Green: “Tailored to Ineos”
The new nitrogen agreement of the Flemish government is one tailored to 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.
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 ended up 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 failed to achieve for years. The permit for Ineos is secured – or at least as long as there is is no new destruction,” says Groen. “The Flemish government does not care that nature and farmers pay the price again.”
Vlaams Belang: “Farmers are allowed to invest without any chance”
Opposition party Vlaams Belang sees little change in the new nitrogen agreement to what was previously decided. And that is a tragedy for the farmers. The party therefore fears that the agricultural sector will suffer. “It is made virtually impossible for agricultural companies to obtain a permit,” says party leader Chris Janssens.
Although the details will only be announced later, the contours of the agreement are already known to the party. “The essence of the agreement remains the same,” says Janssens, who talks about “cosmetic interventions”. “The threshold values remain no less than 40 times stricter than for the industry. Agricultural companies face an uncertain future. It is 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. “Here too, the cosmetic procedure is chosen. They are no longer obliged to close, but are allowed to invest without any chance.”
According to Vlaams Belang, 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. Flemish Minister of the Environment Zuhal Demir (N-VA) has already shown that she wants to refuse as many permits as possible.”
Forward: “Appropriate assessments are legally extremely shaky”
Opposition party Vooruit is also not impressed by the new nitrogen agreement of the Flemish government. “Weak reduction measures for gigantic livestock farms in exchange for large investments,” summarizes Flemish MP Bruno Tobback. He notices the more flexible attitude towards agriculture, but according to him the legal uncertainty has not gone away. “Using technology such as air scrubbers is also a false solution. We have known for a long time that their supervision is flawed and that they are often no more than an (expensive) stable decoration. Appropriate assessments that would issue permits on the basis of this are also legally extreme shaky,” he warns.
According to the Vooruit MP, this new agreement makes it even less certain that the nitrogen bath will be emptied sufficiently to permit new projects, “leaving a great sword of Damocles hanging over industry and agriculture”. Trampling is taking place on the spot, Tobback said. “The Flemish government only wanted to solve one problem: the problem of its own image. But farmers and nature are left empty-handed.”