in 2004, average growth in the period is expected to be less than ½% per year. As Table 1 shows, GDP even declined with 0,8% in 2003, the worst performance over the past 20 years. Economic growth for 2004 is expected to be 1,0%. This performance is poor in a European perspective: the average growth rate for the EU 15 for 2004 is estimated at 2 per cent. 2. The disappointing growth of the Dutch economy is not exclusively the result of the international business cycle. The current economic problems are partly the consequence of the abundant economic growth in the second half of the 1990s. This high growth resulted in shortages on the labour market and a rapid increase in labour costs in comparison with other European countries. This has led to a substantial deterioration in price competitiveness of Dutch exports. The decline in competitiveness was also caused by the (in comparison to European and international standards) weak productivity growth since Low growth figures are not only caused by the disappointing export performance. Driving forces behind the exceptionally high consumption growth in the period , such as the increase in household wealth due to sharp increases in share and house prices, reversed in the period The proportion of households with shares was larger in the Netherlands than in many EU-countries when the deterioration of stock markets set in. Therefore, the collapse of the stock markets had a stronger negative effect on consumption in the Netherlands than on average in the EU. 4. Unfavourable conditions for private non-residential investments are the final important reason for the low GDP growth in recent years, compared with the second half of the 1990s. The sharp fall in output growth makes investments less necessary, as there is sufficient capacity to meet demand. Moreover, low profits, the unattractive stock climate and the banks tighter lending conditions also limit the financial scope to invest. Public spending will not make a substantial contribution to economic growth in Although a steeply rising dependency ratio implies sharp rises in the spending volumes on social security, significant spending cuts by the Balkenende administration make that the overall volume of public spending comes to a virtual standstill in On October , social partners agreed to a zero wage-growth for 2004 and a strong effort to approach zero wage growth in Unit labour costs are expected to develop slightly more favourably than among the Euro competitors and next year is likely to break the trend of deteriorating price competitiveness. However, economic growth in the Netherlands will continue to lag behind the EU average in

5 Table 1 Key figures (change is per annum, unless otherwise indicated) Growth in GDP The Netherlands EU 15 Inflation The Netherlands EU 15 Employment in persons The Netherlands EU 15 Unemployment (% of the working population) The Netherlands EU 15 Productivity (per hour worked) The Netherlands EU 15 Unit labour costs The Netherlands EU Source: European Commission, Spring Forecasts, March Structural factors are an important explanation for the continuation of the low Dutch GDP growth compared with the EU competitors. A major problem is the relatively low productivity growth. In view of the ageing of the population and the associated slowdown in the growth of the potential labour supply, this problem will become increasingly urgent. All this emphasises the need to improve the performance of the Dutch economy through structural reforms. Opportunities for doing so lie primarily in the following areas: promoting labour participation and productivity, strengthening the innovative capacity of Dutch business and industry (partly by expanding the supply of highly skilled labour and improving the match and exchange between the public and private knowledge infrastructure), strengthening the demand side of markets, fostering competition in semi-public sectors, removing obstacles to the physical infrastructure (including by improving physical and electronic accessibility and by optimising land use), and further reducing the environmental burden. 7. This annual progress report summarises the measures taken by the Netherlands in recent years to tackle these obstacles. It begins with a general evaluation of the performance of product markets and of government policy governing those markets. It then focuses more specifically on the utilities and network sectors and on the knowledge economy and environmental policy (II.A). This is followed by an examination of relevant developments on the capital market (II.B). Other reforms that influence the product and capital markets are discussed in section II.C. Section III concludes

6 II II.A Evaluation of the performance of markets and structural reforms Product markets II.A.1 General evaluation 8. The Dutch economy is one of the most open economies in the world. This is illustrated by its high degree of trade integration. For example, the export of goods and services from the Netherlands in 2003 was 62.4 per cent of GDP 1. Partly as a result of this integration, prices in the Netherlands are fluctuating around the EU average (see figure 1). The openness of the Dutch economy is also reflected in the key role played by foreign investments. The Netherlands is both one of the world s biggest investors and one of the biggest recipients of investments from other countries. In 2002, the foreign direct investment activity in the Netherlands was the highest of all EU member states, with the exception of Ireland. 2 Figure 1 - Relative price level in the Netherlands, (EU=100) 108,00 106,00 104,00 102,00 100,00 98,00 96,00 94,00 92,00 90,00 88, Source: Eurostat, New Cronos Database, The concentration ratio in many sectors is low. One exception is the financial sector, which is relatively highly concentrated form a domestic perspective. In 2002, the four biggest banks had a market share of over 80 per cent 3 (measured in terms of total assets). However, the large Dutch banks mainly operate on international financial markets, which are highly competitive. Moreover, there are often (regional) monopolies in the so-called network sectors. In some of these sectors, such as gas and electricity, government policy is designed to restrict positions of economic dominance and to boost competitiveness. 1 Statistics Netherlands (CBS), Statistical Yearbook Eurostat, New Cronos database, Nma,

