Flemish government breaks off nitrogen negotiations without agreement
After a whole evening and night of negotiations, the core of the Flemish government - supplemented by Environment minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA) and Agriculture minister Jo Brouns (CD&V) - broke up on Wednesday morning without a global nitrogen agreement. This agreement was supposed to ensure that nitrogen emissions in Flanders would be drastically reduced. For weeks, the dossier, which also blocks European agricultural subsidies, has been a source of tension in Flemish politics.
Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon (N-VA) hoped to go to parliament with an agreement in his pocket. A topical debate on the nitrogen dossier will be held on Wednesday afternoon. According to various sources, progress was made on Tuesday evening and last night, but several bottlenecks remain.
The two most significant barriers remaining are the so-called external offsetting - whereby a farmer can (partially) take over the emission rights of another farmer if the latter stops or significantly reduces his livestock - and the alignment of standards for agriculture and industry.
Nevertheless, several parties confirm that the agreement has become more 'legally secure'. For example, the critical deposition value does not appear in the decree but in the explanatory memorandum. The critical deposition value is the value that determines how much nitrogen a particular natural area can absorb before biodiversity is affected. It was feared that including this in the text of the decree would open the door to appeals against permits.
There would also be a solution to the much-discussed 'red list', the list of major polluters that the original Spring Break agreement called for to be closed by 2025. This list is said to have been updated with new data. The update would remove about a dozen companies from the original list and add about a dozen new peak emitters.
For the red farms previously on the red list, the mandatory closure date would move up to 2026. The 'new' major polluters would still be allowed to turn 'orange' - through new techniques or conversion to arable farming or nature management - and could remain open. However, if the farms concerned make no effort to turn orange, they must close by 2030.
Just a few days ago, the European Commission urged a Flemish agreement on the agriculture plan, which had already received the Commission's approval in December.
Greenest CAP ever
The "greenest CAP ever", as Flemish Agriculture minister Brouns called it, outlines the framework for Flemish agriculture from 2023 to 2027. It is linked to some greening requirements and €1.6 billion in European subsidies, of which €550 million is direct income support. In 2023, the first tranche of €300 million should go to Flemish farmers. But until an agreement is reached, the money is stuck.
Farmers are also making their voices heard again. They are protesting in Brussels on Friday against the Flemish government's agricultural policy. In its current form, the Flemish government's nitrogen agreement is causing a 'socio-economic bloodbath', it sounds. Several farmers' organisations are demanding a thorough revision of the agreement. They are also calling for the immediate approval of the Flemish Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). As long as there is no clarity on the rules to be laid down in this CAP, farmers cannot start their field operations or sow their crops, they argue.
#FlandersNewsService | Illustration shows a protest action by farmers against proposed new rules to reduce nitrogen emissions and the broader agricultural politics, at the residence of the Flemish Minister-President in Brussels on Wednesday 15 February 2023. The action under the 'genoeg is genoeg' (enough is enough) moniker is organized by the 'Groene Kring' young farmer and horticulture organization.
© BELGA PHOTO ERIC LALMAND