'Legal minefield': Flemish Government cannot find agreement on nitrogen policy

'Legal minefield': Flemish Government cannot find agreement on nitrogen policy
Flemish Ministers for Employment, Economy, Social Economy and agriculture Jo Brouns upper left), Domestic Policy and Coexistence Bart Somers (bottom left), for Welfare Hilde Crevits (middle), for Education, Animal Welfare and Sports Ben Weyts (upper right) and Flemish Minister President Jan Jambon. Credit: Belga/James Arthur Gekiere

After a negotiation marathon of more than 16 hours, the Flemish Government still has not found an agreement on its nitrogen policy. At the moment, it remains unclear when (or even if) the ministers will negotiate further.

The ministers of the Flemish Government met at 18:00 on Tuesday on the nitrogen dossier to find an agreement on a package of measures to drastically reduce nitrogen emissions in Flanders, including in agriculture.

A year ago, the Flemish Government had already reached an agreement, but that is now under discussion again, as the Christian democrats CD&V and rightwing N-VA in particular have strong opposing positions. Just before the Carnival break, this resulted in a crisis in the government.

"There is progress, but there are still some crucial bottlenecks," Flemish MP Tinne Rombouts, a CD&V agriculture specialist on Flemish radio this morning. Flemish MP for the liberal Open VLD party, Gwendolyn Rutten, also said she was still hopeful, but added that the nitrogen dossier is "a legal minefield."

Possible alternate majority

While the negotiations started constructively on Tuesday, the atmosphere turned as two points could not be agreed on, resulting in a complete deadlock, VRT reports.

For CD&V, the nitrogen rules for agriculture are too strict compared to the industry sector, which is why the party wants to reduce the difference. Secondly, if several farms are located near a nature reserve and one of them stops, CD&V demands that the emission margin of that farm would pass to the remaining farms.

While there is no real deadline, Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon (N-VA) said before the holidays that an agreement should be found this week and went out of his way to find an agreement on Wednesday – but to no avail.

On Monday, Conner Rousseau of the social democratic Vooruit party, which – crucially – is not part of the governing coalition but is instead in the opposition in the Flemish Parliament, already offered to approve a proposal by Environment Minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA) with a so-called "alternate majority" in parliament.

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Such an alternate majority in a parliamentary vote arises when not all governing parties approve a bill, but in the entire parliament, a majority (made up of both governing and opposition parties) is still found to approve it. The Flemish Green Party (Groen) would also be in favour of this "under certain conditions," co-chair Jeremie Vaneeckhout said that same evening on Flemish television.

Still, experts believe that it will likely not come to such an alternative majority as any concrete plans to approve the nitrogen agreement that way could send the Flemish Government into a crisis.

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