Although the deal between Groningen and FB Oranjewoud has been concluded, one of the other shareholders raised his finger last week. Liveable Tynaarlo would have liked it better if Tynaarlo, or one of the other shareholders, had bought the shares of the municipality of Groningen.
Because suppose the airport is closed down, then the land as a residential construction site is worth gold. The other shareholders are the provinces of Drenthe and Groningen and the municipalities of Assen and Tynaarlo.
The fact that the shares were sold to the Frisian foundation came as a surprise to many. Because for the first time, Frisians become financially involved with the airport and, moreover, never before was a private party (co-) owner of Eelde.
The municipality of Groningen was happy to get rid of the shares. She wanted it since 2017. The city does not see keeping an airport afloat as a municipal task. Let the provinces do that, she thinks.
The airport itself also welcomed the transaction. Support from the entrepreneurial side is of great importance, reacted chairman Leendert Klaassen of the Supervisory Board of Groningen Airport Eelde.
“FB Oranjewoud is a foundation that stands up for the social, economic and social development of the Northern Netherlands. This fits perfectly with the perspective of the airport as a northern airport, “said Klaassen in the Dagblad van het Noorden.
Do not pay
But the share transfer raises questions, because it is unclear what the foundation wants with the airport. FB Oranjewoud has already announced that it does not want to contribute to the investment plans that exist. So at the moment at least the airport is not getting along too much.
FB Oranjewoud is a foundation that manages the legacy of the sale of the Friesland Bank. That bank came into the hands of Rabobank in 2012, which in exchange for ownership gave 126 million euros to the Friesland Bank Foundation, which was later renamed FB Oranjewoud. The aim of the foundation is to promote the social, economic and cultural climate in the Northern Netherlands.
Although FB refers to Oranjewoud, which resides in a villa in the leafy Oranjewoud, in the Northern Netherlands as a working area, it primarily shows Frisian through and through. FB stands for Fryslân Boppe and on its website FB Oranjewoud says it wants to promote the Frisian economy and identity. ‘Tsjoch op’ is the motto of the foundation, two words from the first sentence of the Frisian national anthem, Frysk bleeds up: Friesian blood, get moving.
You could conclude that FB Oranjewoud sees the participation in GAE as a way to advance the Frisian province. This is in contrast to the actions of Frisian politics, which although supported the lobby for the airport, but never wanted to pay for it.
FB Oranjewoud supports a typical Frisian sport like bouncing, helps Frisian companies with export plans and stimulates all kinds of cultural initiatives. The organization also participates in ten companies, one of which is Groningen, windmill builder Steg in Hoogezand.
One of the most important participations is the publishing group NDC Mediagroep, a mixed Frisian-Groningen company and publisher of, among others, the Dagblad van het Noorden and the Leeuwarder Courant. FB Oranjewoud holds 82 percent of the shares.
Like NDC, Groningen Airport Eelde also benefits from a financially strong party as a shareholder. NDC and GAE are in a bad financial position, they are losing money and to keep them afloat or to make investments, money from others is needed. In the first place, that will be the shareholders, because no bank will now put money into these organizations.
But how FB Oranjewoud is financially is as unclear as what FB Oranjewoud’s plans for the airport are. The foundation does not disclose financial figures.
They do belong to the subsidiary FB Oranjewoud Holding. The annual figures show that this daughter suffered heavy losses. In 2018 it was a net loss of fifteen million euros and in 2017 the loss amounted to eight million. In 2016 there was just under a quarter of a million. Results for 2019 are not yet known.
In addition, the equity of FB Oranjewoud Holding is negative (-7.5 million euros). The holding also relies heavily on borrowed money, with a total debt of EUR 94 million.
Looking at the figures, FB Oranjewoud Holding is a sorely ailing and hardly viable company. However, according to a consulted financial specialist and a professor, it is possible that the activities of the holding company will be financed by the foundation.
No annual accounts and profit or loss figures are published for FB Oranjewoud Participaties, the private limited company that bought the shares in Groningen Airport Eelde. It is clear, however, that this part, like the holding company, with a debt of over 50 million euros, relies heavily on borrowed money.
How much money the parent company Stichting FB Oranjewoud has in cash to keep the subsidiaries afloat will not be announced. Chairman Jorrit Volkers of FB Oranjewoud does not want to answer any questions about the financial situation. In a written response, FB Oranjewoud states:
“It is FBO’s policy whether or not to have the participating interests make statements about their performance and to provide no further explanation of the financial performance of FBO itself or its subsidiary or holding companies.”
