Frans Timmermans is fighting for his green heritage

Frans Timmermans is fighting for his green heritage
Frans Timmermans speaking to the press after the Climate Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, November last year.  Photothek image via Getty Images

Frans Timmermans speaking to the press after the Climate Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, November last year.Photothek image via Getty Images

There is no sign of panic among European Commissioner Frans Timmermans (the Green Deal), although a decisive debate awaits him. Many of the MEPs he meets on Monday want to tear up the Nature Restoration Act and his other green plans. Timmermann’s political legacy – the European Union’s Green Revolution – is at stake.

The omens are decidedly unfavorable to the Dutch supervisory manager. At the beginning of this month, the European Christian Democrats (the largest group in the European Parliament) vociferously referred to the Nature Restoration Act, as well as the halving of pesticide use by farmers, as proposed by Timmermans. Was this still to be expected – the European brothers and sisters of the CDA had been hoping for some time against ‘climate France’ – a week later followed an unexpected proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to hit the pause button on new green initiatives. The Élysée later ruled it a “misunderstanding”.

Last week, Timmermans had to take another right-wing decision, this time from Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Without batting an eyelid, the German Christian Democrat said any bills that parliament and member states could continue to process until next spring’s European election campaign halted the Brussels mechanism should be investigated.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen with Frans Timmermans in Strasbourg.  ANP image

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen with Frans Timmermans in Strasbourg.ANP image

Amazing, because Von der Leyen approved all of those laws himself. “A pattern is emerging,” said an EU official worried about the growing outcry that enough had been done with the green wave.

blank check

It is the Nature Restoration Act that has Conservative parliamentarians furious these days. MEP Esther de Lange (CDA) compares this bill to a blank check you wouldn’t sign. According to her, the Netherlands will be closed under this law. The demands for nature restoration will restrict agriculture, housing, transportation, and many other forms of activity.

Flemish liberals speak of “enlightened absolutism”. If the climate changes, nature and people will simply have to adapt, according to these liberals. Right-wing groups in Parliament see the Nature Restoration Act as the ultimate example of the “green madness” ravaging Europe and proof that the “elites” are out to grab farmers’ land.

It had been clear for some time that this law would meet resistance. The Netherlands are among the first – and still are vocal – opponents of violating existing nature conservation regulations already in place for years. At the end of last year, long before BoerBurgerBeweging won the parliamentary elections, Agriculture Minister Piet Adema had already warned in Brussels that it would be nice. His message on the law was “Not now, not all at once.” Minister Christian van der Waal (Nature and Nitrogen) was recently in Strasbourg to support the resistance.

The bill, introduced by the Commission in June 2022, aims to put an end to the deterioration of the quality of lands, rivers and seas. About 80 percent of the habitat is in poor condition, due in part to over-fertilization, pollution, and drought. This threatens biodiversity that is essential to agriculture, as well as many other sectors.

If it were up to the committee, at least 20 percent of the land and sea would be covered by the recovery program by 2030. Moreover, the decline in the number of pollinators (bees and butterflies) must be halted, cities must be given more parks and rivers must be given more space. With another law, the commission wants to cut pesticide use in half.

food security

The ambitious plans, which the Committee recognizes, need further clarification. Timmermans will explain to parliamentarians that the Nature Restoration Act will not be at the expense of food production, an argument opponents are happy to use. On the contrary, the committee argues that continuing on the old path, with further loss of biodiversity, undermines food security.

The commission denied the fact that farmers would no longer be allowed to use 10 percent of their land, as the Christian Democrats claim. It is about a different use of the land next to the ditches and roadsides, something the new agricultural policy already provides for.

The commission also points out to the realm of fiction that plans to restore the sea are hampering the construction of offshore wind farms. These parks are good for recovery as they act as natural reefs and no fishing is allowed. In any case, the Nature Restoration Act only says that a recovery plan should be in place by 2030. How long recovery will take is largely up to the member states involved.

Also notable, given the fierce resistance in The Hague: according to the commission, the consequences of the law in our country are limited. In that time, the Netherlands has come a long way in defining Natura2000 (protected) natural areas. As a result, the Nature Restoration Act leads to a maximum of 200 square kilometers of additional land that must be restored. Restoration of economic activity is not protected, is still possible. “An edge on the Veluwemeer,” one interested party calculates. “So no: the whole country will be locked down.” The “degradation ban” challenged in law affects the Netherlands to a lesser extent than other countries.

Steam and boiling water

This does not change the fact that anger is great in parliament. VVD member Jan Huitema, someone who has an eye for cultivation without blinders, also believes the committee has come a long way. “We should not rush these plans through parliament with steam and boiling water.” What has certainly not helped are the letters recently sent by Commissioner Verginius Sinkevicius (environment, oceans and fisheries) to the Netherlands (about nitrate rules), Germany (about shrimp fishing) and Spain (agriculture). The administrative tone (these are the laws you have to obey) reinforced the image that Brussels was being controlled by unworldly cousins.

Not entirely harmful to the Timmermans, by the way, it gives him the opportunity to present himself as a “realistic understanding”: tell me your problems, we’ll try to find a solution. This is very much needed, because a number of banknotes will be presented before the summer that will meet with great resistance. For example, the Soil Health Act to improve soil quality, which goes beyond stopping degradation. Environmental organizations call for strict and binding standards.

At the same time, in an effort to nip farmers’ resistance in the bud, the Commission is proposing to relax the rules on genetically modified crops. The trade-off: Less pesticides, more resistant crops. In addition, farmers can be supported if they choose agricultural methods that reduce carbon dioxide2 Stay grounded.

Art Helmsman

Timmermans realizes there is a lot at stake. His flagship, the Green Deal, introduced in 2020, seemed to reach its ultimate goal thanks to its agile steering skills. Nearly all climate gauges – combustion engine end, CO2 more expensive2Allowances, renovation and insulation of premises – passed on time. Circular economy proposals (eco-design; packaging less) do not seem controversial. The pain lies in the third pillar of the Green Deal: promoting biodiversity.

The European Commission says the EU’s credibility is at stake. How can the union encourage China, Brazil and India to play their part in combating climate change if member states decide enough is enough? The ECB also warns that postponing measures will only eventually raise the bill and make it more painful.

The transition to sustainable energy has begun irrevocably, the new Brussels think tank concludes Strategic prospects This month. Laws are in force, now is the time to apply them. “But past successes are no guarantee for the future,” says a UNHCR official.

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