Dutch circus act stretches out to a record six hours

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The Independent Online

Appropriately, the Dutch shareholders' meeting was held in the Circus theatre in the seaside resort of Scheveningen, near to The Hague.

Appropriately, the Dutch shareholders' meeting was held in the Circus theatre in the seaside resort of Scheveningen, near to The Hague.

Appropriate, as the meeting had much of the circus about it. The unexpectedly large number of shareholders turning up, some 1,700, delayed the meeting and meant there were not enough voting machines to go round, which would lead to more chaos later. Then, when the meeting got going, the constant procession of awkward questions meant that the meeting - normally two or three hours - ran for more than double even the longest previous time.

Shareholders questioned the Shell board for just over six hours, with the first person demanding that its president Jeroen van der Veer apologise to the shareholders and admit that what had been said did not correspond to reality, and calling on the directors to return their bonuses.

While not giving a commitment to the latter, Mr van der Veer did say he deeply regretted what had happened, the effects it had had and the shame it brought on the company.

The expected questions from environmentalists, this time regarding the Sakhalin pipeline and LNG field, did come but unlike previous years, they were dealt with fairly quickly.

At this stage it looked like the board had escaped unscathed, especially when the voting started and despite the problems with people having to share the electronic voting machines, majorities of 98 and 99 per cent were being recorded on most of the resolutions put forwards.

However, there were signs of rebellion when it came to the discharge of the directors' responsibilities during 2003. But even though the 50 million-plus votes in the meeting divided 3-1 in votes against the directors, they won the day thanks to the proxy votes already cast in their favour.

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