Nitrogen: Flemish employers call for immediate political action

The lack of a decretal nitrogen framework threatens the future of companies in Flanders, according to 21 employers' organisations in an open letter to Flemish parties and politicians. The letter, published on Tuesday, comes ahead of a working group of Flemish government and parliament members discussing the issue.

Agriculture, transport and industry in Flanders emit too much nitrogen, affecting nature and people. Politicians are trying to reduce emissions, but this is proving more complicated than expected. In recent months, disagreements between the governing political parties have grown, while farmers have taken to the streets to show their dismay. Now, employers' organisations are sounding the alarm.

Without a robust nitrogen framework, Flanders will literally come to a standstill

"Nothing is more important and urgent for Flemish companies today than the nitrogen dossier. It is time for all our politicians to take responsibility," the business association Voka and 20 sectoral organisations argue. "Without a robust nitrogen framework, Flanders will literally come to a standstill."

Ineos' ethane cracker

At the beginning of October, the Council of State delivered a highly critical opinion on the nitrogen decree proposal that N-VA and Open VLD, without coalition partner CD&V, had submitted to the Flemish Parliament at the end of July. The move came after the Council for Permit Disputes annulled the environmental permit for Ineos' ethane cracker on 20 July. The British chemical company must prove that the plant's nitrogen emissions do not pose a risk to nearby nature reserves before it can proceed with construction.

The Council of State also insisted that all projects be subject to a proper assessment and a thorough environmental study to show that they would not introduce harmful extra nitrogen into a nature reserve.

"Starting from scratch and renegotiating a new nitrogen decree is not an option"

Ahead of further talks, Flemish employers argued that negotiators should build on the agreement reached by the Flemish government in March. "Starting from scratch and renegotiating a new nitrogen decree is not an option. The Flemish companies have run out of time. We are already working overtime," they said.

External legal advice

On Tuesday, the working group will start with the advice of three external lawyers who were asked to give their views after the Council of State's opinion. The lawyers presented two options, including an amendment to the proposed decree, a scenario with "legal risks". The option of requiring an environmental impact assessment for each project is not considered feasible by the experts.

Ambitions for an agreement are high. The governing parties plan to present a non-paper to the council of ministers on Friday as a first interim assessment. The aim is to produce an amended nitrogen decree that the coalition parties can present to parliament and have approved "by the end of November at the latest".


#FlandersNewsService | © BELGA PHOTO HATIM KAGHAT

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