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As Europe braces for Brexit, the Netherlands sees benefits

While many Dutch politicians say they dread the economic repercussions of the looming Oct. 31 Brexit deadline, the Netherlands is working to minimize the damage, in part by attracting some of the organizations and businesses that have already fled the United Kingdom. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Christopher Livesay reports from Amsterdam.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Europe is bracing itself for October 31st, the latest deadline in the ongoing Brexit saga, and ostensibly the day the United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the European Union.

    In the meantime, several organizations and businesses are not waiting to see if and when the U.K. will exit Europe … they're already exiting the U.K. Christopher Livesay reports from one of their main destinations: the Netherlands.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Back in 2016 when the UK voted on Brexit, what did you think?

  • Noel Wathion:

    We have a problem.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Noël Wathion is Deputy Director of the European Medicines Agency which is responsible for regulating pharmaceuticals in the European Union. It's similar to the Food and Drug Administration in America. And it used to be located in London. Then came the UK's vote to leave the EU. While the outcome of the vote was a surprise, relocating his staff of about 900 and their families became an immediate necessity for Wathion because by law the EMA must have its headquarters in an EU country.

  • Noel Wathion:

    We had a general assembly the next day of all staff and I can tell you the atmosphere was extremely down. There were people crying in the room. Not sure what was going to happen. And then as senior management we have to make sure that we show leadership and that we say look we are going to overcome this.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    That day Wathion says he launched a relocation task force. 19 EU cities bid to host the agency and in November 2017 the European Council made the announcement: Amsterdam was chosen to be the new headquarters of the EMA. And this past January the EMA officially cut the ribbon on its new offices. Compared with London, Amsterdam is a relatively small city of under a million people. You can cross town in 20 minutes on a bike. But it has both old world charm and modern infrastructure, which was essential to the EMA.

  • Noel Wathion:

    We have thousands of experts traveling on a monthly basis to us. We need good connections, we need good public transport, we need good hotel accomodation. So this was part of the list of requirements that we had put in addition to what we needed as facilities, as a building in order to operate.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    They also needed homes for staff, like scientific administrator Esther Martinez. She had been living and working in London for 7 years when the Brexit vote happened.

  • Esther Martinez:

    I'm a firm believer in the European Union and working together and being united and having that diversity of nationalities makes it so rich that I was sad when I found out that the UK voted to leave.

  • Esther Martinez:

    So this is actually my neighborhood.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    She's getting used to life in Amsterdam, the good and bad. Apartments tend to be small, parking difficult, and she's still learning the language. But she loves the cafe culture, the trams that make it easy to get to work and, of course, the bikes.

  • Esther Martinez:

    The hardest thing is to go through all the paperwork that you need to go through to move. Opening the bank account, paying your taxes, understanding how all that works in the Netherlands, but we did actually have help.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Help from a company the city of Amsterdam hired as part of its pitch to host the EMA. Roz Fremder is the owner and says her firm has doubled in size since the Brexit vote.

  • Roz Fremder:

    Brexit is definitely good for the relocation business. I would say 80% of the private individuals that contact right now are from the UK. And also about 40% of the corporates coming in are looking to establish, if not relocate their entire companies from the UK to the Netherlands, at least establish a presence here.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    There's been a kind of Brexodus of corporations and individuals fleeing the UK. And almost 100 businesses have already shifted offices and jobs to the Netherlands.The British have been debating for the last three years ever since the referendum about how to leave the EU. An agreement hammered out early on was voted down by Parliament, the deadline extended from last March to October 31st, just a couple of weeks away. But still there is no new agreement. The British Parliament recently passed a law requiring the government not to leave the EU without a deal fearing economic chaos and concerns over trade taxes and the border. It's all cast a cloud of uncertainty over the other 27 EU member states. The Dutch don't want the UK to leave, but they are making the best of the situation, says Commissioner of the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency, Jeroen Nijland.

  • Jeroen Nijland:

    We are strategically located in this big European market which is the second biggest market in the world.So many companies come here because they use the Netherlands as an entry point into that Euorpean market. Businesses feel that this a very good base for their operations. Our workforce is highly educated and multilingual.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    In fact, English is almost universal here. More than 90% of the Dutch speak at least 2 languages, well above the EU average of about 50%. As for infrastructure, Rotterdam is home to the biggest harbor in Europe. And Amsterdam's Schiphol airport is the third busiest in Europe with dozens of direct connections to other EU capitals. But the Netherlands is not the only European country wooing businesses from the UK. One of its chief competitors is France. Notably, Paris has landed another EU agency, the European Banking Authority. Then there are Germany and Ireland: Dozens of banks and other financial companies have moved shop from the UK (or London) to Frankfurt and Dublin. All told, more than a $1 trillion worth of assets has already been sent out of the UK because of Brexit. And Nijland says the pace of movement is increasing as the October 31st deadline imposed by the EU nears. Besides the 100 companies which have moved to the Netherlands already, approximately 325 others have reached out to the Dutch.

  • Jeroen Nijland:

    The latest figures we have on France is that they are talking to 250 businesses, Luxembourg 80 and Belgium 100, so I think compared to the other countries we are doing quite well.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    But Brexit is a double-edged sword for the Netherlands. 75% of its exports including food and flowers are destined for the UK market. If new post-Brexit tariffs are imposed on those goods, they would drive up prices.

  • Paul Smit:

    A lot of companies who moved from the UK to the Netherlands and in that respect its good for our economy, of course, but we as a transport company can only lose on it.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Paul Smit, is sales manager at a trucking company which does 70% of its business with the UK. Smit predicts confusion and chaos at the ports where his trucks cross back and forth to England by ferry. He explained how a no-deal Brexit in particular would affect his daily business if shipments suddenly get stuck in customs.

  •  Christopher Livesay:

    What is the situation like right now?

  • Paul Smit:

    You can easily call us till 3 oclock today, we can load tomorrow, and the day after it's in the UK.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    So it pretty sounds easy.

  • Paul Smit:

    It is.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    What do you predict is going to be the case if Brexit becomes a reality.

  • Paul Smit:

    It's gonna add one day to the transport time. But in the beginning it's not going work so it's gonna add 4, 5, 6 days. We think when there is a hard Brexit it will come to a sort of standstill where nobody knows what's going to happen. All this will become more difficult and more costly and who is going to pay in the end?

  • Christopher Livesay:

    It's still too early in the Brexit process for the full effects, positive and negative, to be seen. The European Medicines Agency's Noel Wathion expects more good news for The Netherlands since hundreds of companies that consult with the EMA will likely consider establishing themselves in Amsterdam to be close to the EMA. And in any case, he says, whatever happens, the EMA is in the Netherlands to stay.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    As we sit here now Brexit is still not a reality. Meanwhile you've relocated the agency here, 900 staff members here. What are you going to do if Brexit in fact doesn't ever become a reality?

  • Noel Wathion:

    That decision was taken to relocate. We have relocated and we will be staying here.

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