7 10. Productivity growth is an area of concern throughout the Dutch economy. This certainly applies to the commercial services sector, one of the fastest growing sectors in the Dutch economy. This sector is expected to grow to nearly the size of the industrial sector by The stagnating productivity growth in this sector is partly due to the relatively small size of the companies, the low level of investments in innovation and the lack of international competition. This is partly the result of the customer-specific nature of these services and the relatively high conversion costs for its customers (in terms of the time and energy invested). In addition to this, the knowledge-intensive commercial services sector in particular is characterised by asymmetric information: customers have little or no prior certainty about the quality of the services to be delivered. Finally, the many smaller companies in this sector often operate in a limited geographical area, where market reputations are crucial. This leads to segmented markets, which generally does little for free competition. Improvements can be expected from an increase in transparency, especially about quality, and more important, from opening up of international markets for services, so that scale economies can increase productivity. Besides in the commercial services sector, there is potential for productivity increase in the semi-public services, such as the health care sector. In this sector, structural reforms are already taking place. 11. Dutch companies and citizens that encounter problems concerning the misapplication of Internal Market rules by other Member States administrations can take their complaint to the Dutch Solvit Centre. The European Solvit Network is an alternative problem solving mechanism that has been operational since July 2002 and dealt with more than 300 cases. It offers a quick and informal alternative to lengthy Court proceedings. Since its coming into effect, a steadily growing number of Dutch companies and citizens found their way to the Centre. The Dutch government attaches great importance to the smooth and proper functioning of the Internal Market. The Solvit network facilitates this functioning. Most cases that are brought to the attention of the Centre deal with the recognition of professional qualifications, market access for products and social security issues. II.A.2 Government policy on product markets II.A.2.1 Implementation of EU Directives 12. The government reports the Parliament on a three-monthly basis about the state of the implementation of EC-directives. This report highlights the causes of implementation delays. Compared to the situation of June 2003, the deficit remains the same, a deficit of about 3%. Consequently, the Netherlands is still on a low position on the Internal Market Scoreboard. Unfortunately, the Netherlands have increased their backlog by 11 directives. During the first half of 2004, 74 directives have been implemented. 4 CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, Central Economic Plan 2002, April

8 13. The increased backlog is partly caused by political problems during 2002 and Due to those problems, it was very hard to achieve timely implementation in particular in cases where implementation required an Act of Parliament. The Dutch authorities have announced a number of measures that aim to tackle the implementation deficit and to provide for quicker procedures. The Government is committed to reaching the 1,5% implementation target as soon as reasonably possible. The measures include: - An earlier start of the procedure in which Parliament is informed and asked for advice about legislation; - A reinforcement of the existing system of monitoring of the implementation process; - Attention for realistic implementation periods when drafting directives; - Sufficient and efficient allocation of resources within government bodies; - More use of other appropriate legal instruments (e.g. Royal Decrees or Ministerial Regulations). Because of the stabilisation of the implementation deficit and the increased number of infringement actions by the European Commission, the number of infraction proceedings against the Netherlands due to untimely implementation has risen from 35 in June 2003 to 53 in June II.A.2.2 Competition policy 14. In 1998 the Dutch Competition Authority (NMa) was established, and a new Competition Act was adopted. In 2001/2002 the Ministry of Economic Affairs commissioned an evaluation on the effectiveness and completeness of the Competition Act. The efficiency of the application of the Competition Act by the NMa was also evaluated. As a result of this evaluation of the effectiveness and completeness of the Competition Act and the efficiency of the application by the NMa thereof, legislative proposals are currently in preparation to be sent to the House of Representatives (Lower House of Parliament). The Bill, in which the independent status of the NMa would be established, was adopted by the House of Representatives in Following the change of government precipitated by the May 2002 elections, the debate on this Bill was provisionally postponed by the Upper House. The Bill implementing the Council Regulation nr. 1/2003 of December 16, 2002 on the implementation of the rules on competition laid down in Articles 81 and 82 of the Treaty came into force on August 1, The NMa introduced a transparent, open procedure to set its agenda for 2003, by means of a public consultation. In 2003 the NMa prioritised the construction industry 5, health care, the financial sector and energy sector. In 14 cases the NMa imposed a fine. The fines were imposed on (among others) roof building companies, infrastructure companies, an association of psychologists and psychotherapists and an association of dentists. There has been an important fine on a payment services company as well. The NMa also made decisions on 40 requests for exemption from the prohibition of restrictive agreements, and on 219 complaints. The NMa gave green light to 71 mergers in the first phase and 2 in the second phase of the merger control regime. 5 See also recommendation II.10 point 3, GL 11 in the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines (doc. No.232/03) of 26 June

