Armin Cuyvers on nitrogen policy following Timmermans' visit to The Hague
There is no time to lose when it comes to repairing damage to nature. For that reason and to show that the European Commission is neither a ‘bogeyman’ nor an enemy, European Commissioner Frans Timmermans came to the Dutch House of Representatives to talk with Caroline van der Plas, leader of political party 'BoerBurgerBeweging', about nitrogen policy. Van der Plas wanted to know exactly what rules Europe is imposing on us and what room there is for her own interpretation.
Nitrogen Act must comply with Habitat Directive
Timmermans’ visit to The Hague ‘is not common practice, but a good move’ says Armin Cuyvers, Professor of European Law, on Dutch BNR Nieuwsradio. ‘This concerns a common objective, which is improving the environment – an important policy area – and so the Commission is happy to do so.' Timmermans is also willing to consider alternatives to the Nitrogen Act [Wet stikstofreductie en natuurverbetering]. For Cuyvers, this is a strong and positive sign. 'Timmermans said quite clearly what the European objective is. The Nitrogen Act must comply with the Habitat Directive. You cannot damage your protected areas. Currently we have such high levels of nitrogen emissions that these areas are being damaged. If you can solve that – which is your goal, keeping the protected areas healthy – then you can choose your means to achieve that goal. It's not about buying out farmers or not.’
Timmermans believes that the alternative is worth studying and appreciates the efforts, but quite clearly puts the burden of proof back on the Netherlands. The bottom line remains: are you protecting the environment? And that's where the problem lies, especially where Caroline Van der Plas’ proposal is concerned.
Nitrogen plays a crucial role
‘It is true that Europe does not impose a deposition standard, but it is still not clear how you now solve the environmental problem without doing something about nitrogen. Nitrogen plays a crucial role. Van der Plas will have to prove and demonstrate that her plans lead to nitrogen reduction. Where future construction plans are concerned that lead to objections, the Dutch courts will have to continue to review the Habitat Directive. If the plans do not demonstrably remain within the European limits, the court will again overturn those rules, because European law simply takes precedence over Dutch law’, Cuyvers explains. The Habitat Directive does not specify a year. ‘The problem is that our nitrogen emission levels are already too high. The question is, are you damaging your protected areas or not? If you can protect these areas without buying out farmers, then fine. If you find a technological solution that solves the problem, then everyone’s happy. But if you don't have this solution, you have to protect these areas. Removing protected areas is not an option. These have not been randomly determined’, Cuyvers said.