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Rogier Kegge on important provincial elections issue: nitrogen emissions

Dutch provinces must finalise their plans this summer to meet the government's targets on nitrogen emissions. Can the outcome of the provincial elections this week still change nitrogen policy? The NOS spoke about this issue with various parties including Rogier Kegge, assistant professor in administrative and environmental law at Leiden University.

Lower nitrogen emissions by 2030

Not all provincial councils are eager to reduce nitrogen emissions by 2030 to the extent that around three quarters of protected nature areas are no longer affected by too high levels. This has to do with the painful choices for the agricultural sector that this would require. Yet all provinces are making plans for lower nitrogen emissions by 2030, which they are required to submit to Minister Van der Wal in the summer.

If the current opinion polls are an indicator for the upcoming election results, the composition of the provincial councils will soon be very different. The polls indicate that seats in many provinces will go to representatives of parties who are critical about het government’s nitrogen policy. Provinces can refuse to implement national policy. which would mean a delay in implementing the government’s plans. If all else fails, the minister will take control. She has various options for doing so, according to Rogier Kegge on the NOS news site.


For instance, the law states that the minister can determine a province’s plans if they do not go far enough. ‘But the question then is: will they implement it? In [Dutch] constitutional law we can prescribe a drastic remedy in that case, ‘indeplaatsstelling’ [intervention]. If a province engages in gross neglect of duties, the minister can take control.’

Sidelining a province is complicated, though. ‘It can’t be done if a province merely does things slightly differently to what the minister wants. Only if a province refuses outright, can the minister step in’, says Kegge. ‘That’s something that is difficult to establish and has not happened often in the past.’ It also takes a long time before a minister can force a province to implement nitrogen policy.

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