There were two new twists in a seven year battle over flooding a piece of land on the Westerschelde estuary in Zeeland on Thursday, when a debate in parliament was halted because of confusion over the EU’s position.
Junior farm minister Henk Bleker told MPs the European Commission agreed with a compromise proposal about breaking the dykes around the Hedwige polder to create a new area for wildlife, but a spokesman for Brussels told reporters this is not the case.
Bleker will get a letter outlining the Commission’s position today and, sources told reporters, officials are still not pleased about aspects of the revised plan.
Brussels had insisted the entire Hedwige polder be put under water to compensate for nature lost by deepening the Westerschelde estuary. The decision to flood the polder was first taken in 2005 as part of an agreement between the Netherlands and Belgium. But the new government did a u-turn on the plan, forcing Bleker to look for an alternative.
150 football pitches
Now Bleker is suggesting flooding one third of the polder – an area the size of around 150 football pitches, plus a couple of other pieces of land and a golf course.
Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigration PVV, also weighed into the dispute, using the microblogging service Twitter to say his party will not support the plan unless the people of Zeeland support it in a referendum.
‘Without a referendum, not one millimetre of support for Bleker,’ Wilders said.
This means there is unlikely to be majority support for the measure in parliament anyway. Labour, the second biggest party, wants the entire polder flooded as originally planned.
The Zeeland provincial council has agreed to the revised plans in a bid to settle the argument once and for all. ‘After seven years, it is time to end this discussion,’ local officials said in a letter to Bleker.
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