9 16. Next to the NMa as the Authority in charge of the application of the general competition rules of the Competition Act, there is a number of different supervisory authorities in charge of the application of specific competition rules for the network sectors. For example, the Independent Post and Telecom Authority (OPTA) supervises the postal, telecom and cable sectors. There is also the Office for Energy Regulation (Dte). The Dte now forms part of the general competition authority, the NMa. Currently an Authority for the Health Care market is being created. Government aims to incorporate this new Authority into the competition authority. 17. On June 21 st 2004 government presented to Parliament its proposals for a consumer policy in the form of a strategic action programme. This programme will strengthen the role of the government and encourage both consumers and suppliers to accept their responsibilities. The strategic action programme includes a more active role for the government in some areas and goes further than the proposals which have recently been made by the European Commission. As of 2006 a supervisory body for consumer affairs will be established. Part of this body will consist of an information point which will provide consumers and suppliers of goods and services with information concerning their rights and obligations. As part of the supervisory body, the information point will also direct consumers with a dispute to the correct organisation for dealing with it. Finally, the supervisory body will investigate collective infringements of consumer law. 18. This strategic action programme aims to generate greater knowledge among consumers and suppliers of goods and services, to increase access to organisations which can settle individual claims and to use statutory enforcement to reduce the number of collective infringements of consumer law. The measures that are designed to achieve these goals will help to inject more discipline into the market, resulting in fewer disputes and encouraging a change in mentality among both suppliers and consumers ( increased consumer awareness ). However, this goal will be achieved only if consumers are given enough accurate information and if regulations are both effective and properly enforced. II.A.2.3 State aid 19. The methodology of the state aid scoreboard has been modified significantly. It is therefore difficult to compare data of the spring 2003 scoreboard (com 2003/225 final) with the spring 2004 scoreboard (com 2004/256 final), mainly because railway transport has been excluded in the 2004 scoreboard. Nevertheless the conclusion of the 2004 scoreboard is that the Netherlands has a good overall performance. Only the United Kingdom and Luxemburg have an overall figure lower than the Netherlands (state aid, excluding rail transport, as a percentage of GDP). The Netherlands had a level of state aid of 0.43 (as a % of GDP) compared to an EU average of Sectoral distribution of aid indicates that about 40 % of total state aid (rail transport excluded) in the Netherlands goes to manufacturing and 50 % to agriculture and fisheries. 20. In the Netherlands state aid goes mainly to horizontal objectives. According to the spring 2004 scoreboard, 98% of total state aid (excluding agriculture, fisheries and transport) was earmarked for horizontal objectives. This is in line with the conclusions of the Stockholm and Barcelona Councils. Further on the Netherlands cooperates actively with the Commission to make state aid rules simpler and more effective. 9

10 Figure 2 State aid in the Netherlands and in the EU, 2002 Source: State Aid Scoreboard, Spring 2004 update COM (2004) 256 final II.A.2.4 Tax policy 21. An important goal of tax policy remains boosting labour supply, e.g. by eliminating the tax facilities on early retirement schemes as from To stimulate labour market participation of partners, the specific tax credit that was introduced in 2004 will be raised in The 2005 Tax Plan is characterized by three important issues. Firstly, several tax measures are aimed at specific income support. Secondly, in order to improve the Dutch business climate, the Tax Plan 2005 contains propositions for a substantial reduction of the corporate tax rate. Thirdly, the 2005 Tax Plan also contains a set of environmentally induced tax measures. II.A.2.5 Government efficiency 22. In June 1999, the Netherlands government presented a new style government budget 6. The general purpose of the proposal was to make budget documents and, hence, the budgetary process more transparent by presenting information on (intended and achieved) policy objectives, policy measures or instruments, and their costs. For each policy area the government ought to answer three questions: (1) What do we want to achieve? (2) What do we intend to do to achieve this? (3) How much should it cost? By presenting information on the reduction of crime or congestion in line with information on the use of programmes and resources, the actions and degree of success of government interventions are clarified. This information should promote good decision-making (reallocation within the budgetary framework) and therefore the efficiency of government actions. 6 VBTB From Policy budget to Policy accountability 10

