Parliament returns from recess to debate Hoekstra's nitrogen comments
The lower house of the Dutch parliament interrupted its summer recess on Tuesday to question Wopke Hoekstra, Minister of Foreign Affairs and CDA leader, about his statements on the nitrogen policy. Hoekstra said in the AD on Friday that the government’s goals of halving nitrogen emissions by 2030 are not set in stone for his party. That was not received well by coalition partners VVD, D66, and ChristenUnie, unaware of this standpoint. The opposition is also concerned about this possible change of course.
Coalition sources understand the CDA’s difficult position but especially criticize how the party came out with this - through the media, without prior consultation. “Very ugly” and “strategically stupid” people in the coalition grumble. The Christian Democrats are taking a lot of political risks with this, the sources say. The party’s voters and supporters now expect something, and the results are not guaranteed. The sources stressed that the agreements stand as long as no other agreements are made. That is always the case in the political arena.
AD published Hoekstra’s interview just before the first Council of Ministers meeting after the summer recess. Hoekstra faced fierce criticism at that meeting, according to sources. The coalition has made fixed agreements about the nitrogen targets, which resulted in intense protests from the farmers over the past months. According to the opinion polls, farmers are turning away from the CDA, traditionally a party for farmers. The Christian Democrats are in bad shape in the polls, while Caroline van der Plas’ pro-farmers party BBB is gaining rapid ground.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday that Hoekstra was on thin ice under constitutional law with his statements because Ministers must stand for the unity of Cabinet policy. At the same time, he said that Hoekstra does have a bit more wiggle room in his capacity as CDA leader. The Cabinet has shelved the statements for the time being, Rutte said after the Council of Ministers. The coalition sticks to the set goals. What takes the chill out of the air a bit is that the CDA did not say it wants to break open the coalition agreement but that it wants to wait for the talks between mediator Johan Remkes and the sector.
PVV leader Geert Wilders wants to also have Rutte and Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag at the debate on Tuesday. A majority in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, will likely support that motion, which Wilders will submit on Tuesday.
Minister Christianne van der Wal (Nature and Nitrogen) wants to make "binding agreements" with Germany to also "work on reducing nitrogen emissions on that side," she said after visiting dairy farmers in the region of the German-Dutch border. "It is very annoying that the neighbor [just across the border] is allowed to build that stable and then also without air purifiers," Van der Wal said.
She stressed that the government's goals must be achieved. "We will do everything we can, but we do offer customization per area because every area is so different. That will also happen here."
Reporting by ANP