The majority in parliament wants the Netherlands to try to block the Nature Restoration Act

A large majority of the House of Representatives determined on Tuesday that the Netherlands in Europe must still vote against the controversial Nature Restoration Act. And it is remarkable: responsible VVD minister Christianne van der Wal (Nature and Nitrogen), as a Member of Parliament, also voted against the Nature Restoration Act, while the outgoing cabinet is now in favor.

In essence, Van der Wal voted against her own policy goals to improve nature, and against the Netherlands’ intention to support that controversial law. This is possible because ministers and state secretaries from the ‘old’ cabinet are also allowed to be Members of Parliament during a formation, until it is clear whether they will remain as ministers or not.

Very normal

The VVD minister himself acted to journalists after the vote as if it was a completely normal course of events. “Because this is a faction decision and I agree with the faction,” said Van der Wal. “I will now first discuss in the cabinet what this means.” It seems unlikely that the Netherlands would be able to stop the law.

The Nature Recovery Act introduces measures that must cover 20 percent of the land and 20 percent of the sea in the EU, and all ecosystems that must be restored by 2050. The European Parliament already adopted the law at the end of February, but it must still be formally ratified in April. The Netherlands was very critical of the law because of its impact on farmers, for example, but when the law was weakened the cabinet decided to be in favor.

BBB and NSC had submitted a motion in the House of Representatives to call on the cabinet to vote against in Europe in the Council of Ministers and to look for a “blocking minority” of member states. They point out that the deadlines for, for example, nitrogen and water quality in the Netherlands are still unattainable, and fear “serious legal and policy consequences” due to the law.

The BBB and NSC motion received 99 votes in favor and 46 against on Tuesday; PvdA-GroenLinks had requested a roll-call vote, so that MPs can vote individually, not per faction.

As a VVD MP, Van der Wal had not taken that freedom. “Because I am or am part of the VVD faction. And then you also vote accordingly. That’s how we do it.” VVD State Secretary Eric van den Burg (Justice), as a Member of Parliament, also voted in favor of the motion, but refused to comment afterwards. “I’m not going to say anything about that.”

‘Humiliating position’

GroenLinks-PvdA leader Frans Timmermans, who helped shape the Nature Restoration Act in Brussels, said he did not understand the decision of the VVD and Van der Wal. “I don’t understand why she is not given the space by her own group to simply vote against this motion,” he said. “It makes no difference to the outcome of the vote. Now you are forcing her into what I find a humiliating position, where she has to do something different here than what she does in the cabinet. Completely unnecessary.”

Van der Wal had no need to respond to Timmermans’ opinion. “I don’t like it at all,” she said. “We have a slightly different consideration in the cabinet.”

“It is sometimes difficult to change hats,” said VVD faction leader Sophie Hermans. “I will not go into the substance of what kind of discussion we had. We never do that, not even today.”