Home » New Dutch coalition aims to reintroduce 80mph limit in cull of climate goals

New Dutch coalition aims to reintroduce 80mph limit in cull of climate goals

The Netherlands’ new right-wing coalition government aims to reintroduce daytime speeds of 80mph on motorways as part of a number of proposed changes to the country’s environmental policies which have sparked concern.

The move echoes the anti-green stance of other right-wing parties across the continent, as environmental issues become popular bogeymen for populist politicians. In Germany, for example, heat pumps have been politicised, as members of the far-right party AfD have called the Green party “our enemies’.

On Thursday morning, the far-right politician Geert Wilders announced that his anti-Islam, anti-immigration Party for Freedom was forming a coalition with the centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), pro-reform party New Social Contract and the Farmer-Citizen Movement.

A 26-page coalition accord titled “hope, guts and pride” outlined measures aiming to reduce migration, introduce constitutional reform, address a housing and cost-of-living crisis and row back on climate change and pollution policy.

Under previous governments, the Netherlands was seen as one of the forerunners of Europe in adopting renewable energy sources – especially in solar power – and planning to drastically reduce animal farming to address its manure-based pollution problem. But, although the small, low-lying country would be partially submerged without action on rising sea levels and river flood risk, there is little in the accord on climate change.

Echoing far-right sentiment across Europe, Wilders’ own manifesto pledged to give “no billions to unnecessary climate and nitrogen pollution policy” and “stop the hysterical reduction of CO2”, while putting climate rules through the shredder. “For decades, we have been made to fear climate change and although the predicted disaster scenarios – over the whole world – were supposed to get more and more extreme, none of them have happened,” it claimed.

He did not gain enough cross-party support to become prime minister and the coalition will have an experimental structure, recruiting 50% of ministers from business. A multi-year climate change fund remains, although with €1.2bn less invested in the next four years.

Daytime motorway speeds, which had been reduced to 62mph to reduce nitrogen compound pollution, will return to 80mph (130km an hour) “where possible”, subsidised “red diesel” will be reintroduced for farmers from 2027, certain manure pollution measures will be scrapped and the coalition pledges not to enforce compulsory animal farm closures.

Targets for the introduction of heat pumps will be abandoned, and four nuclear plants will be built.

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Caroline van der Plas, the leader of the Farmer-Citizen Movement – for the first time representing farmers in government – said: “High-quality agriculture is being protected, and that’s necessary because we have a problem with food security in the world. Dutch farmers don’t have to feed the world, but farmers in the Netherlands can help.”

Left-wing leaders and climate activists were immediately sceptical, pointing out that the coalition also has no majority in the Senate. Frans Timmermans, the leader of the Green Left-Labour alliance – second-largest party in parliament – and former head of Europe’s Green Deal, told Dutch media the EU would never agree to Dutch exemptions: “They say …‘We’ll go to Brussels because we don’t want to keep to the rules about nitrogen’. Brussels will see you coming. You always ask other member states to stick to the rules but you don’t want to do that yourself. Honestly, it is not going to happen.”

Marjan Minnesma, the director of Urgenda, which won a legal battle to make the Dutch state reduce carbon emissions, said the accord risked a stream of court cases. “Previous ministers have tried to do all they can by derogation [provisions within EU law] for agriculture and nitrogen-based emissions … and it’s easy to say you will just stop, but an awful lot is built on EU law,” she told NPO Radio1. “But we are also dependent on the EU because the same farmers export most of their products. This is largely gesture politics.”