Is the Dutch ‘mainport’ era over?

A report for the Dutch government has questioned the value of subsidies paid to transport hubs in the Netherlands, such as the port of Rotterdam and Schiphol airport. The subsidies have been controversial for many years for creating unfair competitive advantages, but their usefulness is now under discussion.

The Dutch concept of ‘mainports’ refers to transport hubs that are important for the Dutch economy. They have received subsidies that have distorted competition in a way that has added to the environmental burden. At the same time, and unsurprisingly, the Dutch government has opposed schemes to tackle emissions from aviation and shipping, such as emissions trading.

Now the Dutch advisory council for the environment has published a report, Mainports Over, in which it says the importance to the economy of the hubs enjoying ‘mainport’ status is declining. It says: ‘Various developments are changing the way in which Schiphol and the port of Rotterdam contribute to the Netherlands’ economy. These developments are also changing what the Netherlands needs in the future to remain an ambitious and competitive country.’ As an example, it says the importance of the port of Rotterdam to the Dutch economy has halved in the past 25 years.