Dutch senate approves emergency nitrogen reduction plan during noisy tractor protest

Parliament in the Netherlands at night
The Dutch parliament buildings in The Hague at night. Jan. 16, 2019jaalbersDepositPhotosDeposit Photos

A package of urgent measures to reduce the level of nitrogen emissions and ground contamination was approved during a Tuesday night vote by senators in the Eerste Kamer, the upper house of Dutch parliament. The bill allows for tighter nitrogen regulations on construction projects, the reduction of nitrogen emissions from livestock, and the accelerated improvement and restoration of Natura 2000 nature sites.

The ruling coalition parties VVD, CDA, D66, and ChristenUnie needed the help of several others to get the bill passed. It came from the SGP, 50Plus, OSF, and the Otten faction, and the bill passed with 40 votes in favor to 35 against.

Several farmers showed up on tractors outside parliament in protest, blaring their horns loud enough that many senators said they could hear the racket from inside the Binnenhof complex. Farmers were also expected to rally around the Netherlands on Wednesday. Unlike the protest in Amsterdam last week where farmers tried to connect with city residents to explain how their own methods produce high quality produce while limiting nitrogen emissions to the best of their ability, farmers on Wednesday were expected to try and block supermarket distribution centers. A court order forbade any blockade of the warehouses.

As the tractor horns blared, the senators also approved three motions, including asking the Cabinet to be more forthcoming on its nitrogen calculation models. The ruling coalition is also to craft a circular agriculture policy for companies in the agricultural sector, and to investigate a plan before August 2020 to meet local demand for suitable housing for the elderly.

Separately from the laws debated in the Eerste Kamer, the Cabinet is also lowering the daytime maximum road speed limit to 100 kilometers per hour during daytime hours. All told, the emissions reductions measures could help spur more construction projects in the Netherlands including housing development to combat the home shortage.

Green party GroenLinks, socialists SP, animal rights party PvdD, and Labour joined the far right wing in voting against the plan. GroenLinks said that the measures do not go far enough. The party said it would rather see an immediate and urgent push towards a circular agriculture model.

Nevertheless, by Tuesday afternoon it grew more likely that the ruling Dutch coalition would manage to pass the bill. The coalition needed opposition support in the Eerste Kamer where it holds 32 of the 75 seats, equivalent to six shy of a majority.

Support first came late last week from Henk Otten, who, along with two others, broke away from right wing nationalist group FvD. Otten pledged to promote the Dutch economy, not to stifle it.

Then on Tuesday the government won the backing of conservative Christian party SGP, and the OSF, represented by independent hold-out Gerben Gerbrandy.

"At the moment I support this law. It will provide farmers with certainty in the coming period," Gerbrandy said.

Peter Schalk, of SGP, said similar, encouraged that it was a necessary intermediate step but not the "ultimate remedy."

Right wing nationalist party PVV voted against the law, preferring instead to adjust the borders of the Natura 2000 areas designated for protection. 

Their fellow nationalists in the FvD believes the nitrogen issue to be a non-existent problem. Senator Bob van Pareren openly asked if "farmers still matter" to the current Dutch cabinet.