11 23. The Ministries of Economic Affairs and of Finance have designed a framework based on economic insights that can be used to define the areas where the government has a role to play and what this government role should be. Questions asked in the framework structure the decisionmaking process and can also increase the efficiency of government policy. The Knowledge Centre for Economic Regulation has developed a manual on the framework. The framework has been used in workshops on infrastructure, energy, housing and agriculture. This manual is translated in English. The Knowledge Centre for Economic Regulation will organise more workshops in which the framework can be used. The framework is used in policy documents for example in the letter to parliament on ownership separation of energy companies into a network and a commercial company. II.A.2.6 Public procurement 24. The interdepartmental project unit for public procurement and tendering (PIA) began its work in Its purpose is to improve both procurement and tendering within central government. It does so by taking stock of what is procured by the central government, by creating a buyers network (putting purchasers and tendering companies in touch with one another), encouraging joint purchasing, providing assistance for this group and starting up discussions on public procurement. Although a lot of progress has been made since 2000 the proposed ambitions are not completely realised yet. New developments in procurement, purchasing and tendering within the central government occur. That is the reason the PIA project has been prolonged till June To encourage European tendering, this summer the Ministry of Economic Affairs sent to Parliament the vision of the Dutch government about procurement and purchasing policy. The development of a new legal framework for public procurement in the Netherlands is an important part of this policy. This new legal framework will be equipped with a balanced mixture of instruments that will have to ensure a professional purchasing and procuring policy by contracting authorities and observance of the European procurement directives. This new legislation will be the legal base to implement the European legislation and jurisprudence on public procurement but also the necessary legal base to implement national instruments to improve public procurement in the Netherlands by contracting authorities. One of the goals of the new purchasing and procurement policy is to prevent and to diminish existing and new (administrative) burdens for suppliers as for contracting authorities. The new legal framework will be in force by the end of Part of this new legislation will be a legal obligation for all contracting authorities to examine the integrity of suppliers, service providers or (building) enterprises according to the criteria for qualification as mentioned in the directives. Another new development will be the installation in phases of a knowledge centre for purchasing and public procurement for all contracting authorities. II.A.2.7 Administrative burden 26. The policy on administrative burdens is designed to reduce the administrative burdens for businesses of 16.4 billion euros by a quarter in 2007 as compared to Reducing the burdens would boost our economy and restore the Netherlands competitive position. The Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB) calculated that this reduction target would result in a growth of the Dutch GDP by 1.5% and an increase in labour productivity by 1.7%. To realize this target a reduction program for the existing administrative burdens has been set up. Quantified reduction targets for each ministry will be set in spring The departmental targets are a 11

12 translation of the government-wide reduction target. A departmental reduction plan will describe how the targets will specifically be realised. Additional administrative costs due to new legislation have to be compensated by new reductions: the target is a net target. The program now covers about 3 billion of reduction measures. Additional measures for reduction of administrative burdens are found in additional Ministerial activities, inter-ministerial themes, improvement of efficiency by the use of ICT and reducing administrative burdens which originate in Europe. Furthermore, the Ministry of Education will reduce the administrative burden for universities and schools. 27. The ministries will report annually to Parliament in their budget (September) and in their annual report (May) on the progress they have made in reducing administrative costs. In order to prevent new regulations from pushing up administrative costs, the independent Dutch Advisory Board on Administrative Burdens (Actal) will assess all proposed government legislation and regulations for their impact on administrative costs. Moreover, the Ministry of Economic Affairs has collected complaints about contradictory regulations. Analysis of the complaints showed that in many cases it was the interpretation of regulations by authorities that was contradictory, and not necessarily the regulation itself. The goal is to solve these problems by the end of 2004, insofar as they are caused by differences in interpretation of regulations. 7 Finally, businesses can send complaints and suggestions electronically to the project website (www. compliancecosts.com). 28. The aim is also that ICT should make a significant contribution to pushing down administrative costs. The government is therefore working hard on the implementation of three (technical) components of which the first versions are currently available while additional functionality will be added in the forthcoming period: First of all, the government is working on a national one-stop-shop for businesses in the front office. This is a single point of entry on the Internet where businesses can access information, forms and services provided by various public agencies. A second component consists of a government transaction gateway in the back office. This is a middle-ware service aimed at facilitating transactions between businesses and government by providing authentication services and by distributing data among several government agencies. A specific piece of information will only need to be supplied once. The general business register being developed is a final component of the ICT-supported infrastructure. This is a so-called authentic register for basic business identity information of all companies and organisations. The key to the concept is that this register, which is an 'authentic registration', will be designated as a unique source of information for the data it contains. As a result multiple questioning to businesses is no longer needed. 29. The government is screening the system of permits for businesses, to improve conditions for establishing new firms and expanding existing firms. The screening is aimed at streamlining rules, reducing administrative burdens and reducing the time needed to apply for permits. II.A.3 Utility companies and network sectors II.A.3.1 Energy 30. The establishment of the Electricity Act in 1998 and the Gas Act in 2000 has set in motion the liberalisation of the energy sector. The wholesale market for gas and electricity has been 7 See also recommendation I.2.2, GL 11 in the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines (doc. No.232/03) of 26 June

