November 10, 2023
After two years of bitter struggle, the Flemish government is preparing for a nitrogen agreement around the Armistice. That would be just before the N-VA makes the decision about the Flemish party leadership in Antwerp.
Happy faces in the official residence of Prime Minister Jan Jambon (N-VA) on Friday afternoon after the weekly cabinet meeting. Not only because of the new state photo with new Deputy Prime Minister Gwendolyn Rutten (Open VLD), but especially because the time for drawing knives over nitrogen is over and there will probably even be a quick breakthrough.
On Friday afternoon, the ministers involved gave an update on the consultation within the majority and between the cabinets. It was the first time since the crisis last summer that the file reached the Council of Ministers again. Working groups will continue to work on Friday and Saturday on eliminating the last bottlenecks and especially writing texts. The full government would then meet as soon as an agreement is in the air.
Striking: although they were at each other’s throats for months, the entourages of Minister of Agriculture Jo Brouns (CD&V) and Minister of the Environment Zuhal Demir (N-VA) are now doing their very best to emphasize that the two Limburgers have met each other in recent weeks. have found. Just to make it clear that it is not because of the deus ex machina Rutten that the puzzle suddenly fell apart.
Demir even invited Brouns to her home during the autumn holidays to sort out the pieces. After the debacle surrounding the ethane cracker in Antwerp by the British chemical group Ineos, it was mainly a similar Limburg dossier that made the warring parties realize once again that the Flemish government could not end without a deal. More specifically, this concerns a negative advice from the Dutch province of Limburg regarding the expansion plans of a brick factory in Lanaken, due to nitrogen.
Both Zuhal Demir and Jo Brouns’ entourages like to point out that the two have found each other.
‘In recent weeks, Demir and Brouns have come to the realization that there was no gain for anyone in the file if it was not resolved. What is on the table is honorable for all parties,” the N-VA said. At CD&V they do see a certain influence of the personnel change at Open VLD. ‘As long as Bart Somers was in her pocket, Demir didn’t have to do much bougering. That would be different with Rutten,” said a source.
A comparison appears to be in the making on three crucial bottlenecks. The new package would only include one red list of peak tax burdens, instead of a list of old and new tax burdens. They will no longer be formally forced to close by 2030, but will be given the opportunity to comply. Whether that makes much difference for all companies involved remains to be seen. In some cases this involves very heavy investments.
The system with unequal thresholds – industry is allowed to emit much more than agriculture – would remain intact. The N-VA thought that was important and the Council of State did not reject it either. But the unlicensability threshold for agriculture will de facto only be an administrative intermediate station, after the Council of State noted that you can never rule out that a company could still obtain a permit through a so-called appropriate assessment.
Companies that exceed that threshold will still be able to submit a permit application. And the appropriate assessment would also become accessible to small farms, by simplifying the process. “Submitting dossiers of 800 pages, as Ineos did: many farmers do not have the resources for that,” CD&V said. The party is convinced that such an appropriate assessment will allow many farmers to continue investing.
A deal on so-called external netting is also within reach. If a farmer stops, the agreed reductions will be immediately written off. The surplus can then go to another company through an appropriate assessment, if it is located near a nature reserve. A general system of external netting would still be subject to an environmental impact report.
A nitrogen agreement on the weekend of Armistice or shortly afterwards would also suit Prime Minister Jan Jambon (N-VA). Without a deal, and as a result years of uncertainty for industry and agriculture, his term would have failed. The Prime Minister’s entourage gently points out that the tactic of letting time do its work and bringing the warring parties together through expert analysis has worked.
Jan Jambon would like a second term as Prime Minister and a nitrogen deal would strengthen that claim.
The N-VA has been hearing for some time that whether or not a nitrogen deal is reached would be decisive for the political fate of Jambon, although chairman Bart De Wever has never said this in so many words. Jambon would like to see a second term and a nitrogen deal would strengthen that claim. The question is whether he is the best placed figure to compete against Tom Van Grieken of the Vlaams Belang on the Flemish list in Antwerp.
Last week, the N-VA’s electoral college met to discuss list formation, but no decision has yet been made about Antwerp. That will probably happen next Wednesday. The suggestion in ‘Villa politica’ that the Antwerp alderman Els Van Doesburg might draw the Flemish list caused some commotion in the party on Thursday, but most are left guessing. “Only De Wever knows,” it sounds. He may even do it himself.
The puzzle is quite complex. With Liesbeth Homans, Annick De Ridder and Els Van Doesburg, there are three female candidates from the city of Antwerp for a position high on the list. Van Doesburg can hardly go to the federal level, because her partner Peter De Roover is already there. De Roover could move to the European list, but there is already an Antwerp native there with Johan Van Overtveldt. The same applies if Jambon were to join the European list and former minister Van Overtveldt were to become a federal leader again.