The day after the massive farmers’ protest in Stroe, it was up to the House of Representatives on Thursday to express their anger and concerns about nitrogen policy.
The third party in the Netherlands, the PVV, immediately tried to exploit the fact that the nitrogen approach puts tension on the coalition and the cabinet. How long could government parties VVD and CDA still see that members and voters ran away, pestered PVV MP Edgar Mulder. Will D66 continue to push the nitrogen approach “down their throats”? Coalition party ChristenUnie could end it today by withdrawing support.
The coalition parties also criticized the policy and each other, but had no intention of being talked into a crisis. The CDA and the ChristenUnie were not happy with the way in which Minister Christianne van der Wal (Nature and Nitrogen, VVD) presented the nitrogen policy two weeks ago: via a now infamous color map of the Netherlands with the nitrogen targets per area. The cabinet wants nitrogen emissions to be reduced by 50 percent by 2030, and 74 percent of the vulnerable nature areas may not be further affected by nitrogen.
‘More doubts than answers’
CDA MP Derk Boswijk thought that Van der Wal with the card “raises more doubts than answers”. Farming families can then see whether the nitrogen in their region needs to fall, from 12 to 70 percent. But how this should be done is still completely unclear, because provinces have a year to come up with concrete measures. The map was therefore referred to as a “talking board” in the debate.
Like CDA member Boswijk, MP Pieter Grinwis of the Christian Union also expressed his annoyance at a statement by D66 party leader Jan Paternotte. He spoke at his party’s congress in Den Bosch last Saturday about “slumping provinces”: provincial administrators who oppose the cabinet’s far-reaching nitrogen targets.
D66 MP Tjeerd de Groot did not just let that say about his party. ChristenUnie party leader Gert-Jan Segers had said on the radio this week that the nitrogen policy could lead to “a form of civil war”. “That’s just throwing oil on the fire,” said De Groot.
Minister Van der Wal seemed relaxed during her first major parliamentary debate on this far-reaching subject. She listened attentively for more than six hours to sixteen speakers from the House – four political groups did not participate. She took notes and sometimes whispered to colleague minister Henk Staghouwer (Agriculture, ChristenUnie) next to her in Vak K. Van der Wal rarely looked at her phone.
Roelof Bisschop (SGP) and Pieter Omtzigt during the debate. Photo David van Dam
What stood out was the minister’s expressive facial expression. Van der Wal vehemently shook no when MP Caroline van der Plas of the BoerBurgerBeweging claimed that the cabinet had allowed itself to be imposed on the strict European nitrogen rules uncritically. And nodded enthusiastically yes, when CDA member Boswijk asked whether the provinces still have room to fulfill the nitrogen targets.
Van der Wal even received a compliment from time to time during the long debate, for example from the Party for the Animals, which the minister called the first minister for Agriculture who honestly says what is needed to save nature.
Minister Staghouwer, on the other hand, received a lot of criticism for his carefully coordinated fifty-page letter, in which he tried to offer the farmers ‘perspective’. “Yet little more than a staple due to all kinds of existing subsidy schemes,” said SGP Member of Parliament Roelof Bisschop. “Brodelwerk”, GroenLinks party leader Jesse Klaver also thought.
Also read: Van der Plas dominates, but six right-wing parties are fighting for a farmer’s vote in nitrogen debate
Many groups found it inconvenient of Minister Van der Wal that now only the farmers are addressed. The map with nitrogen targets only determines what the agricultural sector must contribute to the reduction of nitrogen emissions (40 percent). That’s right, Van der Wal acknowledged. She promised to come up with nitrogen targets for other sectors, such as industry and transport, around the turn of the year. Those figures are not yet available, but Van der Wal did not want to wait to start talking with the provinces and farmers.
What Van der Wal strongly opposed was “the frame” that the entire agricultural sector would be “swept away”. Reducing nitrogen emissions, livestock or the number of farmers is never the goal in itself, she reiterated. The Netherlands simply has to comply with European rules to restore nature.
Can Van der Wal, or rather Prime Minister Rutte, not go to Brussels to have those environmental rules from 1992 adjusted, asked BBB and JA21.
Certainly not, the Netherlands can no longer afford anything in terms of nitrogen, replied Van der Wal. “We are the worst boy in the class in all of Europe.”
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A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of June 24, 2022