EU wields axe on farmers’ livelihoods after flaming torch protests

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Dutch farmers are furious after being warned their government could take their farms off them unless they step in line with “voluntary” farming measures to hit EU pollution targets. The Dutch authorities have warned it will buy out 3,000 farms polluting the most ammonia and nitrogen oxide in EU-protected areas unless changes are made.

The Dutch government has set the goal of reducing ammonia and nitrogen by 50 percent by 2030. It wants farmers in a protected area of land, which the EU calls the Natura 2000, to cut livestock numbers.

In June 2022, the Dutch government planned to cut back the number of livestock by more than 35 million.

The plan also includes helping some farmers relocate or quit the industry completely.

Dutch MP Tjeerd de Groot of the D66 region told BBC Radio 4 that the warning of buyouts was a “plea” for high-polluting farmers to “cooperate on a voluntary base” and accept these “gold-plated” measures.

“It’s the classic carrot on the stick,” he remarked.

But farmers are outraged by the so-called “plea”. Farmers were recently filmed as part of a protest against the Dutch finance minister.

A video was shared on social media, showing a group of fire-wielding farmers surrounding the finance minister.

One farmer, living on the edge of the EU’s protected zone in the east of the Netherlands told the BBC the situation left her in a very uncertain position.

She said: “The uncertainty is so big for us as a farm. It makes me sad. How could I choose between the animals: you have to stay… You have to go…”

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Mr de Groot said: “It’s certainly very emotional, so we have to change the whole agriculture into more circular agriculture so farmers will want to continue and aren’t unlucky to be in the wrong place and have the opportunity to do so.

“It’s to create space also for the farmers who want to stay but based on a different model of agriculture.”

The Natura 2000 is an extensive piece of land spanning over 18% of EU territory. It is the habitat of rare and threatened species.

In 2015, the Netherlands introduced a system for allowing farms to operate as usual provided they can offset the amount of nitrogen output.

But in 2019, the High Council said the system had failed and began new measures to reduce pollution.

The project was called a failure after environmental groups sued the Dutch government on the grounds they had failed to hit EU pollution targets.

The government halted all applications for new constructions including farm expansions in the protected areas.

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