Dry questions for Dutch investors
Governments across Europe have come up with a wily new way of keeping immigrants out – the cultural questionnaire.
Some regional German states – they are responsible for immigration – recently tried to sift out radical Islamists with tricky questions about how they would welcome their offspring becoming homosexuals.
Now the state of Hesse, home to banking capital Frankfurt, has jumped on the bandwagon. The facts aspiring Germans should know include the name of the assembly that sat in Frankfurt’s Paulskirche in 1848; what happened on June 17 1953; what appears on Caspar David Friedrich’s painting of the island of Rügen; and the legacy of Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen to the science of medical diagnosis – none of which relates to Hesse.
The Netherlands last week introduced its tests for those who wish to marry Dutch people or move, to be taken in their home country.
Contrast that hardline stance with trends in the corporate sector, where controversial company takeover defences – such as priority shares and friendly foundations – are quietly being dismantled to drag the Netherlands into line with Anglo-Saxon governance standards.
That trend, coupled with the rise of private-equity deal-making, has left Dutch blue-chips exposed to foreign raiders, bankers and lawyers say. VNU, the market researcher that has attracted a €7.5bn takeover bid, is only one of the companies targeted. Private equity has almost certainly crunched the numbers on KPN, the telecommunications company, while rumours are swirling about a €13bn bid for TNT, the mail group.
All of which has got the homegrown old boys network that has bossed Dutch business for decades looking uneasily over its shoulder. Government golden shares will not deter the raiders.
How long can it be before some wag proposes an entrance exam for the business world? The questions could be similar to those posed to immigrants.
“Do the Dutch live mostly indoors or outdoors?” and “Is the Netherlands mostly wet or dry?” are a sample. You never know, they may just be daft enough to bamboozle the barbarians at the gates.
If having dinner with 25 members of a feuding family is not your idea of a perfect birthday party, pity European Commission president José Manuel Barroso.
Barroso celebrates his 50th on the opening day of the European summit. After hours of talks he will be dining with leaders expected to squabble over rising protectionism and energy policy.
“His diary is so full we do not know when there will be time for a party,” Barroso’s office said on Monday. There may not even be time to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the entry of his homeland, Portugal, and Spain into the European Union.
Still, all is not lost. Graham Watson, the British leader of the Liberal group in the European Parliament, shares the happy day. He has invited Barroso to celebratory drinks in Parliament on March 29
“Although Barroso has a higher profile in EU politics Graham is four hours older and thus the senior of the two,” joked Observer’s man with the birthday cake.
News emerged from London on Monday that Humphrey the cat, house pet at 10 Downing Street, has died.
Humphrey wandered into the prime minister’s residence back in Margaret Thatcher’s day in 1989 and was thrown out in 1997 when Tony Blair moved in, supposedly because of illness. He had been living with a civil servant. Now gossips are pondering how much longer another political animal will remain – Tony, the American poodle.
Tony has been in the dog house for a while now. Chancellor of the exchequer and next-door neighbour Gordon Brown, for one, has never been a fan of giving him the run of the place. Now other members of the government are blaming Tony for a nasty smell of sleaze at Number 10 over undeclared loans to the Labour party.
Tony, like Humphrey, appears to have used up his nine lives.
Winner by a head
It is time to announce the winner of our caption competition, which featured Barroso and parliamentary speaker Josep Borrell sporting silly headgear on a skiing trip arranged by Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel.
There isn’t space to mention all entries but runners-up included this from Andrew Larcos in Madrid: “Peter Mandelson will have a fit when he sees they were made in China.”
Margaret Cameron of Brussels suggested: “It’s an essential part of our new energy policy.”
But Observer’s love of puns prevailed and the winnner was: “Now I see why we need CAP reform.” Congratulations to Anja Duchateau of Amcham EU in Brussels.
Günter the great
Shy, retiring Günter Verheugen, the über-competitive commissioner for industry, is at it again.
The German likes to throw his weight around and the most powerful man in Brussels was on Monday quoted in the Süddeutsche Zeitung as saying: “I don’t have to prove my influence, I have to hide it.” And a very good job of it he does, too.
Greek central bank
Observer reported on March 8 on a strike by staff at the Bank of Greece after the suspension of security staff who allowed a group of unionists into the building to disrupt a meeting of the bank’s general policy council chaired by governor Nikos Garganas.
The two staff were not suspended but transferred to other positions at the bank of equal rank.