Dutch government and farmers in talks over emission reduction targets

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Representatives of Dutch farmers were meeting Prime Minister Mark Rutte and other Cabinet ministers on Friday to discuss the government’s nitrogen emission reduction targets that have sparked disruptive protests these last weeks.

But prospects for success looked dim, with the two main activist farmers’ organizations demanding concessions and not participating because they had no faith in the veteran politician appointed to mediate. They say the mediator, Johan Remkes, is not independent.

Rutte made no comment to reporters as he entered the meeting in the central city of Utrecht.

Farmers angry at a target to cut nitrogen emissions by 50% by 2030 have blocked supermarket distribution centres, parked tractors on highways and dumped rubbish including manure and asbestos , on the roads in recent weeks.

Rutte criticized what he called small groups of farmers who he said put others at risk by the nature of their protests. “Deliberately endangering others, damaging our infrastructure and threatening people helping clean up crosses all lines,” he wrote on Twitter last week.

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The government was forced to act after courts in recent years began blocking permits for infrastructure and housing projects because the country failed to meet its emissions targets.

The government has earmarked a further 24.3 billion euros ($25.6 billion) to fund agricultural reforms that are likely to force many farmers to drastically reduce their livestock numbers or get rid of them altogether. Provincial authorities have had one year to formulate emission reduction plans.

Sjaak van der Tak, chairman of the main farmers’ lobby group, LTO, said the talks were vital. LTO represents around 30,000 farms in the Netherlands.

“It is of paramount importance that we, along with the other agricultural parties, really expect something from this Cabinet,” Van der Tak said on his way to the talks.

LTO says there are nearly 54,000 agricultural businesses in the Netherlands with exports totaling €94.5 billion in 2019.

Dutch Nitrogen Minister Christianne van der Wal said she had no expectations ahead of the talks.

“First, listen,” she said.

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