Provinces reversing nitrogen measures over farmers' protest "unwise": Public Order expert

Tractors block traffic in Den Haag just before evening rush hour
Tractors in Den Haag caused a traffic jam on the S101 already at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 1, 2019Photo: NL Times

The provinces of Gelderland, Overijssel and Drenthe followed Friesland's example and announced on Monday that they are reversing the nitrogen measures they announced last week. This happened as hundreds of farmers took their tractors to protest at eight provincial governments. "This is asking for further actions", Jan Brouwer, director of the Center for Public Order and Safety, said to NOS. 

"In the Netherlands you see little in the way of giving in to demonstrators in such a short time. Taking something off the table for the time being on the basis of unilateral resistance is a new phenomenon and unwise", Brouwer said to the broadcaster. The decision by Drenthe, Overijssel, and Gelderland on Monday, and Friesland on Friday, is sending a wrong signal to other groups. It says that a more inconvenient protest - such as blocking highways or streets with tractors - pays off, regardless of whether the reason for the protest is legitimate, he said.

In Groningen, the farmers' protest on Monday got out of hand. Protesters rammed the door of the provincial government with a tractor and stormed the building. One person was injured and one demonstrator was arrested for hitting a police horse with a tractor. 

"I think the farmers should be careful that they do not overplay their hand", Brouwer said to NOS. "Because if you pull a monumental door out of a provincial house, then you have reached the limits of the right to demonstrate. I think you even crossed it."

Politicians in The Hague also think that the protesters in Groningen went too far. D66 leader Rob Jetten, PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher, and GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver, among others, condemned the violence used. As dit VVD parliamentarian Helma Lodders, the party's spokesperson in the field of agriculture. 

On Monday the farmers were protesting against new nitrogen rules. On October 4th, Agriculture Minister Carola Schouten announced how she plans to make sure hat less nitrogen ends up in the Netherlands' natural areas, so that new building permits can be issued again. A central part of this was reducing nitrogen emissions from agriculture.

As provinces are involved in issuing building permits, they had to draw up their own rules. The 12 Dutch provinces announced their rules on October 8th, stating that on balance, there can be no extra nitrogen emissions. Sources of nitrogen emissions in an area must therefore disappear, before a new project that will lead to an increase in nitrogen emissions can be approved. 

Under the new provincial rules, farmers lose nitrogen 'space' that they do not use yet, but have a permit for when selling. For example, if a farmer has a stable capacity and the necessary nitrogen permits for 100 cows, but only has 90 cows, the farmer can only sell the nitrogen 'space' for the actual number of cows, instead of the number of cows in the permit. Minister Schouten still allowed the sale to happen on the permit numbers, though farmers will still not be allowed to sell all their nitrogen 'space'. Under Schouten's new rules, the new party can only take over 70 percent of the old nitrogen space. 

On Wednesday, the farmers will again protest in The Hague, again driving their tractors there during rush hour like they did at the start of this month. That protest resulted in the busiest morning rush hour in Dutch history.