13 liberalised since January 2002 and small businesses also have been given the freedom to choose their supplier. Since July 2004 the entire energy market is free. Also on July 2004 the Netherlands has implemented the second European directives on the liberalisation of the gas and electricity market translating this into national legislation. 31. As from 1 July 2001, all consumers are free to buy renewable electricity. Since then, demand for renewable electricity has risen, partly due to tax incentives. These tax incentives will be abolished as from January On the supply side, imports of renewable electricity in particular are still substantial, but are declining. 32. By letter of 31 March 2004 the Minister of Economic Affairs announced his intention of the ownership unbundling of the production/distribution companies from the networks. A new act regarding this matter is under construction and is to enter into force in Ownership unbundling will take effect ultimately on 1 January II.A.3.2 Electronic communication 33. The Telecommunication Act has been changed by implementing the new European directives on electronic communications into a new Electronic Communications Act. Compared to ten benchmark countries, the Netherlands score well above average. This fine score is primarily achieved thanks to widespread availability and penetration of Internet access and the presence of high quality infrastructures. For various infrastructures, such as fixed and mobile telephony, cable, and broadband Internet access, penetration is high. The Netherlands perform less well in matters of government investment in ICT and the legal framework for transactions on the Internet, for instance regarding Trusted Third Parties. 34. In 2003, the European market for telecommunications and IT slightly increased. Due to reorientation and restructuring as a result of financial difficulties, companies improved their performance. Market growth in the Netherlands is in line with European averages. Modest improvement in 2003 was mostly spurred by the telecommunications sector. The growth in the IT sector is expected to rise in In 2003, both investments in ICT infrastructure and ICT expenditure per capita decreased. 35. The development of volumes in the sector as a whole primarily consists of substitution between services and shifting of volume from one provider to another (competition). For the Dutch incumbent KPN, the traffic volume of fixed telephony services continued its downward trend in This decline was caused particularly by increased competition (from CPS providers), the introduction of Internet access numbers (originating access), substitution by mobile telephony, and increased use of broadband Internet access. Especially the penetration of broadband Internet access measures up to internationally high standards. In 2003, the number of broadband Internet connections and the volume of Internet traffic soared. The same year witnessed an increase in cell phone subscriptions, mostly due to the growing number of subscribers to the three smallest providers. 36. In 2003, tariffs for fixed telephony (business and private), leased lines, and broadband Internet access were pitched at a relatively low level. Tariffs for mobile telephony services were average. Among other things, these tariffs were influenced by competition and by regulated tariffs 13

14 for unbundled lines. Tariffs for fully lines and shared access are relatively cheap in the Netherlands. 37. Due to the growing use of the Internet in the Netherlands, the number of issues with viruses and spam continues to grow. A recent study indicates that by the end of 2003, 50-60% of all consisted of spam. Several policy instruments have been introduced to tackle these issues. Implementation of the new Telecommunications Law has rendered uninvited communication to the consumer (through , SMS, etc.) unlawful, unless explicit permission is given by the consumer. In addition, the application of firewalls, anti-virus software, and auxiliary means of authentication is increasing. II.A.2.3 Public transport 38. In the Netherlands, a system of transport concessions applies to the bus, tram and metro networks. This system is being introduced progressively. The transport concessions will be periodically allocated by means of a public tender. All the transport companies that satisfy specified admission requirements will be allowed to compete for the concessions. 39. The regional bus and urban transport system will periodically be publicly put out to tender via temporary concessions. The Passenger Transport Act took effect on 1 January Since then, a fair number of tendering procedures has been successfully completed. An evaluation survey on the results of the tenders was completed by mid The policy decision on the result of this survey will be forwarded to Parliament before the 1st of December By 1 January 2006, all regional bus transport concessions must have been allocated. It was planned that the tendering procedure for urban transport will start later to enable the restructuring of the municipal transport companies. This process will be given some more time. It is decided that all the urban transport concessions must be allocated by 1 January 2009 instead of by Competition for passenger transport by rail will be encouraged through a system of temporary concessions for public passenger transport by train and a temporary concession for the management of the infrastructure. The bill in which this is laid down has been adopted by the Upper House April 2003 and will be put in effect at January After this regional rail transport will be decentralised in a number of stages and be publicly put out to tender. A number of pilot tenders have already been successfully carried out. The existing transporter on the main rail network, the Dutch Railways (NS), will be awarded a concession that runs from January 2005 onwards until NS will be allowed 3 years to make the needed organizational and management changes so that it can be subject to quantified performance agreements. The system will be evaluated in 2006 to see whether the agreed improvements have been adequately realised. The company Rail Infra Management, which is entirely state-owned, will be awarded a concession for the management of the infrastructure from January 2005 onwards. Transportation by high-speed line has been awarded via a public tender to the Dutch Railways (NS)-Schiphol Airport conglomerate. This tendering procedure was completed in The high-speed line will come into operation by the beginning of

