The Netherlands: Gateway to Europe

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The Dutch port of Rotterdam is already Europe's biggest seaport, and the prosperity of the Common Market pours through it in a growing current of trade. Strategically set astride the Rhine-Maas waterway, which leads to the heart of industrial Europe, Rotterdam handles more cargo than Antwerp, Bremen and Hamburg put together—and nearly as much as New York (90.1 million tons v. New York's 90.5). Ambitious Rotterdam and its wily businessmen are not content with second place. They have launched a campaign to pass New York as the world's biggest port, are busily building a $250 million addition, called Europoort, that they expect will do the trick.

As the gateway to Europe (its watery fingers reach into every Common Market country except Italy), Rotterdam last year handled 25,000 ocean-going ships and 250,000 barges. Unlike New York's spread-out and orderly waterfront, its 17-mile river route to the North Sea is a forest of cranes, derricks and masts through which ships of all sizes confidently move in every direction. Along its banks are such big oil refiners as Shell, Caltex, Esso, Mobil and British Petroleum, which have made Rotterdam one of the world's main oil-refining centers. The port boasts the Verolme shipyards, one of Europe's biggest, the headquarters of the Holland-America Line, the world's biggest artificial harbor, and a growing chemical and petrochemical complex.

Nothing but Work. While location has played a major part in Rotterdam's success, equal credit must go to the farsighted businessmen of the city. Rotterdam was devastated by German bombing in World War II, and retreating Germans dynamited 35% of the harbor facilities. But even under Nazi occupation, Rotterdam's businessmen met secretly and laid plans for the harbor's postwar expansion. At war's end, they invested all available money in the port, purposely leaving the main district a bombed-out, barren plain for five years. Rotterdam built steadily, has increased its prewar business 276%.

Living in one of Europe's least exciting cities, Rotterdammers have little else to do but work and plan. The city's businessmen and burghers have learned well how to bludgeon their projects through the Dutch government. One favorite trick is to get a commitment for projects on the basis of low-cost estimates, then trap the government into supporting rising estimates once the project is under way. Filling 3,125 watery acres for the Botlek oil piers in 1954, Rotterdammers estimated costs at $35.9 million; eventually, after the government gave approval, the piers cost $41.4 million. When the government refused permission for a runway extension at Zestienhoven Airport, the city, realizing that more room would be needed for jet traffic, built the extension anyway, covered it with sod until the project finally got approval.

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