Dutch Minister Resigns Over Nitrogen Rallies
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
THE HAGUE (Worthy News) – The Dutch agriculture minister resigned Monday after weeks of protests by farmers who fear for their livelihoods due to the Netherlands’ strictest nitrogen policies in Europe.
Henk Staghouwer, of the faith-based ChristenUnie (ChristianUnion) party, is the first minister to leave Liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s fourth cabinet installed in January.
He told reporters that “farmers and fishermen need certainty” as agriculture faces a massive shake-up with controversial 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?’” he recalled.
“Last weekend, I came to the conclusion that I am not that person,” Staghouwer added.
Dutch King Willem-Alexander granted the resignation request Monday, Worthy News learned.
Ex-Agriculture Minister Carola Schouten, who currently leads the government’s poverty policy, will temporarily take over Staghouwer’s duties, officials said.
Staghouwer had been at odds with Parliament since the day the European Union-backed “nitrogen map” was published showing the alleged pollution caused by Dutch farmers.
Critics say the government’s plan to reduce what it calls “damaging pollutants” could force farmers to cut their livestock herds or stop working altogether.
Several farmers have already committed suicide due to the policy, according to legislators familiar with the situation.
Dutch Liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte says, “the emissions of nitrogen oxide and ammonia, which livestock produce, must be drastically cut back to protect nature areas.”
The designated areas are part of a network of protected habitats for what climate activists say are “endangered plants and wildlife” stretching across the European Union.
Farmers are furious, saying the nitrogen policy threatens the Dutch agriculture sector, including centuries-old farms. Their frustration was expressed at sometimes violent protests.
Last month Dutch police released a teenager amid a public outcry after officers shot his tractor in the worst standoff with farmers in years.
The tractor of the 16-year-old boy was shot during a restless night of ongoing farm protests against government nitrogen plans that could help farmers fear will hurt their livelihoods.
His tractor came under fire during a police blockade on the A32 motorway near the northern Dutch town Heerenveen.
Activists from the Farmers Defence Force group drove in a convoy of tractors to the nearby Leeuwarden police station to demand the release of the boy, identified only Jouke.
He and two men, aged 34 and 46, were arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after police claimed they “tried to drive at officers and police vehicles.” But the suspects were freed overnight, and the charges were withdrawn, law enforcement authorities said.
Other protests by angry farmers included burning haystacks and throwing garbage on highways, as well as demonstrations including near Parliament and homes of politicians.
Additionally, farmers began blockades near airports and distribution centers, causing shortages of products such as bread, vegetables, and fruit.
Elsewhere police rushed to the sea lock at IJmuiden in North Holland province, where fishers briefly blocked what the world’s second-largest lock is.
Facing government-imposed limitations on their work, fishermen said they support the farmers’ protests.
Amid the rallies, negotiations continue between the agriculture sector, including farmers and other sector representatives, and a government mediator.
Yet so far, the talks have done little to ease fears that Dutch agriculture, one of the world’s largest food exporters, won’t be able to continue due to the expensive regulations.
Several opposition parties say the Dutch agriculture sector has been singled out while more polluting industries continue undisturbed.
With tensions mounting even within the cabinet, politicians and media have expressed doubts whether Rutte’s recently installed government will survive.