(Updates with details, quotes, background.)
By Toby Sterling
AMSTERDAM, March 7 (Reuters) - Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said on Tuesday the government should set up a panel with the power to block takeovers by foreign companies that were contrary to the national interest.
Many of the country’s largest companies did not have the wherewithal to thwart unwanted takeovers, he added during campaigning for his Labour party ahead of a national election on March 15.
“Aggressive takeovers such as what was in danger of happening with Unilever, I think are a true threat to the future earnings capacity of the Netherlands,” Dijsselbloem said.
The minister was referring to Kraft Heinz’ surprise offer for the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company last month.
Nationalist sentiment has been on the rise in the Netherlands ahead of the election in which the far-right party led by Geert Wilders, who advocates protectionist economic policies, is seen performing strongly.
Polls show Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) will more than double its seats in parliament to 26, almost even with Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s conservatives who stand to tumble from 41 to 27, with his coalition partner Labour plunging to 14 from 38.
Dijsselbloem’s Labour party, the junior member in Rutte’s center-right coalition, is on course to lose about two-thirds of its seats.
Last month the government proposed a law giving it power to block takeovers in the telecommunications sector.
Dijsselbloem said on Tuesday such powers should be expanded to include all “strategically important” companies, and the country should establish a panel like the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).
Last year CFIUS blocked Philips from selling most of its LED components manufacturing business to a Chinese-led consortium for $2.8 billion. Philips eventually sold the same stake to U.S. private equity firm Apollo Global Management for $1.5 billion.
Dijsselbloem said that Dutch firms were attractive because they are cash rich.
“That makes them very good prey because (a buyer) can first strip the cash and then sell the parts.” he said. “This is not a theory I‘m describing, this really happens and it’s in danger of happening again.”
The Dutch state was burned by the 2007 hostile takeover and carve-up of ABN Amro bank, whose operations in the Netherlands it was forced to bail out less than a year later.
Last month Belgium’s Bpost dropped its pursuit of PostNL under pressure from Dutch economic affairs minister Henk Kamp, a VVD politician.
Dijsselbloem said 11 of the 25 largest Dutch companies with a stock market listing lacked sufficient takeover protections.
“Don’t dare me to name them and thereby stick a ‘for sale’ sign in their gardens,” he said. “My warning is that we must be able to protect Dutch industry.”
Reporting by Toby Sterling; editing by John Stonestreet and Richard Lough