While many people did not seem to be mournful about the fall of the Cabinet, there is little joy among the Dutch business community. Many executives expect sentiment about businesses to get worse rather than better in Dutch politics.
The Dutch government has always been known as stable and business-friendly. But, when company executives are invited to the House of Representatives, it is often to publicly put them on the spot. It leads to a lot of cynicism among those same executives, and more and more often they decline such invitations.
Corporate interests have been treated shrugged off in recent years. See the departure of Shell, DSM-Firmenich, Flow Traders, Aegon and the discussion about the downsizing of Schiphol Airport. If many Dutch people don’t care, why should the House of Representatives?
Who should be concerned is the Social and Economic Council (SER)
In a recent column, SER president Putters did not say a word about the deteriorating sentiment about big business and how important it is to improve the dialogue between business and politics. Because if both treat each other cynically or shrugging their shoulders, then the SER also loses its function and we can ditch the “polder model.”
Many companies expect to represent their interests through industry associations and at polder institutions such as the SER. It was often seen as lobbying behind the scenes. But those processes are becoming increasingly transparent. Not for nothing did Prime Minister Rutte call on executives to sit in on talk shows and tell their side of the story. But few have since heeded this call.
Directors of large companies must take a more assertive stance in the public debate if they are to represent their interests effectively. So that means campaigning visibly and showing towards the general public what you stand for. In the U.S. it has long been customary for companies to make appeals to politicians through advertisements and commercials. In the Netherlands, companies are reluctant to do this. This is unjustified, because the difference between public opinion and the formation of opinion in the House of Representatives is becoming smaller and smaller due to, among other things, the urge to profile oneself and the limited time of many MPs. Trade unions and environmental organizations have also understood this. Increasingly, they are campaigning through public opinion. Take the example of Friends of the Earth’s television spots and social media campaign against Tata Steel.
The back room is becoming increasingly transparent, and with it, the debate is also moving into the public arena.
Many executives base their restraint on media sentiment and often critical coverage. But that picture is not complete, because businesses have greater trust among the public than would appear based on headlines. Annual research by Edelman shows that compared to government and NGOs, “business” enjoys high levels of trust among the public. So there is an opportunity for businesses to speak out much more on social issues. So, businesses show what you stand for and campaign for your interests.