By Christoph Schult and Anne Seith
The Netherlands, Berlin's most important ally in pushing for greater budgetary discipline in Europe, has fallen into an economic crisis itself. The once exemplary economy is suffering from huge debts and a burst real estate bubble, which has stalled growth and endangered jobs.
Michel Scheepens is familiar with risk. The 41-year-old oversees the energy market for the Dutch bank ING, and it's his job to determine whether his employer should finance such projects as a wind farm in Cyprus or a gas-fired power plant in Turkey. Until now, it was always other people's money that was involved.
For some time, however, Scheepens has been experiencing what a poor investment feels like on a personal level. Six years ago, the father of three bought half of a duplex for his family in the commuter town of Nieuw-Vennep, near the North Sea coast. The red brick building cost €430,000 ($552,000), but the bank generously offered him a loan of €500,000, so that there was enough money left over for renovations, along with notary and community fees. Scheepens had intended to resell the house after a few years, as is common in the Netherlands. But then prices tumbled following the Lehman bankruptcy. If the family were to sell the house today, it would have to pay the lender €60,000. His house is "onder water," as Scheepens says.
"Underwater" is a good description of the crisis in a country where large parts of the territory are below sea level. Ironically, the Netherlands, once a model economy, now faces the kind of real estate crisis that has only affected the ...