The new nitrogen agreement of the Flemish government is tailor-made for Ineos, the British chemical company that wants to build an ethane cracker in the port of Antwerp. This is what the opposition party Groen says through its co-chairman Jeremie Vaneeckhout and faction leader Mieke Schauvliege.
The details of the agreement have yet to be announced, but based on what is already known, the Flemish government is “further destroying nature,” says Groen. Farmers are also being “yet another fool in the eye”, while according to the party there is a good chance that the Constitutional Court will annul the deal again.
“Years of negotiations and ending with messy work: this Flemish government is vintage,” say Vaneeckhout and Schauvliege. The government’s mission was to safeguard nature, give farmers a long-term perspective and provide a legally watertight framework, but according to Groen, it has not succeeded in doing so.
The party says pressure for a new agreement has increased in recent weeks. “The hot breath of Ineos CEO Jim Ratcliffe on the neck of the Flemish government ensured that there was a deal, something that Prime Minister Jan-Jambon was unable to achieve for years. The permit for Ineos will be secured – or at least as long as there is no new destruction,” says Groen. “The Flemish government does not care that nature and farmers are once again paying the price.”
According to Vlaams Belang, the contours of the agreement do not bode well for the agricultural sector. “The essence of the agreement remains the same,” says party leader Chris Janssens (Vlaams Belang), who talks about “cosmetic interventions”.
“The threshold values remain no less than forty times stricter than for the industry. Agricultural companies face an uncertain future. It is made virtually impossible for them to obtain a permit.”
As part of the agreement, it was decided that the mandatory closure will disappear in 2030 for the so-called ‘peak loads’, the much-discussed list of red companies. “They are given the choice between closing by 2030 or making extreme investments to reduce nitrogen emissions,” says Flemish MP Stefaan Sintobin (Vlaams Belang). “Here too, cosmetic surgery is chosen. They are no longer obliged to close, but are allowed to invest without any chance.”
According to the party, the fact that so-called ‘external netting’ can only be done through additional environmental research is a guarantee of a flop. “This will be opposed in every possible way by the government itself. Demir herself has already shown that she wants to refuse as many permits as possible.”
Plea for nature
Natuurpunt is also critical of the agreement, says Jos Ramaekers of Natuurpunt The morning on Radio 1. “The nitrogen agreement comes about because we have major problems getting our nature into a good condition. What is now on the table seems to assume that people want to issue permits. The ultimate goal of improving nature seems to have disappeared from view.”
“We fear that the agreement will not provide the solution that is needed and that it will therefore not be legally certain,” says Ramaekers. “The convictions have come about because we fail to get our nature in good condition and allow nuisance companies to pollute where this is no longer possible. I don’t think that problem has been solved in a sufficiently robust manner in this agreement.”