March 25, 2023 at 05:00
The Hague has been able to think for a week and a half about what the results of the Provincial Council elections mean for government policy. But there is no beginning of an answer yet. The political leaders even disagree about what the problem actually is.
“There is a huge gulf between us in The Hague and the rest of the country,” said CDA leader Wopke Hoekstra late on Tuesday evening after his party’s crisis meeting. Hoekstra believes that this should be discussed.
It is still too early for Deputy Prime Minister and D66 leader Sigrid Kaag to draw any conclusions. “I find it quite difficult to say: it is this or it is that. I am really looking for what the drivers are and what we can do with it,” she said during the cabinet’s weekly press conference.
Kaag replaced Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is in Brussels. The D66 member first wants a “thorough analysis” of the election results. “We’ll take the time for that.”
A week earlier, two days after the election results, Rutte said he mainly hoped for political cooperation. “We are always a country of coalitions where cooperation is needed, where you listen to each other, where you also incorporate signals into policy.”
Rutte invited the three Deputy Prime Ministers Kaag, Hoekstra and Carola Schouten (CU) to the Torentje on Tuesday to interpret the election results. A debate in the House of Representatives is scheduled for a week later.
What should the cabinet do with this?
The results of the Provincial Council elections have made the nitrogen dossier even more complicated if possible. In any case, one thing is certain: the BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB) is the largest party in all provinces and will therefore also become the largest in the Senate. Caroline van der Plas’ party is one of the fiercest opponents of the government’s nitrogen policy.
The big question now is: what should the government do with this? After much social unrest with farmers’ protests, it was decided to embrace Johan Remkes’ report. In principle, this means a halving of nitrogen emissions in 2030. This mainly focuses on farmers, since their sector emits by far the most nitrogen.
In extreme cases, farmers must also be able to be expropriated. But BBB wants absolutely nothing to do with that. As if all this wasn’t complicated enough, the coalition parties VVD, D66, CDA and CU are also not on the same page.
D66 wants to speed up the nitrogen plans. At the intercession of the democrats, ambitious plans were included in the coalition agreement. The argument is always that nature is rapidly deteriorating and that no houses can be built.
So far VVD and CDA go along with this, only the pace is too fast for the parties. That was initially very cautiously heard after the farmers’ unrest. But since the election defeat for all coalition parties, this has become a lot louder.
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No request to adjust nitrogen plans yet
The election win gives the BBB the lead in forming coalitions in all provinces. The same provinces will soon play a leading role in the implementation of the government’s nitrogen plans. That seems like an unbridgeable contradiction to which there is no immediate answer.
That answer does not come from the cabinet. Rutte first wants to wait for the college formation. On the one hand, that makes sense. Without provincial plans you also do not know whether they are in conflict with the national agreements. But BBB’s demands are already clearly on the table. Why start negotiations if you already know in advance that you are on a collision course with the cabinet?
It is important to note here that these are plans for the time being. The cabinet has set the deadline in 2030 and the expropriation of farmers in a new nitrogen law. It is expected to be sent to the House of Representatives in June. In short: everything can still be adjusted.
No request for adjustments has (yet) been received by the cabinet from the coalition parties, Kaag emphasized on Friday. Hoekstra hinted at this shortly after the election results, but was suddenly less outspoken this week.
The current nitrogen law therefore applies for the time being. It does not mention expropriation and the nitrogen target is set at 2035. That is already closer to BBB’s wishes.
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Incompetence of ministers greater chagrin
In terms of nitrogen policy, there may still be some things to arrange and to rustle up. The only question is whether the elections were just about that. Although almost all parties campaigned on this theme, it seems plausible that there is a broader dissatisfaction than just nitrogen.
For example, research by Ipsos found that ministers’ “incompetence” is a greater annoyance among voters. Health care, immigration and integration and the climate were also mentioned to vote ‘against’ the cabinet.
You can also ask whether elections for the Provincial Council are intended to deal with national policy. If it is an ‘interim report’ from the cabinet, then it should also be much clearer about the focus of the campaigns with mainly national themes, says a minister.
‘Law’ by Tjeenk Willink is in danger
To explain the dissatisfaction, Kaag also looks at the report published this month by the Social and Cultural Planning Office (SCP). The researchers see different classes in the Netherlands with major differences. Not only in money and wealth, but also socially and culturally.
It matters who you know and what you belong to in order to move up the ranks. There is “structural inequality”, according to the SCP.
That can be a starting point when the three deputy prime ministers and the prime minister meet on Tuesday, only Rutte “totally disagrees” with that finding, he said earlier in an interview with NU.nl.
With all these mutual differences, the ‘law’ of the widely respected former information scientist Herman Tjeenk Willink is endangered: only when you know what problem you are talking about, it is easier to talk about the solutions to that problem.
The cabinet will therefore not meet next week to discuss the solutions, but must first agree on what the problem actually is.
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