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The Dutch Nitrogen Crisis: Explained Posted by on Nov 18, 2019 in Dutch Language, Dutch Vocabulary, News

It was only in 2012 when the Dutch overheid (government) passed a wet (law) to allow 130 km/h (80 mph) on snelwegen (highways), up from 120 km/h (75 mph). And now, in a matter of days, a besluit (decision) was made to limit it to 100 km/h (62 mph) again, starting on January 1. A nieuwjaarsresolutie (New Year’s resolution), so to say. But to solve what problem? Let’s dig in.

A horrible decision for the vroemvroempartij

To be more specific, though, the 100 km/h snelheidslimiet (speed limit) counts only for driving overdag (during the day). From 7 pm to 6 am, the previous 130 km/h limit remains in force.

Mark Rutte had quite some explaining to do. The minister-president (prime minister) and head of the VVD had a difficult decision to make here. The VVD, the party known as the vroemvroempartij (vroom vroom party) for its push to increase the maximumsnelheid (maximum speed) to 130 km/h, now leads with a decision to go all the way back to a measly 100 km/h. “Ik baal er ongelofelijk van, het is verschrikkelijk” (“I am really annoyed by it, it is horrible”), Rutte said, “maar anders hadden mensen met Kerst zonder baan gezeten” (“but otherwise people would have been out of a job by Christmas”). He even made an appearance on the YouTube-kanaal (YouTube channel) of his vroemvroempartij, explaining the situation (see above). And it is all related to what is now known as the stikstofcrisis (nitrogen crisis). The what?

Bouwstop and stikstof

In July, the Raad van State (Council of State), the highest general administrative court in the Netherlands, made an uitspraak (judgment) that the Programma Aanpak Stikstof (PAS) (Program Tackling Nitrogen), could not be used to give vergunningen (permits) to projects that emit stikstof. The PAS did two things: hand out vergunningen for stikstof-emitting projects, and for stikstof-reducing projects. But that goes against the European wetgeving (legislation) on the matter. The PAS assumed vooruitlopend (in anticipation) that reductions of stikstof could be achieved with the stikstof-reducing projects, while the European law says that there must be zekerheid (certainty) vooraf (before) giving any vergunning that these reductions will occur. Under the PAS, projects were given vergunningen that would emit more stikstof than any stikstof-reducing project would compensate for, which put the Netherlands in a stikstofcrisis!

Why is stikstof bad? A too high amount of reactive stikstof leads to verzuring (acidification) of the grond (soil), which in turn can lead to the disappearance of many plantsoorten (plant species), while others thrive. This creates a monoculture that can alter the entire ecosystem for the worse. See the video above.

The Raad van State annulled the PAS, which meant that the overheid (government) had to come up with a new program to hand out permits for such projects. Reactive stikstof is mostly emitted by landbouw (agriculture), bouw (construction) and verkeer (traffic), so the consequences for the economie (economy) are grave.

At the end of september, a rapport (report) was published by the commissie Remkes (Commission Remkes, named after oud-minister (former secretary) Johan Remkes) about different things the overheid could do. With the fitting name Niet alles kan (not everything is possible), it purports that many activities need to be reduced to prevent a further increase of reactive stikstof, such as reducing the maximumsnelheid on snelwegen.

The disappearance of the PAS had immediate consequences: More than 18,000 bouwprojecten (construction projects) had to be interrupted, which is now known as the bouwstop (construction stop). Lowering the maximum speed and halting staluitbreiding (herd expansion) are other maatregelen (measures) to stop the increase of reactive stikstof.

Affected by the stikstofcrisis: Natura 2000-gebied Kop van Schouwen in Zeeland (Image by Sander v. Ginkel at Commons.wikimedia.org under license CC BY SA 4.0).

The question now is: is het genoeg (is it enough)? The meningen (opinions) about this are verdeeld (divided). Some point to changing the natuurgebieden (nature reserves), like bundling them in larger single gebieden than the more than 160 currently in the country. Others say the maatregelen are not going to work, or may even make the problem worse. Or that the overheid has to look at more options.

What do you think of the stikstofcrisis? Is there a comparable situation in your country? Let me know in the comments below!


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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.