It is therefore impossible to say what remains of the original 126 million euros eight years after the establishment of FB Oranjewoud.
Pull the wallet
FB Oranjewoud makes money with the participations in the companies. They can pay dividends and interest income will come in through loans that FB Oranjewoud provides to the companies in which it participates.
On the other hand, FB Oranjewoud has to pull the wallet at companies that are not doing so well. This is the case, for example, with the heavily loss-making participation in NDC that is supported by millions by FB Oranjewoud.
With the corona crisis in mind, it is also quite possible that other companies owned by the Frisian foundation will also turn to them for financial support.
The other shareholders, the provinces of Groningen and Drenthe and the municipalities of Assen and Tynaarlo, as well as the airport itself, have not conducted any research into the finances of the new shareholder.
The airport management says “not to be a party”. Chairman Leendert Klaassen of the GAE Supervisory Board says he has no insight into it. The Groningen Deputy Rijzebol (Economic Affairs) says he has “absolute confidence” in FB Oranjewoud.
So the shareholders are immediately at the table with a party that they do not know about financially, while millions are needed to keep the airport afloat alone. They are also in the dark about the plans of FBO Oranjewoud with the airport.
In addition, the new GAE shareholder certainly does not want to invest in the airport yet. The existing plans must be paid by the other shareholders.
Nobody will bother with an investment of one euro. But how FB Oranjewoud’s involvement translates into actual financial support and assistance in making plans that help the airport move forward, Fryslân Boppe Oranjewoud does not answer that.
CEO GAE asks the ministry for financial support
Interim director Bart Schmeink of Groningen Airport Eelde asks the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment to set up a national fund from which the management and maintenance of the airport can be paid. He does this in an interview with the Financieel Dagblad. In the interview, Schmeink calls the financial position of the northern airport “disastrous”.
A national pot should be the starting point for a single infrastructure system, with Schiphol as the figurehead. Schmeink sees it as ProRail for the airport, from which the costs for management and maintenance must be paid for all airports in the Netherlands.
“Compare the function of airports with that of rail and bridges,” says Schmeink. The annual costs for management, maintenance and safety for Groningen Airport Eelde are four to seven million euros.
Groningen Airport Eelde prefers to go a step further. Schmeink continues in the interview that an alliance with Schiphol would be a “logical option”. As a director, Schiphol could then arrange the distribution of flights across the Netherlands. “CEO Dick Benschop understands this,” reports Schmeink. However, the discussions with Schiphol have not yielded any concrete results.
The step of FB Oranjewoud to take a minority share in Groningen Airport Eelde is followed with interest by Frisian politics.
“This is a surprising step that I did not see coming,” said group chairman Johan Tjalsma of the CDA, with eight seats the largest party in the Provincial Council of Friesland. “I know Oranjewoud as an enterprising party that knows what it is doing. A party that may bring new impetus. ”
Coalition partner PvdA calls it “an interesting development” through group chairman Hetty Janssen. “I read it with interest, I am very curious about what Oranjewoud is planning with the airport.”
FNP, also a coalition party, says the following: “Who knows what beautiful things will result from this”, says party chairman Corlienke de Jong.
The VVD is the most enthusiastic. “It is very nice that FB Oranjewoud is taking this step,” says group leader Klaas Kielstra. “It’s a good signal.”
However, the four coalition parties do not see the Frisian private step as a minority shareholder of Groningen Airport Eelde as a prelude to a shareholding in the province of Friesland.
In 2017, this question came up earlier, when the shareholders asked the province of Friesland to contribute to the investment agenda of 46 million euros. Friesland reacted negatively at the time and that is no different now.
“I don’t immediately see a reason why we have to get in now,” says Tjalsma (CDA). “The eastern side of Friesland, say Drachten and the surrounding area, is oriented towards Groningen and Drenthe. But the south and west sides of our province are not. I therefore find the development around Lelystad Airport more interesting. What will happen there? This is a new, good connection for the inhabitants of that side of our province. An airport also needs mass, mass that is near Lelystad. There is none at Groningen Airport Eelde. ”
The other parties also do not want to join as a shareholder, although the VVD leaves the door ajar.
“That is a step too far for now,” VVD member Kielstra continues. “But I have been an advocate for a robust northern infrastructure agenda for some time. And as far as I am concerned Groningen Airport Eelde is definitely part of that. “