ANP Caroline van der Plas (BBB)
Next Tuesday, Caroline van der Plas of the BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB) will discuss the nitrogen policy and alternative plans with European Commissioner Frans Timmermans, now that a stalemate has arisen in the licensing process in the Netherlands. The BBB has suggested several solutions that are not included in the government’s current nitrogen policy. Nieuwsuur looks at the space that the EU may be able to offer.
This is what the European Commission is asking: restoration and conservation of nature. Nothing else. We have devised here that this must be done via nitrogen. Then we can also rethink that.
Caroline van der Plas, Parliamentary debate 3 November 2022
Conservation and restoration of nature is indeed what the EU has been demanding of all Member States since 1992, through a directive that deals with the protection of natural areas (habitats) and wild flora and fauna. To protect them, the EU says that Member States must not allow the protected nature areas they have designated themselves to deteriorate. Measures are needed for this.
Brussels does not determine which measures Member States take, says Professor of Environmental Law Hendrik Schoukens (University of Ghent), who specializes in the directive. The Fleming is also an alderman for the local Groen party. “The word nitrogen is not mentioned in the Habitats Directive.”
The main cause of the deterioration of nature areas differs per Member State. Schoukens: “In Spain the problem of dehydration plays a role, in Sweden the impact of forestry, while in Flanders and the Netherlands it is the combination of livestock farming, industry and mobility.”
Incidentally, the Netherlands cannot escape the EU directive. The Netherlands would have to leave the EU for this. The directive takes precedence over national law.
Cabinet has squeezed itself into #nitrogen mess and is bleeding tens of thousands of farmers for its own ignorance. The “nitrogen problem” is a SELF-created problem.
Tweet from Caroline van der Plas
Nitrogen does not only play a significant role in the deterioration of nature reserves in the Netherlands. Figures from the European Environment Agency show that German, Swedish, Belgian and Czech nature reserves, for example, are also under pressure from nitrogen.
“The Netherlands is not unique in that sense, because the same problems also play a role in Flanders,” says Schoukens. “These are regions with a very large herd of livestock, close together, along with many roads and a lot of industry.”
Reduction of number of Natura 2000 areas.
10-point plan BBB and JA21
The Netherlands has 162 Natura 2000 areas. More than 120 of these are under pressure from nitrogen, according to data that our country reports to the EU. The proposal of BBB and JA21, which was made in a joint 10-point plan, is to reduce the number of Natura 2000 areas. According to the BBB, the loss of smaller areas in particular can be compensated by enlarging other areas.
Brussels leaves room in the Habitats Directive to deprive protected nature areas of their Natura 2000 status. This is possible after a natural disaster, for example as a result of which a cave with protected bats has collapsed. But neglect of an area by a country is not a valid argument according to the European Court of Justice.
A spokesman for the European Commission says that a number of Natura 2000 areas have disappeared in the past. This was due to natural causes, or to errors in the process of granting a protected status.
The EU is not about 2030 or 2035. The EU monitors nature conservation.
Tweet Caroline van der Plas
The European directive does not say anything about the year in which nature must be restored. “The Habitats Directive has no deadline,” says Schoukens. But there is no such thing as sitting back completely without obligation. “The Dutch government must outline a credible trajectory, with which it can demonstrate to the European Commission: look, we will achieve those goals in the long term.”
For years, countries have been called to account or sued for non-compliance with the directive. For example, the European Commission previously initiated proceedings before the European Court of Justice against Portugal, Bulgaria, Greece, Ireland and Italy. In 2005, the Netherlands was also reprimanded by the European court.
In Europe, various countries go to Brussels to ask for things. I hear that we are the only country that keeps saying: going to Brussels is really impossible, you know. Because they’re just not going to do anything there. That’s just not true.
Caroline van der Plas, debate 23 June 2022
Can Brussels indeed be asked for solutions? Nieuwsuur put that question to the spokesperson of European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius.
“The role of the European Commission is to assist the Dutch government with information. The solutions that must be sought must be found by the Dutch authorities. They must be able to survive in Dutch courts. We are not the ones who come up with solutions” , is the response.
Seen in this way, talks with Brussels will therefore not provide an opening for the cabinet to quickly find a way out of the nitrogen node that has arisen. But Van der Plas mainly wants to get clarity in her conversation with Timmermans. “I am satisfied when it is completely clear to me what is possible, what is not possible and how the European Commission actually views the Netherlands. How we deal with the whole problem.”
Van der Plas continues to believe in a solution. “I think there is a quick way out of the nitrogen crisis.” she says. “And fast doesn’t have to be easy. Fast can also be complicated.”