15 II.A.3.4 Postal services 41. As in previous years, internationalisation of postal markets increased both due to expansion of TPG s activities inside and outside of Europe and to increasing activities of foreign postal companies in the Netherlands. In 2003, TPG held a large market share in most market segments, in spite of the presence of a number of competitors in some market segments. Especially in the segments for parcels (packages), TPG encountered competition by Deutsche Post subsidiaries Selektvracht and DHL/VGL. The competition on the letter mail market has increased. The total number of units shipped by TPG in the national market (inside the Netherlands) decreased in 2002 and in II.A.3.5 Water 42. The Water Supply Act is being revised gradually. The first phase, the implementation of the EU Drinking Water Directive, was completed in the beginning of In 2001, a proposal to amend the Water Supply Act in order to protect the public nature of the supply of drinking water was adopted by the government and has been debated by the House of Representatives in September Finally, there will be a general review of the Water Supply Act. This will include the introduction of benchmarking between water supply companies, the liberalisation of the market for industrial water and measures to prevent competitive distortion. In 2003 an evaluation has been completed on the supervision structure of the drinking water sector. The current supervision is satisfactory according to the insiders (owners, supervisors, and management) that have been interviewed, but this report also suggests a number of improvements. This report will be used to finalise the New Water Bill. The Bill is scheduled to be submitted to Parliament in II.A.4 Promoting the knowledge-based economy II.A.4.1 Transition to the knowledge-based economy 43. Recent initiatives to foster innovation include the creation of an Innovation Council headed by the Prime Minister (September 2003). This Council is expected to develop concrete policy recommendations and to stimulate private initiatives to strengthen the innovative capacity in the Netherlands. In 2004 the Council for instance advised to improve the accessibility of researchers, identified practical problems that are obstacles to the core value of the knowledge economy, developed a plan to stimulate the dynamics in the Dutch higher education system and proposed new initiatives to stimulate innovation and economic growth in so called key-areas. Moreover, the Innovation letter has been sent to Parliament in October This letter presents policy actions on strengthening the innovation climate, increasing the number of companies that innovate and focussing on strategic research areas. In 2004 for instance the budget for the WBSO (Promotion for Research and Development Act) has been increased, TechnoPartner (a program for the stimulation of high-tech start ups) started and Action plans on ICT and Life sciences were presented. 15

16 44. The Netherlands has retained its strong position in the transition towards a knowledgebased economy. A study carried out by the TNO 8 found that the Netherlands is among global leaders in terms of its (tele)communications infrastructure. The network in the Netherlands is both advanced and of high quality. Some 70 per cent of all households in the Netherlands are connected to the Internet, which is one of the highest percentages in Europe. The Netherlands is also among the world leaders with regard to the number of broadband connections. Moreover, the Netherlands has the fastest European research network, Gigaport, on which IPv6 9 is fully operational. In December 2001 the Telecoms Council adopted the new regulatory framework for electronic communication services. The Netherlands has implemented the framework. 45. The role of intellectual property in the Dutch knowledge-based economy is becoming increasingly important. In this respect the number of patent applications reflects - to a certain extent - the innovative capacity in the Netherlands. Of all member states of the European Patent Convention (EPC) the Netherlands, behind Germany (38,9%) and France (12,7%), filed in 2003 the most patent applications at the European Patent Organisation. With 11% (6459 applications) the Netherlands let the United Kingdom (8,3%), Switzerland (7,1%) and Italy (6,3%) behind them. To stimulate the use of knowledge in the economy, the Dutch government has taken several actions. The government puts a lot of effort in knowledge-exploitation by universities and industry. To make this happen, she supports research co-operation between universities and industry, creates university patent policy and stimulates university start-ups. Furthermore, the Ministry of Economic Affairs has investigated the obstructions Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SME s) face when they use the Dutch and European patent system. Costs and especially (high) annual patent fees seem to be the main obstructions. The Dutch government formulates a policy on these issues. The proposal for implementing three treaties (the Patent Law Treaty, the Revision of the EPC and the Translation Protocol of the EPC) in the Dutch Patent Act will be send to the Dutch parliament in the fall of Implementing these treaties will reduce patent costs and further harmonise the European patent system 10. II.A.4.2 Research & development and innovation 46. Total expenditure on research and development (R&D) as well as the share of R&D financed by the private sector is below the EU-15 and the EU-25 average. Furthermore, figures for the last years indicate a negative trend in R&D expenditure. The share of public institutions in R&D is above the EU average. Further investments in R&D are needed, particularly in the private sector. This is in line with the Barcelona target to increase R&D expenditure in the EU to 3 per cent of GDP in 2010, of which two-thirds should be financed by the private sector. It is important to improve the exchange between public and private knowledge. Dutch investments in this sphere are among others designed to increase the return on publicly financed development of knowledge Netwerken in cijfers 2004 (TNO) 9 Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) is the successor to the existing protocol and resolves problems, such as a shortage of Internet addresses. 10 See also recommendation I.2.2, GL 13 ii in the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines (doc. No.232/03) of 26 June Partly through a permanent increase in the budget for Innovation-based Research Programmes since 2001; see also recommendation II.10, point 4 in the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines (doc. No.232/03) of 26 June

