Ferrovial, the Spanish infrastructure group and part owner of Heathrow airport, has triggered a political storm by proposing to shift its head office to the Netherlands after its founder raised questions over the business environment in Spain.

“I don’t think it’s acceptable,” said Nadia Calviño, Spain’s deputy prime minister, as several members of the government condemned Ferrovial’s move and suggested it was betraying a country to which it was indebted.

Calviño said she had “expressed my rejection of this wrong decision” on a call on Wednesday with Rafael del Pino, Ferrovial’s billionaire chair and the son of its founder.

The Socialist-led coalition government has made attracting foreign capital a priority and secured several high-profile investments, but it remains unpopular with many Spanish corporate leaders who dislike its tax policies, legal reforms and criticism of big business.

Del Pino, who owns 20 per cent of the €19bn company, said in January: “I believe that we must turn Spain back into an attractive investment destination and a magnet for the best talent, and for this we need a competitive labour framework and legal certainty in all areas.”

Calviño said: “This is a company that owes everything to Spain, that has grown thanks to public investments financed by Spanish citizens. It is an emblem of our country.”

Ferrovial’s decision “seems to go against the interests and the image” of Spain, she added.

Explaining its move late on Tuesday, Ferrovial said in a presentation for investors that the Netherlands has a “stable legal framework” and triple A credit rating and is the “country of choice” for companies with a significant presence in Europe and the US.

It said the move would align its corporate structure with its growing international profile, noting that it earned 82 per cent of its revenue outside Spain last year. The company added that it would facilitate its plans to apply for a US stock market listing.

Ferrovial said it would need to secure shareholder approval and would aim to complete the move in the second or third quarter of 2023.

It stressed that the reorganisation “has been designed to keep employment, activity, and investments in Spain intact”. It also said it would have “no material tax impact for the group”, anticipating criticism that it was trying to cut its tax bill.

But the comments did not avert the political blowback. “We have to work towards a Europe where tax dumping does not exist,” said Yolanda Díaz, deputy prime minister and a member of the leftwing coalition partner Unidas Podemos.

“I ask the shareholders to reconsider this decision, and I hope that the economy ministry will take the necessary measures to prevent this from happening. This is not being Spanish. To be Spanish is to defend your place in your country,” she said.

An economy ministry official said: “We are awaiting the details in order to closely analyse the possible implications of this erroneous decision.” The official described Ferrovial’s decision as “paradoxical” given the public funds Spain was investing in infrastructure and the foreign investments it was attracting.

The government has upset Spanish businesses with moves including its decision to impose windfall taxes on the “extraordinary profits” of its biggest banks and energy companies in 2023 and 2024.

Juan Bravo, the top economic official of the opposition People’s party, said Ferrovial’s decision was an indictment of the government. “The risk we run is that there will be a contagion effect,” he said. “We must try to attract foreign investment in Spain. But the first thing we have to do is to make sure that the giants we have in Spain, the Spanish leaders, don’t leave us.”

Ferrovial would shift its head office by merging its parent company into its wholly owned subsidiary Ferrovial International, which has been based in the Netherlands since 2018. After the merger the parent company would be domiciled in the Netherlands and listed in Amsterdam and Madrid, and would subsequently apply to be listed in the US.

In addition to its 25 per cent stake in London’s Heathrow airport, Ferrovial operates airports in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Southampton and manages a terminal of New York’s JFK. Its toll road division includes projects in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Slovakia and Australia.

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