Feb 25, 2023 at 05:00 Update: 7 minutes ago
Nothing beats Groningen, is the slogan of the northern province. But the painful conclusion of the committee of inquiry is that gas extraction was more important than the people of Groningen. The final report of the investigation into gas extraction was presented in Zeerijp on Friday. The conclusions are devastating, but what does Groningen gain from it?
The final report is entitled Groningers above gas. “The interests of Groningen residents have been structurally ignored. It is high time that their interests were put first,” says the committee.
For the presentation of the report, the committee had chosen Zeerijp in Groningen. A village in the middle of the earthquake zone. In a room full of invited guests, chairman Tom van der Lee explained the almost two thousand page report.
It was a confrontational day for the Groningen residents present. They feel supported by the hard conclusions from the report, but they were not new to them. Jan Wigboldus, chairman of the Groninger Gasberaad, also responded positively to the assessments made by the committee.
‘Story of all of us’
Still, skepticism prevails. How is this going to continue? Many Groningen residents have lost their confidence. This also applies to Josien Groeneveld from Middelstum. “I’ve heard many times that things have to be different and better.” She is happy with the recognition that has now been given. “It is no longer just my story and so and so, but a story of all of us. It is in a report, it is factual and therefore not just my experience.”
Wigboldus also fears that attention will wane again in the near future, while the people of Groningen are still experiencing the consequences of gas extraction every day. There will be earthquakes and therefore damage. Thousands of people also do not yet know whether their home is safe. All in all, there is no other word for the situation than “disastrous”, the committee believes.
‘There is a price to this forgetting of the Groningen people
For six decades, the State and oil companies Shell and ExxonMobil have made hundreds of billions from gas extraction. The welfare state was built with this money, but at the same time Groningen was left behind with the damage and pain.
“There is a price for forgetting the people of Groningen”, the committee believes. For that reason, the Netherlands has a “debt of honor” to Groningen, which the oil companies must pay together with the State.
Lely line? Energy transition? First of all, there must now be perspective for the victims.
Groningen Soil Movement
These are big words, the meaning of which has yet to be clarified. The committee speaks of a broader future perspective. Not only must there be extra money to deal with the damage and pain inflicted, more attention must now also be paid to the position of the region. Examples include investments in new roads or railway lines, or other economic impulses.
“Perspective must now first of all be a perspective for gas extraction victims. Only then can it be about matters such as the Lely line and the energy transition,” writes the Groningen Soil Movement in an extensive response to the report.
‘Milder, easier and more human’
The most important thing is that steps are taken in the claims handling and reinforcement operation. Residents still run into bureaucratic and legal walls when they report damage to their home.
The committee has made a number of recommendations to make the handling “milder, easier and more humane”. But the proposed solutions sound familiar to the people of Groningen. Wigboldus calls it “new wine in old bottles”.
The same applies to the approach of the reinforcement operation, which is still moving too slowly. The committee makes some recommendations, but emphasizes that it is not a good plan to overhaul everything. In the past, this has caused even more problems several times.
Susan Top, who was involved in the Gasberaad for years, hopes that the House of Representatives will keep an open mind. That there remains room to at least look at all options. Also to the option to overturn the mechanism of the handling and amplification. “We just have to do what it takes.”
‘We Groningen people don’t want to go along with that hassle in The Hague’
It is up to the House of Representatives and the cabinet to press ahead now, so that real steps are taken. The committee believes it is important that the people of Groningen themselves are involved in this.
A number of Groningen administrators are already taking the lead on Monday. On that day, the King’s Commissioner René Paas, the Groningen mayor Koen Schuiling and Johan Remkes (chairman of the National Program Groningen) will go to The Hague to put proposals on the table. These are about how reinforcement and claims handling can be improved, but also about the future of the area.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte did not want to give a substantive response to the report on Friday, but said he was “motivated” to “turn into action wherever possible” the recommendations.
In the spring, the House is expected to debate the final report of the committee with the cabinet. That is also the moment that any political consequences can be attached to it, although it is not clear that one person or party is responsible for the suffering in Groningen.
The committee describes the problem as an “unprecedented system failure”. But, Van der Lee emphasized, “systems don’t operate alone. There are people behind them.” So here too there is a task for politicians and the civil service. If the working methods and culture at the ministries do not change, there is a good chance that citizens will again be victimized.
Moreover, it is highly questionable whether the people of Groningen will get along if the current State Secretary Hans Vijlbrief (Mining) resigns. According to Wigboldus, it only leads to more delays. Moreover, the State Secretary is reasonably well off in Groningen. “We Groningers do not want to go along with the hassle of the settlement culture in The Hague. That will not benefit us,” says the chairman of the Gasberaad.
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