Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Tuesday that his Cabinet members have enough trust in one another to continue working together, as lawmakers took a break from their summer vacations to debate the government’s contentious plans to reduce nitrogen emissions, which have sparked angry protests from farmers.

Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra summoned the debate after saying in a newspaper article that the aim of decreasing emissions by 50% by 2030 was not fixed in stone. Since the government revealed its nitrogen targets, Hoekstra’s Christian Democrats party, which normally wins votes among farmers and rural communities, has been losing ground in polls.

Hoekstra’s remarks infuriated members of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s four-party ruling Cabinet, prompting MPs to support a proposal for a discussion, the first major test of unity since the coalition assumed power in January following the country’s longest-ever government formation negotiations.

Although Rutte admitted that Hoekstra’s interview “caused friction with” the government’s goals, he added, “My conviction is that all members of the Cabinet have enough confidence in one another to continue working together.”

He stated that the administration was awaiting the conclusion of a series of negotiations between a mediator and ministers, agricultural industry representatives, and environmentalists aimed at easing tensions in the intense public debate.

The debate was also used by lawmaker Geert Wilders, whose Party for Freedom is the largest opposition group in parliament and who called for it, to criticize the government for not doing enough to address the cost-of-living crisis that is afflicting the Netherlands and many other European countries due to soaring energy costs and inflation.

“This Cabinet is completely disconnected from reality,” Wilders declared as the debate began. Later in the debate, which was anticipated to go into the evening, he indicated he would file a move of no confidence in the government.

Sigrid Kaag, the head of the moderate D66 party, did not attend the discussion due to illness. Her party has fought hard for the emission reduction objectives, and Dutch media said that she told the Cabinet during a meeting that she had lost faith in Hoekstra after his interview. Rutte did not respond to the reports.

According to the government, nitrogen oxide and ammonia emissions from cattle must be severely reduced near nature areas that are part of a network of protected habitats for endangered plants and wildlife that spans the 27-nation European Union.

Rutte’s administration has given local governments a year to develop plans for achieving the savings.

Farmers argue that this will drive many out of business and damage rural communities that rely on agriculture. Over the summer, they placed manure and debris, including asbestos, on highways and blockaded supermarket distribution sites, halting the supply of food to stores.

Source: AP News


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