It took a long day and another half night: around 1:30 am, an agreement was reached again, for the third time, in the Flemish government on nitrogen. Members of Parliament from Open VLD and N-VA had already submitted a proposal for a decree to the Flemish Parliament to tackle the amount of nitrogen in Flanders. After a number of comments in the advice of the Council of State, the Flemish government had to get back to work. The problems of the decree would now be resolved in one major amendment to the proposed decree, which regulates the implementation of the so-called Programmatorial Approach to Nitrogen (PAS).
This was agreed by Flemish Minister of the Environment Zuhal Demir (N-VA), Minister of Agriculture Jo Brouns (CD&V) and Minister of the Interior Gwendolyn Rutten (Open VLD) with MPs from each majority faction. For N-VA it is Wilfried Vandaele, for CD&V it is Peter Van Rompuy and for Open VLD it is Steven Coenegrachts. After a long day of negotiations between the specialist ministers and parliamentarians, the new nitrogen deal was sealed at a digital cabinet meeting.
All parties take home a battle or two. For N-VA, the most important goal has been achieved: the reduction of nitrogen is anchored in the decree. This became all the more important for the party now that permits were at risk due to an excess of nitrogen in nature reserves. For example, the Council for Permit Disputes canceled a permit that had been granted to Ineos for the construction of an ethane cracker in the port of Antwerp. The idea is that the reduction of nitrogen should create room for new permits. The decree maintains all reduction measures in livestock farming, as agreed on March 10. For pig farming this involves a reduction of 30 percent. The 2030 deadline has been retained.
It was also important for N-VA that agriculture caught up. That is why people are stricter on agriculture than on industry. In industry a threshold of 1 percent applies, while in agriculture it is 0.025 percent. But just as in industry, a company that exceeds that threshold can now also claim a permit in agriculture, if that company can demonstrate in an individual appropriate assessment that it does not ignore the declining trend of nitrogen precipitation in a specific nature reserve. compromises. In this way, CD&V gained a little more perspective for the farmers.
This is also reflected in the concept of ‘external netting’, which offers more options to farmers if other agricultural companies close. This will take effect at the earliest on January 1, 2025 and only if the planned environmental impact report (MER) shows that the proposed goals are not jeopardized.
The Rutten effect
As a Flemish Member of Parliament, Gwendolyn Rutten already fought against the red list of agricultural companies that would be forced to close. That red list with 41 names of agricultural companies no longer exists. So-called peak loaders are given a choice: close before December 31, 2030 and accept a substantial compensation, or make significant investments to reduce nitrogen emissions. The faster the cessation or switch, the stronger the government compensation.
For Rutten it was also important that the decree looked beyond 2030. This would be done in the ‘explanatory memorandum’.
The agreement will be explained at a press conference on Tuesday at 10 a.m. In the coming weeks, the majority parties will have to look for a majority for the proposed decree in parliament. At the same time, a proposal for a decree will be submitted that extends the expiring environmental permits until the end of 2024, so that continuity is guaranteed. All this must be voted on in the Flemish Parliament before the Christmas holidays.
There will undoubtedly be vigorous debate about this proposed decree. But for Flemish Prime Minister Jan Jambon (N-VA), the agreement means that he can conclude his legislature with a major final agreement.