SHAREHOLDERS of infrastructure group Ferrovial voted on Thursday in favour of the company’s controversial plan to move its holding company to the Netherlands. The announcement by one of the country’s biggest firms that it would essentially no longer be Spanish caused outrage in the government, which accused it of ‘betrayal’. 

In late February, the company made the shock announcement of its plan to relocate its head office to the Netherlands, where it will merge with its subsidiary, Ferrovial International SE (FISE). 

At the time, it said that it was doing so to facilitate a listing on US stock exchanges, but also claimed that the Netherlands offered a ‘stable legal framework’. 

This appeared to be veiled criticism of the business environment that has been shaped by the current Spanish government, which is a coalition of the Socialist Party and leftist Unidas Podemos, and prompted the ire of the administration of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

‘In Spain there are extraordinarily positive examples of businesspeople who are committed to our country,’ PM Sanchez said at the time. ‘That is not the case with Mr Del Pino,’ he added, in reference to the company’s chairman and main shareholder Rafael del Pino.

‘Ferrovial is what it is because it owes everything to this country, and I believe that this decision is not in line with the effort that the country has made in terms of investments,’ government spokesperson Isabel Rodriguez told reporters when the announcement was made, in reference to the public works contracts the company has won in Spain over the years. 

There were also accusations that the company was making the move to pay less tax. But this is something that Mr Del Pino has denied, claiming that it will be subject to the same levies as it is now in comments reported by Reuters. 

The company has also contested the Spanish government’s claims that it could apply for a US listing from Spain, pointing out that it will also enjoy better liquidity in the Netherlands and lower financing costs, thanks to that country’s AAA credit rating. 

When it announced the move, Ferrovial also stated that it earned 82% of its revenues outside of Spain last year. 

Speaking at today’s shareholders meeting, which was packed with journalists given the media attention the planned move has attracted, Del Pino called for the operation to be ‘framed within the freedom of establishment that nurtures the very essence of the European Union’. 

This was interpreted by the Spanish press as a clear message to the government in the wake of its opposition. 

‘Respect the decision’

For its part, the Sanchez administration was quick to react to today’s vote, with sources from the Economic Affairs Ministry stating that the government ‘respected the decision’ made by the shareholders. 

‘We are going to continue working in a constructive way with all Spanish companies to defend their interests and boost their expansion and growth,’ the same sources added, in comments reported by Spanish daily El Pais.

Ferrovial was founded in the 1950s by the father of the current chairman Rafael del Pino.

It is the part owner of Heathrow Airport in the UK, as well as operating other airports such as Aberdeen and Glasgow in Scotland, and also a terminal of JFK in New York. It has toll road projects in the US, Canada and Australia, among other countries, and is valued at around €19 billion. 

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