Nitrogen policy: Flemish government in crisis after failed negotiations

Nitrogen policy: Flemish government in crisis after failed negotiations
Credit: Belga/James Arthur Gekiere

The Flemish government failed to reach an agreement on its nitrogen policy this weekend after fraught (and supposedly final) negotiations fell through on Sunday evening. The failure plunges the Jambon government into a deep crisis.

Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon (of rightwing N-VA party) is waiting for a response to an "ultimate proposal" from the Christian Democrat CD&V party, but they have already made it clear that they disagree with the proposal unequivocally.

"We do not agree with what is on the table," said Deputy Prime Minister Hilde Crevits. "As it stands, the dossier offers too little for young farmers. A lot of farming families are in trouble and we want them to have a future."

While Jambon is putting the ball in CD&V's camp, the Christian democrats are refusing to budge having made it clear that only Minister-President Jambon can fix the thorny issue. But if it depends on CD&V, negotiations will simply continue, perhaps indefinitely.

Working constructively?

"We want to continue working as we have in recent months," Flemish Agriculture Minister Jo Brouns (CD&V) said on Flemish radio on Monday morning. "The nitrogen dossier is too important for young farmers, for nature and for our economy."

Brouns argues that N-VA and Open VLD are still willing to get around the table and stressed that "nobody benefits from locking up agriculture until 2030... people want to keep looking for solutions." On this front, Jambon did make an effort on Sunday. But according to reports from VRT news, Jambon's N-VA party is hoping to capitalise on the impasse to force CD&V out of the Flemish government.

Brouns, however, said that while Sunday was indeed a "very difficult moment" for negotiations, he did not get the impression that his party is being pushed out. "We are working on constructively: we want to keep looking for solutions, even in difficult circumstances."

After months of negotiations without any breakthrough, Brouns reaffirmed his willingness to carry on discussions until an agreement is found. "Speed is important, but being thorough is even more important. Several groups are already preparing lawsuits and we won't just settle on a framework that will be torn up because it isn't fit for purpose."

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Despite the eagerness of Brouns (and the entire CD&V party) to reopen negotiations, coalition partners have had enough. Last Monday, Conner Rousseau of the social democratic Vooruit party, which (crucially) is not part of the governing coalition, already offered to approve a proposal by Environment Minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA) with a so-called "alternate majority" in parliament.

An alternate majority is when not all governing parties approve a bill but the majority is made up from the rest of the parliament. Given the right conditions, the Flemish Green Party (Groen) has also indicated that it would be in favour of this, in a statement by co-chair Jeremie Vaneeckhout said that same evening on Flemish television.

But Brouns is reluctant to speculate on what might happen: "Our position is clear. In the government, we always decide by consensus. That is laid down in the law and I am still assuming that this should also be ultimately possible in this dossier."

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