Agriculture minister resigns in first departure from Rutte’s fourth Cabinet
Agriculture Minister Henk Staghouwer has resigned. The ChristenUnie Cabinet minister is the first minister to depart from Mark Rutte’s fourth Cabinet. King Willem-Alexander granted the resignation request on Monday. Former Agriculture Minister Carola Schouten, who now heads up the Cabinet’s poverty policy, will temporarily take over Staghouwer's duties.
Staghouwer had been at odds with the Tweede Kamer since the day the much-maligned “nitrogen map” was published. The nitrogen emissions reduction plan was absent any concrete measures to give farmers perspective for the future. Earlier on Monday, Staghouwer announced that the proposals that the Members of Parliament had demanded for Budget Day would take longer to develop. He said he wanted to wait for the outcome of the nitrogen emissions talks between farmer organizations and the Cabinet, currently moderated by prominent VVD party member Johan Remkes.
On Monday evening, Staghouwer issued a statement to his ministry, in which he emphasized that "farmers and fishermen need certainty.” He said that agriculture is facing a huge shake-up with the nitrogen targets. "I asked myself the question, ‘Am I the right person as Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality to lead the tasks that lie ahead?’ Last weekend, I came to the conclusion that I am not that person," Staghouwer said.
"I wish my successor, together with the dedicated employees, every success," added the minister. He did not want to answer questions from reporters following the announcement.
Staghouwer’s resignation was unexpected, even though there had been doubts about his ability to function at the top of the ministry. Earlier that day, the minister announced that a draft agreement had been made with Brussels about the exception that Dutch farmers are granted for manure use compared to other European Union countries. That position is being phased out, but there will be a fee paid out in return.
Rutte: “I respect his brave decision”; Others praise honesty
Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he has "great appreciation for the work Henk Staghouwer has done" as minister. "I respect his brave decision to resign from his duties and wish him every success in the future.”
ChristenUnie leader Gert-Jan Segers said it was a tough day. Staghouwer has "given everything to live up to the tough responsibility" as Minister of Agriculture, he continued. "In his statement about his resignation, he indicates that he is increasingly asking himself whether he is the right person to take on the major challenges facing agriculture as a minister. Henk also characterizes that honesty," said Segers.
Caroline van der Plas, of the BBB political party which represents many farmers’ interests, said the resignation was inevitable. She herself empathized with Staghouwer, "but as Minister of Agriculture he was completely unsuitable," she said on Twitter.
D66 leader Jan Paternotte called Staghouwer a "director with a warm heart." He continued, "He took on the risk of politics, knowing that the task would be difficult. The openness with which he explains his decision is commendable."
Farmer’s groups surprised; Not optimistic about Schouten
Agricultural organization LTO “respectfully noted” Staghouwer’s decision, but said it is crucial that a new minister of agriculture is appointed quickly.
Foreman Bart Kemp of the farmers' activist group Agractie Nederland said that Staghouwer's departure surprised him and his supporters. "We know him as a somewhat bland person and have seen little concrete vision in him. He also faced an impossible task, creating perspectives against market forces and international treaties. And that at a time when more and more people are having great difficulty to pay for the daily shopping."
Kemp was clear about his opinion of the interim minister, Carola Schouten. "Schouten has never attached any value to a good relationship with the farmers. During her term of office, the crisis of confidence increased sharply." He said he is counting on the likelihood that she will not remain in the post for long.
Reporting by ANP