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EU Policy. First ruling farmer protesters to shake bloc’s agriculture policy

The Netherlands' Farmer-Citizen Movement – BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB) – was born after the 2019 farmers’ protest against radically curb agriculture emissions.
The Netherlands' Farmer-Citizen Movement – BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB) – was born after the 2019 farmers’ protest against radically curb agriculture emissions. Copyright Peter Dejong/AP Photo
Copyright Peter Dejong/AP Photo
By Gerardo Fortuna
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A farmers’ protest movement has entered a European government for the first time in the Netherlands. What will be its impact on EU policies?

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The Netherlands' Farmer-Citizen Movement – BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB) – has become the first activist farmers' political group to break into government after striking an agreement with three other parties to form a right-wing government on Thursday (16 May).

In a statement, party leader Caroline Van der Plas said that the party had "played a major role" in brokering the deal "with our attitude".

Born after the 2019 farmers’ protest against the then government's plans to radically curb agriculture emissions, the inclusion of BBB in the forthcoming executive will imply a change of tack in the country’s farming policies – that might affect the EU’s too.

“Our farmers, gardeners and fishermen should be cherished because they are important for our food supply and the Dutch cultural landscape and are an inseparable part of our Dutch culture,” the 26-page coalition agreement reads.

The text details future government action on agriculture, putting farmers “at the helm” of policies that “will be based on what works in practice” through regular consultations with farming organisations.

“Adapting European directives so that they are workable and support the earnings model,” is one domestic manifesto pledge, while it undertakes to propose no national measures more ambitious than existing EU standards.

The current 'Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality' Ministry will be renamed 'Agriculture, Fisheries, Food Security and Nature', reflecting renewed interest in the concept of food security among right-wing parties across Europe.

No cuts in livestock population

The biggest shift is set to take place in the country’s nitrogen policy: a key battleground for Dutch farmers.

Nitrogen emissions represent a big source of pollution in the Netherlands where dangerous nitrogen compounds such as ammonia and nitrogen dioxides are mostly released into the air by animal manure and fertiliser use.

Previous decisions to tackle nitrogen pollution envisaged drastic cuts in livestock farming to halve emissions by 2030. “There is no aim – unlike in recent years – to reduce the livestock population and there will be no forced expropriations," said BBB’s Van der Plas.

Every effort will be made to reach better and more workable standards in agreement with the EU, the coalition agreement reads, adding that, in the meantime, emergency measures needed to solve the ongoing crisis will be considered.

In particular, the central government will take the lead in the licensing of manure processing – although in cooperation with provinces and municipalities.

The manifesto touts greater cooperation between arable and livestock farmers to ensure more efficient spreading of manure on arable land.

The ruling parties also want to focus on access to land for young farmers, so they can start new businesses or take over existing ones.

The development of new earning models in the food chain that include industry and banks, the reintroduction of red diesel and the continuation of the excise duty reduction on fuel for next year are other commitments listed in the coalition agreement.

Impact on EU policy

The new approach of the Dutch government could impact both the Nitrate Directive and the EU framework for protected areas known as Natura 2000.

On one hand, the ruling parties claim they will bring nitrogen and phosphate standards in surface water in line with neighbouring countries such as Belgium and Germany in a bid to reduce nutrient-polluted areas.

On the other, the Netherlands will revise its designation of vulnerable areas within Natura 2000, currently subject to review by member states.

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The previous national policy was to consider the whole country ‘vulnerable’. “The Netherlands is going to demonstrate in Brussels that certain areas are no longer vulnerable, this can be done immediately,” the coalition agreement reads.

The position of the new government seems, however, close to the Commission’s regarding the new rules for the transport of live animals proposed last December.

“The transport of animals over long distances should be ended if it cannot be done according to the applicable, European animal welfare requirements,” the text of the agreement between the ruling parties says.

On trade, the new Dutch government will work toward banning imports of what is not allowed to be produced in the Netherlands to ensure a level playing field when concluding international trade agreements.

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