Head in the sand
This also happened at policy level, where CD&V ministers, as loyal partners of Boerenbond, nipped every reform in the bud for years and hid their heads in the sand for the inevitable introduction of new European regulations intended to protect the environment.
The Flemish Government has known for many years that there is no escape from the nitrogen problem, but for just as long they consciously looked the other way.
The nitrogen decree is the most striking example of this. The Flemish Government has known for many years that there is no escape from the nitrogen problem and the associated permit issues, but for just as long they consciously looked the other way.
This led to lousy legislative work that was not motivated by the understandable grievances of farmers, but by the aspirations of a British billionaire who wants to build a plastics factory in the port of Antwerp.
Last week, the Flemish Parliament approved that famous nitrogen agreement until 2030. However, the Council of State particularly critical of the second chance that the Flemish government gave itself. The impact score in particular, the calculation of what an individual company contributes to the maximum nitrogen precipitation that a nature reserve can handle, has a particularly shaky legal basis.
This also applies to the way in which the government wants to issue permits “on credit” to projects that ensure nitrogen deposition in nitrogen-sensitive areas. But despite all warnings of impending destruction (and the associated legal uncertainty), the agreement was rushed through parliament. It Nature and Forest Agency even rewrote an initial negative advice for Ineos, based on limited additional information.
The time to build the ethane cracker is running out, but as mentioned, the Flemish Government has known for a long time that the nitrogen problem is inevitably coming our way. It is the European Habitats Directive from 1992 that forms the basis for the regulations. Europe was already very clear then. Top nature (Natura 2000 areas) must be brought to a “good state of conservation”.
There is modest silence about the nitrogen impact of our ports. If we do not intervene, seagoing vessels such as Ineos’ Dragon Fleet will account for 40% of Flemish emissions by 2030
The impending nature restoration law only makes the problem more urgent. The now reformed EU subsidy system, which still rewards large-scale development and is detrimental to the environment, provides a modest step towards becoming more environmentally friendly. Small steps, but sometimes with major consequences for farmers who have long focused on large-scale farming.
Yes, agriculture is responsible for more than half of the eutrophication emissions in Flanders, but transport (30%) and industry (9%) also have a significant share. Ammonia precipitation (from nitrogen from agricultural holdings) precipitates closer to the emission source. This is burdensome for nearby nature reserves and jeopardizes agriculture, but it is a particularly shaky basis for treating industry much less strictly than agriculture, as the Jambon government advocates.
There is modest silence about the impact of our ports. However, if we do not intervene, seagoing vessels such as Ineos’ Dragon Fleet will account for 40% of Flemish emissions by 2030.
Large infrastructure projects that emit significant amounts of nitrogen, such as the expansion of the container capacity of the port of Antwerp, appear to enjoy preferential treatment. The farmers do not like this double standards and two weights approach.
The Flemish Peasant War started among farmers in the Turnhout Fen area. There, poor grasslands already have to process far too much nitrogen. In the heart of the Kempen chicken bonanza, intensive agriculture has been reaching its environmental limits for some time. The protest in the border region is driven by the Belgian branch of the Dutch (and extreme right-wing) Farmers Defense Force.
Colruyt acquired 750 hectares of land in recent years
European protected nature is in the spotlight and therefore too Nature point, the largest private landowner in Flanders. By “connecting” nature reserves, they make agriculture impossible in certain regions and their “aggressive purchasing policy” causes land prices to rise, farmers say.
But the environmental movement is not the only culprit in the eyes of farmers. They are also targeting supermarkets, such as Colruyt which has been teaching the Flemish consumer to think in terms of “lowest prices” for decades. Buyers therefore negotiate very hard with producers to negotiate the lowest prices for their products. At the same time, farmers see with dismay how precisely those buyers offer the highest prices for the purchase of agricultural land.
Apache previously showed how Colruyt acquired 750 hectares of land in recent years, with clusters of organic land in Alveringem (West Flanders), agricultural land near distribution centers in Hainaut (Aat) and Flemish Brabant (Halle) and orchards in Limburg (Sint-Truiden). . The Colruyt family is not the only investor or industrialist hungry for land. The processing industry is also increasingly trying to gain control over all links in the chain, such as potato producers Clarebout.
And those processors also put pressure on prices. The family labor income of a farmer is today 8% lower than the income of an average Flemish wage earner. And yet the biggest chunk of the EU budget goes to agriculture. Three quarters of that even goes directly to income support. Despite the hard work, the agricultural business is far too profitable.