NOS News•today, 05:00
The ChristenUnie must diligently look for a successor for Henk Staghouwer. The Agriculture Minister unexpectedly resigned last night, although his position had been under pressure for some time. Staghouwer was the wrong person in the wrong place, he also thinks. Meanwhile, uncertainty remains for farmers about their future after the halving of nitrogen emissions.
The person who takes over from Staghouwer will have to come from a good background, because the nitrogen dossier and the sustainability of agriculture are unruly problems. The positions are still miles apart. The smallest governing party has no deadly candidates ready.
When he took office, the cabinet allocated no less than 25 billion euros to tackle the nitrogen problem. With that money, nature will be restored, farmers can be bought out, but it is also intended to help farmers who do want to continue with a transition to sustainable agriculture.
The latter in particular was Staghouwer’s assignment. An honorable task, but it eventually became an unbearable burden on his shoulders. He was unable to come up with feasible measures to give farmers the future prospects they need.
Homework after ‘broddle work’
Last Friday, in the Council of Ministers, he again did not get his hands together for his plans. And so he had to inform the members of the House of Representatives that he could not meet their demand that there be clarity before Budget Day.
That clarity should have been there this summer, at the same time as the government’s far-reaching nitrogen plans were presented. But the “perspective letter” Staghouwer drafted was called “broddle work” and he was given homework.
That homework had to be finished before the third Tuesday in September, but Staghouwer announced yesterday that he wanted to wait for the talks led by Johan Remkes.
When it also turned out that he had not succeeded in getting Dutch farmers to maintain their exceptional position in Europe in order to spread more manure than other countries, the minister counted his knots. “I’m not the right person,” he said in a brief explanation of his departure.
It was indeed the Groninger’s own choice. Nevertheless, sources around the coalition say that Staghouwer has been under guardianship lately, although he himself did not realize it at first. Other ministers, such as VVD minister Harbers of Infrastructure and Water Management, were instructed to support him and to read along with his proposals.
Few creative civil servants
Staghouwer held sway for nine months at a ministry that is known for being difficult. Several coalition parties complain about the lack of creativity among officials. They fail to see that there is a major political mandate to radically reform agriculture, and they continue to think in old patterns.
Staghouwer failed to break through that wall. In addition, he had to deal with a government coalition that is also not easy to align, and in which unity is hard to find on many issues.
The new agriculture minister will have to be a heavyweight who knows the ropes. For the time being, the portfolio is being held by Carola Schouten, Staghouwer’s predecessor, who is now Minister for Poverty Policy.
She knows the problem very well and negotiated extensively with all parties about the nitrogen approach during the previous cabinet term. But insiders say that the chance is very small that she will return to her old place for good.