17 Figure 3 Total R&D expenditure and business R&D expenditure as a percentage of GDP (2001) 2,5 2,0 1,89 1,93 1,98 1,5 1,0 1,10 1,26 1,30 0,5 0,0 Netherlands EU-25 EU-15 Total R&D (GERD) Business R&D (BERD) Source: Eurostat, NewCronos database, The Dutch economy must become more innovative. Creating a challenging climate for techno-starters is an important step in this endeavour. We need structural improvements to the techno-starter climate in our country. For instance, the number of spin-offs from research institutes and universities in the Netherlands is not on a par with other countries. The quality of publicly financed knowledge is high, but in many cases this knowledge is not, or not sufficiently, utilised. This is regrettable, as it means that in our country we take insufficient advantage of the innovative capacity of techno starters. The TechnoPartner Action programme: From Knowledge to Prosperity aims for an improvement of the techno starter climate. In this endeavour it is the ambition to turn the Netherlands into a country where it is common practice for researchers and (science and technology) students to start their own company. A country in which it is common practice for knowledge institutes and companies to encourage and support techno-starters. A country, finally, in which it is common practice and therefore profitable for venture capitalists to invest in technostarters. 48. To realise these ambitions, TechnoPartner comprises a package of interrelated concrete actions: - TechnoPartner Seed facility to stimulate and mobilise the bottom end of the Dutch venture capital market, so that techno-starters can satisfy their capital requirements in the early phase; - TechnoPartner Knowledge Exploitation Subsidy Arrangement (SKE), with as its objective the quicker utilisation of scientific knowledge by techno starters inside and outside the knowledge institutes (Universities, HBO (higher vocational education) institutes and publicly financed research Institutes). A pre-seed facility that gives technostarters the option to put more time and energy into the phase prior to the actual start and 17

18 a patent facility that enables the professionalisation of the patents policy within the knowledge institutes, all form part of the SKE; - TechnoPartner-platform that will offer information and expertise and will create an ongoing inventory and agenda of the obstacles faced by techno starters. 49. These operational activities are enhanced by institutional innovations that stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit in educational and knowledge institutes. For instance, in order to eliminate uncertainty among universities about the valorisation task, a budget component for valorisation will be allocated in the funding. The objective is to designate a specific part of the funding as the valorisation component, in order to give the universities a guideline in determining their policy with regard to this aspect. A number of possibilities will also be created for the educational environment to be introduced to entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. II.A.4.3 Information society 50. ICT expenditures have diminished from 8.5 per cent to 7.3 per cent as a percentage of GDP. This is still more than the average of the EU 15. Various initiatives are currently taking place to further encourage the application of ICT in Dutch society 12. For example, all Dutch schools are linked to the knowledge network, which provides schools with a growing variety of tailored classroom-based teaching applications. Measures in ICT policy to improve expertise among teaching staff now means that the majority of teachers have basic ICT skills. 51. The Dutch government is itself also contributing to the transition to a knowledge-based economy. It is agreed that by 2007, 65 per cent of all services provided by the government must be handled electronically. The government s efforts were directed at, among other things, better electronic accessibility of the service provided by the government (the front office) and better internal administration (the back office). 52. By the end of 2003, 84 per cent of Dutch SME s had access to the Internet and 67 per cent occasionally completed transactions electronically. Both figures grew that year with 1 percent. The Dutch SME s with a website grew in 2003 with 4 percent to 49 %. Due to these high figures the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs decided in 2004 to change the focus of the government longterm program The Netherlands goes digital ( ). In June 2004 the ministry consulted entrepreneurs, e-business professors, business associations and other experts about future e- business concepts. In the remaining period of the program Syntens, the agency that carries out the program, will focus her activities on these subjects (for example tracking and tracing, internationalisation and customer management). Besides that Syntens shall customize her advice activities and information services because the level of e-business is for every branch, sector and company different. Workshops, websites en brochures shall be adjusted and new instruments will be developed to support this new focus. 12 Government wide ICT-agenda

