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Dutch ministers trying to stop tech firm ASML moving abroad over foreign labour fears


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The Dutch government is scrambling to ensure that the country’s largest company, the semiconductor equipment maker ASML, does not move operations or expand abroad after the tech firm voiced concerns over the country’s hardening stance on migrants.

On Wednesday, the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported that the Dutch government had launched a cross-ministry effort, dubbed “Operation Beethoven”, to encourage ASML to continue to invest in the country.

For months, ASML, which sources parts from around the world but assembles its machines in Veldhoven in the the south of the Netherlands, has been warning against any moves that could hinder its ability to attract skilled foreign labour.

ASML ranks among Europe’s most valuable tech firms; about 40% of its 23,000 employees in the Netherlands are not Dutch.

In January, the company’s CEO, Peter Wennink, said it was poised to expand its operations. “Ultimately, we can only grow this company if there are enough qualified people,” he told the Dutch broadcaster RTL.

“We prefer to do that here, but if we cannot get those people here, we will get those people in Eastern Europe or in Asia or in the United States.”

His warnings have played out against a backdrop of government policies targeting migrants; the administration has been working to scale back a tax break for highly skilled immigrants while weighing whether to limit the number of foreigners who can attend Dutch universities.

Further moves to tighten immigration could be on the horizon after last autumn’s election, which resulted in the far-right, anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV) emerging as the largest party in parliament.

While the PVV, which won 37 seats, is still in fraught negotiations aimed at cobbling together enough support to lead a government with a majority in the 150-seat parliament, its leader, Geert Wilders, has said his priorities include ushering in a stricter immigration policy.

During a January call with investors, Wennink laid bare what that could mean for ASML. “Be careful, because you will soon get exactly what you ask for,” he said. “The consequences of limiting labour migration are large – we need those people to innovate. If we can’t get those people here, we will go somewhere where we can grow.”

On Wednesday, De Telegraaf reported that Wennink was set to meet the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte. The company had submitted several requests to the government and had mentioned France as a possible destination for expansion, the paper noted.

While ASML declined to comment, the country’s minister of economic affairs, Micky Adriaansen, confirmed to Reuters that the government was in talks with the company. “I don’t know if they would leave [the Netherlands],” she said. “They want to grow. And they want to grow in such an amount, it puts a pressure on our infrastructure.”

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This year has seen shares in ASML, which dominates the market for the lithography systems used to create the circuitry in chips, climb to record highs, cementing its place as one of Europe’s largest companies by market value.

Much of this growth has been buoyed by a boom in artificial intelligence that has sent demand for chip technology soaring and that recently saw US chipmaker Nvidia hit a stock market valuation of $2tn.

Chipmakers around the world have poured billions of dollars of investment into new plants, spurred on by the rising use of semiconductors in everyday devices as well as subsidies from the US and the EU aimed at keeping the west ahead of China in the race for cutting-edge technology.

ASML is far from the first body to express concerns over how the rise in anti-migrant sentiment is clashing with the continent’s economic reality. In January, the EU’s top official for migration alluded to the need to strike a balance between concerns over migration and the peril posed by the continent’s ageing population.

“For demographic reasons, the population of working age in the EU will decrease by 1m per year,” Ylva Johansson, the EU home affairs commissioner, said. “That means that legal migration should grow by more or less 1m per year. And that is really a challenge.”

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