Dutch agriculture minister resigns after pollution protests

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Dutch agriculture minister has quit unexpectedly, telling reporters he is not the right person for the job after a tumultuous summer of protests by farmers over the pollution regulations.

Henk Staghouwer, who only held the post for nine months, announced his decision on Monday evening. He had just returned from Brussels, where he had brokered a deal with the European Commission to scrap a Dutch derogation from manure spreading limits.

The Netherlands, along with Denmark, Ireland and the Flemish region of Belgium, had been allowed to exceed caps on the amount of manure farmers could return to their fields due to the country’s relatively small land area. But Brussels wants to phase out this exemption because the Dutch do not meet EU water quality standards.

The country’s lucrative agricultural sector has been in crisis since a 2019 court ruling forced the government to cut emissions of nitrogen oxide and ammonia, which livestock produce. Thousands of farmers staged protests, blocking towns with tractors and burning bales of hay along highways.

A 60-year-old former baker, Staghouwer had been tasked with shifting the sector away from intensive farming practices and buying out farmers to reduce total emissions.

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The government has allocated an additional 24.3 billion euros ($24.2 billion) to address the problem. Last week, Staghouwer told Cabinet he would not be able to meet the mid-September deadline to present a transition plan.

“I respect his courageous decision,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte wrote on Twitter, but others were less complimentary. MP Caroline van der Plas of the Farmers-Citizens Movement (BBB) ​​party said he was “totally unsuited” for the job.

Bart Kemp, from the farmers’ organization Agractie, told Dutch public broadcaster NOS that Staghouwer was “a friendly man, but not a decisive person”.

Staghouwer’s role will temporarily be taken over by former agriculture minister Carola Schouten.

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