Christian Democrat leader and Foreign Affairs Minister Wopke Hoekstra has come under fire by political leaders and environmental groups for telling the AD that he was willing to push back a 2030 goal for a reduction in nitrogen emissions.
During his weekly press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters that the cabinet had received no official request to move a target to reduce nitrogen emissions by 50% within the next eight years. ‘We will … ensure that the talks that Johan Remkes is currently supervising are as successful as possible,’ Rutte told reporters. Remkes, the government mediator, is currently holding discussions with farmers’ groups, supermarkets and banks to find solutions to the crisis.
In an interview published in the AD yesterday, Hoekstra said that the 2030 deadline ‘wasn’t sacred’ and supported pushing it back if need be. The CDA does not want to pass the problems on to the next generations,’ he told the paper. ‘But farmers must also be able to earn a fair living.’
The 50% reduction target is part of the coalition agreement and breaking away could mean major problems for the government. Talking to reporters Friday morning, Rutte said Hoekstra’s remarks were just short of crossing the line. ‘Party leaders who are also in the cabinet, such as Hoekstra, have a little more space,’ he said. All members of the cabinet are responsible for implementing the agreement.
D66 leader Sigrid Kaag is also unhappy with Hoekstra’s remarks. ‘It is important that we as a cabinet stick to the agreements,’ she told reporters on Friday. ‘That’s the trustworthiness of the government.’ The target is especially important for her party, which wants livestock herds to be reduced and for farmers to switch to less polluting methods.
Environmental groups also criticised Hoekstra. ‘Postponing the nitrogen targets is the death sentence for vulnerable nature in the Netherlands,’ the Dutch branch of the World Wildlife Fund said in a statement. Hank Bartelink, director of LandscapesNL an umbrella organisation for nature preservation groups in the Netherlands, told the NOS Hoekstra’s was bowing to the terror of the farmers’ groups. ‘As far as I’m concerned, this is laying the ax to the root of democracy,’ he said.
Not everyone was unhappy with Hoekstra however. The Farmers Defense Force, which has staged dozens of protests in recent weeks by dumping waste, blocking motorways and committing arson, was pleased. ‘What has been built up in 100 years, in total emissions from society and through policy, cannot be changed in a few years,’ the group’s spokesperson Sieta van Keimpena told the NOS.
Hoekstra refused to walk back his remarks, blaming polarisation in society for the backlash. ‘Today again makes it crystal clear: we need a change of mentality,’ he said in a statement on Twitter.
Parliament is planning to return early from it’s summer recess to debate the issue on Tuesday.
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