Unilever blow sparks Dutch PM tax rethink

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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Friday he would reconsider a controversial tax break aimed at luring foreign firms after Unilever axed plans to move its HQ to the Netherlands.

Rutte's fragile coalition said last month it would scrap a so-called dividend tax that companies pay on profits distributed to shareholders, arguing that it would attract business from Britain after Brexit.

But the shock announcement by Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever earlier Friday that it was withdrawing plans to move its main headquarters from London to Rotterdam has prompted a rethink.

"I am disappointed by Unilever's decision," Rutte, a former human resources manager for the firm, told a weekly press conference in The Hague.

"We have not taken this measure for one company. But Unilever's decision is of course relevant. That's why we will reconsider the measure," he added.

"I still think the plan is very defendable."

Unilever's under-fire CEO Paul Polman however turned the blame back on Rutte and his tax plan.

"For some of the British shareholders, the political debate that erupted in the Netherlands over the government's plan to scrap the dividend tax was a factor in them not supporting the proposal by the board" to move Unilever's HQ, Polman told NOS public television.

Opposition parties have heavily criticised Rutte for scrapping the tax, saying he is pandering to the wishes of large multinationals.

Far right leader Geert Wilders said Rutte should resign over the Unilever debacle -- calling him a "leader in decay" -- and said there should be a vote of no-confidence in the government.

Just last month Rutte had defended the plan as he unveiled it in the government budget, despite admitting it was "more expensive than originally thought"

The NOS public broadcaster reporting some 600 million euros ($700 million) were added the original figure, taking the total cost of the measure to around 2 billion euros.

© 2018 AFP

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