No perspective and now no minister either, was the succinct summary of SP MP Renske Leijten in the House of Representatives this week about the stalemate in agricultural policy since Henk Staghouwer (ChristenUnie) announced his resignation on Monday. Opposition parties called on the government to find a successor for Staghouwer as soon as possible: ‘reflections’ by Johan Remke, who discussed the controversial nitrogen plans with the cabinet and farmers’ organizations in the summer, are expected later this month. Furthermore, Staghouwer had promised the farmers that he would come up with a better ‘perspective letter’ as soon as possible on how farmers can become more sustainable in the coming years and still earn enough.
A new hire is expected next week at the earliest
ChristenUnie leader Gert-Jan Segers is now looking for a replacement for Staghouwer. He said just Tuesday that the search would not be a rush job. A new hire is expected next week at the earliest. The party says the new candidate must be aware of the heavy task that awaits him or her. ChristenUnie also wants to talk to the three other coalition parties about the mandate for the new minister, because Staghouwer would have been caught between the four parties’ opposing wishes. In addition, the ministry is temporarily in the good hands of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Poverty Policy Carola Schouten, Minister of Agriculture in Rutte III. She continues to work with the new perspective letter.
Staghouwer’s successor must be someone with authority who takes concrete action
Position of Schouten
At the same time, Schouten’s position is also an argument for quickly finding a replacement. Schouten has his hands full with his cabinet portfolio now that large groups of Dutch people are at risk of financial difficulties due to soaring inflation and rising energy prices. Poverty policy and agriculture are “two monster jobs side by side,” says one person involved.
Based on her experience, Schouten could return to Agriculture permanently, but this would lead to another vacancy at Social Affairs. In addition, Schouten added in 2020 Summer guests on the idea of more deadlines on agriculture: “I don’t want to think about it.” In the previous period, Schouten often came into conflict with the farmers over nitrogen. It cannot be ruled out that Segers will knock on her door again.
For now, he is looking for alternatives within his own party. Various farmers’ organizations, including Agractie, this week gave ChristenUnie the unsolicited advice in various media to also look outside their own party for candidates who are good with the agricultural sector. This included Louise Fresco, until recently chairman of the board of the ‘agricultural university’ Wageningen and Aalt Dijkhuizen, former chairman of the Agricultural Collective, where farmers’ clubs used to work together on nitrogen.
For Segers, these kinds of outsiders are less attractive because they cannot preach the typical ChristenUnie sound in the Council of Ministers, certainly not on other topics. Former party leader Leen van Dijke finds “affiliation with the sector” recommended for a next minister, but warns that Staghouwer’s successor should not bow too much to farmers. “The new minister must be strong enough for the sector to go through the restructuring that is now needed. Farmers will always oppose that policy, but we have to get through it now.”
ChristenUnie has no drivers with agricultural experience
ChristenUnie does not have a battery of drivers with agricultural experience. Within the party, Andries Heidema, the King’s Commissioner in Overijssel, is mentioned. Heidema studied agricultural science in Wageningen, but said he had not yet been approached by Segers and that he had ‘no ambition in this direction at all’. Another frequently heard name is MP Pieter Grinwis, a farmer’s son who is considered talented. Grinwis, 42, is a spokesperson for agriculture, but has only been a Member of Parliament since last year. An outsider is top official Harry Paul, who worked for many years in the Ministry of Agriculture and was also inspector general of the Dutch Food and Consumer Safety Authority.
Farmers see movement at the cabinet after consultation with Remkes
GroenLink MP Laura Bromet suggested this week in NRC that VVD member Johan Remkes is the ideal candidate because he already sat around the table with the cabinet and the farmers and made progress. Within the coalition parties, this option is not being taken seriously at the moment. ChristenUnie prominent figures don’t think it’s a bad idea if their own party really can’t find anyone. “Remkes is a good driver, without a doubt,” says former party leader Van Dijke. Former minister Eimert van Middelkoop: “Remkes is doing excellently. He has the enormous advantage that he is starting to gain authority in the rural associations. And Remkes is already working on the perspective.”