Royal Dutch Shell Group .com

Sunday Telegraph: Anglo-Dutch rows


The Dutch think the Brits are messing up their companies. That's a common feature of the infighting at both Royal Dutch Shell and Corus, the Anglo-Dutch steel group.


There's some truth in the allegations. At Shell, Sir Philip Watts, the British former chairman, is the principal culprit for the reserves debacle. And at Corus, billions were poured into loss-making British mills by Sir Brian Moffatt, the former boss, who again is a Brit.


But although the Dutch have a point, they draw precisely the wrong conclusion: that these groups need to hang on to their convoluted Anglo-Dutch structures for dear life. It is these double-headed structures that clog decision-making and preserve an "us and them" mentality. That erupts into national infighting when things go wrong.


Now, of course, viewed from Amsterdam, it doesn't look that way. As a smallish country, the Netherlands is anxious about economic power shifting to the City. Unify Royal Dutch and Shell into a single company and it would be only a matter of time before its centre of gravity crossed the North Sea.


That's already happened to Reed Elsevier, the Anglo-Dutch media group that abolished its dual structure following a crisis in 1999. And it may also happen to Unilever, the underperforming Anglo-Dutch food group which is moving to a de facto single structure.


The Dutch attitude is understandable, but wrong-headed. What Shell, Corus and Unilever need is effective governance, not national fiefdoms. It's not as if power drifting to London means all the top jobs go to the Brits. Dutchmen are, after all, running some pretty important British companies - notably British Telecom. And Corus and Unilever? Well, they are run by Frenchmen.


•Authors: Hugo Dixon, Edward Hadas and Jonathan Ford. For more breakingviews comments throughout the week, go to

Click here to return to Royal Dutch Shell Group .com