19 53. In 2001 a report was sent to Parliament, outlining the most vulnerable aspects of the Internet and suggesting eight lines of action. These lines of action tie in well with a communication by the European Commission of June 2001 concerning the security of networks and information 13. Most of these lines of action have been implemented. This means that currently an awareness campaign 'Surf op Safe' is running, a scheme to certify Trusted Third Parties is in place. Also, as an add-on to the Government CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team), a warning function for the public and SME's has been set up. II.A.4.4 Supply of researchers and qualified ICT personnel 54. The inflow of students to science and technical courses has remained stable in relative terms for some years, but in terms of absolute numbers these numbers are going down. This is a major problem in the transition to a knowledge-based economy. The AXIS Foundation has therefore developed a series of strategies to tackle this problem in education at its roots. AXIS aim was to influence the choice of courses and professions by young people in a positive way by ensuring that primary and secondary school pupils have enjoyable encounters with technology, by overhauling technical study courses and by combining learning with practical experience The Dutch labour market has long been characterised by labour shortages in specific sectors, including in the ICT sector. Government policy was primarily targeted at reducing these problems. The (temporary) shrinkage of the IT sector has substantially alleviated the skills shortage in this area, albeit that there are still deficits of highly qualified workers in some specialisation. 56. Following their implementation, it is expected that so-called labour radars will chart the causes of, and possible solutions for, the skills shortages that exist in various sectors. The possibility to start a "labour radar" in a specific branch or sector was finished in 2004 after an evaluation of the instrument. Branches that are developing innovative training courses in partnership with training providers are receiving support via the training impulse subsidy scheme. It is aimed for that these courses will match the training needs of business and industry more closely than the regular training supply. A total of just under 31 million is available for a period of five years. This scheme just as the "labour radars" are subject of an evaluation and possible rethinking and reshaping of the policies in the field of Human Capital. II.A.4.5 Developments in the education system 57. A broad deployability of graduates will help to improve the match between professional education and the labour market. In order to promote the broad deployability of graduates, the qualifications structure in secondary professional education is being converted into a skills-based structure. Skills profiles can be applied to several professions and can provide more cohesion and flexibility within the education structure. This conversion process must be ready by An adjustment of the budget flows in education will need to give education institutes sufficient financial incentives to enable them to adopt a responsive approach to a wide range of individual 13 Doc. No. 9727/01 of 6 June See also recommendation I.2.2, GL 13 vi in the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines (doc. No.232/03) of 26 June

20 training demands. Initiatives being taken in this area include the experiments with student vouchers in higher professional education, a system to supervise pupils in their education careers and a review of financing in higher education. This financing should be more closely linked to the measures being taken by educational establishments, rather than to the number of diplomas obtained. 58. In recent years, investments have been made in order to reduce the current shortage of teachers. These policies have been successful so far, but as a consequence of the ageing problem this might not be sufficient. Therefore, in 2004 the Ministry of Education has developed a policy plan to improve the functioning of the labour market for teachers. This plan contains measures to improve the functioning of regional labour markets and to strengthen and professionalize the Human Resource Management (HRM) of educational institutes. 59. The Ministry of Education has developed the so called "Deltaplan bèta en techniek". The aim is to raise the inflow of S&E-students with 15 per cent in 2004 (compared with 2000) and to raise the outflow of S&E-students in 2010 with 15 per cent. 60. The Netherlands perform relatively well in comparison with other EU Member States in participation in training programmes (5th place). However, the share of people with lower education is relatively low. For this reason, The Ministry of Education will formulate a vision document on this topic in The government is strengthening the responsiveness of the training market by supporting innovative initiatives from within the private sector. In 2001, for example, the training impulse subsidy scheme was launched. The government is using this scheme to support branch organisations that want to develop innovative training courses in partnership with training providers. These courses must match the needs of business and industry (specially the needs of individual employees) more closely than the regular supply. Keywords in this subsidy scheme are: assessment of acquired skills, flexible training 'to measure', training on the job and formal recognition of learning in informal processes. The transfer of the knowledge and experience gained through the development of an innovative training course to other players is also crucial. 62. Another way of improving the responsiveness of training institutions is by promoting a system for the recognition of acquired skills. To this end a procedure (EVC in Dutch, RPL in English) for the formal recognition of learning in informal processes (such as learning through work) has been developed. Thus, EVC is an instrument that can be used to build a much-needed bridge between working and learning, by making individual deployment for employers and employees more transparent 15. For this reason the Dutch government has set up and subsidised the ECV Knowledge Centre in The task of the Knowledge Centre is to promote the development and dissemination of knowledge in order to encourage the application of the EVC system. Over the past four years knowledge has been gathered and exchanged and pilot projects have been supported. The challenge for 2005 is to develop ways to guarantee the quality of the EVCprocedure, to improve access to EVC-procedures and to further encourage the application of the 15 See also recommendation I.2.2, GL 13.vi, in the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines (doc. No. 232/03) of 26 June

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