Dutch Foreign Minister and Christian Democrat leader Wopke Hoekstra said today that the target of halving nitrogen emissions by 2030 in the Netherlands “is not sacred”, which provoked criticism from Prime Minister Mark Rutte, as the country is in the midst of a crisis with the agricultural sector over this issue.
Hoekstra, leader of the Christian Democratic Party (CDA), said in an interview with the AD newspaper that the government’s goal of halving emissions across the Netherlands by 2030 “is not sacred” for his group, which is part of the four-party coalition led by Rutte, and urged to “restart the process, without dogmas”.
With this statement, the also deputy prime minister of the Netherlands seems to break with the coalition agreement reached last December with the Liberals (VVD), the Progressives (D66), and Christian Union (CU), by which the four pledged to comply with the 2019 ruling of the Council of State, which ruled that the then policy to reduce nitrogen emissions was not strict and violated the laws of the European Union (EU).
In a first reaction, Rutte questioned his minister’s stance, suggested that these statements might even violate “constitutional law,” and asserted that Hoekstra has more room to express himself politically as leader of CDA, “but of course, that must remain the exception.”
Sigrid Kaag, Minister of Finance and leader of D66, warned her Christian Democrat colleague that “if he has reached an agreement, then he must be ready to implement it,” considered Hoekstra’s change of position “extremely remarkable” and recalled that the coalition made “serious” agreements last year.
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“The CDA does not want to pass on the problems to the next generations, but farmers must also be able to earn a fair living,” Hoekstra added, denying that he had given in to pressure from farmers and ranchers who have staged protests in recent weeks by blocking highways.
Some 700 people have been arrested in various demonstrations this summer.
Hoekstra stressed that “farmers have to become allies again” in the ongoing negotiation process between the government and the agricultural sector, although reaching the Agenda 2030 target will require farm closures.
Ministry of Finance estimates suggest that 11,200 livestock farmers would have to close their businesses and 17,600 would have to reduce livestock numbers to meet the targets.
Nitrogen-based emissions, such as ammonia, will have to decrease by 12% to 95% in certain nature reserves, according to a government map.
Economic crisis in sight
Despite the strong recovery in recent months, economic growth in the Netherlands will slow next year, purchasing power will fall by 6.8% this year and child poverty could reach 9.5%, according to forecasts published Friday by the Central Planning Bureau (CPB).
Data from this macroeconomic planning agency of the government show that “households are feeling the consequences of high inflation and that has repercussions on the economy,” said CPB director Pieter Hasekamp, who warned that the number of people who barely make ends meet and run the risk of not being able to pay for energy is growing.
For this year, CPB continues to count on a high growth rate of 4.6%, mainly due to the strong increase recorded in the second quarter: GDP has risen by 2.6% since the first quarter of 2022, despite the energy crisis, consumer distrust and historic inflation, which was 8.6% in June.
But next year the economy will probably only grow by 1.1%, and it is estimated that, if the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine doesn’t worsen further, inflation will reach 9.9% this year, to fall next year to 4.3%, which is still a relatively high figure.
The data also warns that 7.6 % of the Dutch population could live below the poverty line next year, up from 5.7 % in 2021 and 6.7 % this year, which could reach 9.5 % for children.
“I have never seen data like this before. This is dramatic. Especially for people who already have it hard and will soon not be able to pay their energy bills,” Hasekamp added to NOS public television.
These estimates published by CPB in August are eagerly awaited by the political circle in the Netherlands, the fifth-largest economy in the eurozone, as the general state budget is published next month and Mark Rutte’s government is under pressure to take measures to alleviate the effect of high inflation on households.
Editor’s note: The quotes featured in this article were translated from Spanish to English and edited for publication.