THE DUTCH FARMER PROTEST – WINNERS AND LOSERS
The “Dutch N” case and the “Urgenda” case are compelling the Dutch government to seek massive reductions of greenhouse gases by 2040 and massive reductions of Nitrate contamination immediately. Agriculture is expected to take the brunt of this with massive reductions of livestock by at least 30% nationally and between 12% and 95% for individual farms. This has understandably caused protest. However, placing the protest to one side, if these moves are carried out who will win and lose?
The expectation of the court ruling is that current and future generations will win by having a cleaner environment and reduced risk of its consequences such as global warming. However, this is a naïve view for all that is likely to happen is that the production and any potential pollution is effectively exported elsewhere in the world, possibly incurring greater emissions, miles and pollution. If this is not the case, hitting over 1% of the world’s agricultural exports is likely to affect the poorest inhabitants of either Europe or the World in terms of food affordability. You have to understand that the Netherlands agriculture and food processing in such a small area is highly efficient and gets maximum production using the proportionally lowest resources. If you doubt this examine numerous publications by The World Economic Forum or National Geographic praising Dutch agriculture.
The reality for the protesting Dutch Farmer is that any loss in production is likely to be replaced within Europe by Germany and countries to the East of Germany. The ironic part of all this is that this transference will be largely funded by Holland and Germany.
This transference of agricultural production will happen for two significant reasons:
The first is, countries in Eastern Europe have the physical and political space to increase production without the environmental constraints determined by the “Dutch N” case or the Urgenda case.
The second reason is more complicated. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 Helmet Kohl successfully established a European policy of structural funds to the Eastern regions with structural adjustment in Agriculture and development of rural areas in the enlarged European Union. This policy applied initially to the old East Germany and then to other countries to the East as they joined the European Union, the largest player being Poland that joined in 1994. This policy was first conceived by Helmet Kohl in the early 1980’s as he considered how the reunification of Germany could work and how they could ensure stability in the old Warsaw Pact countries and enable them to become members of the EU. However, it is only when you look at economic papers of that era that you realize that the idea was to establish high value roles in Germany with lower value roles, albeit a greater improvement on the old communist regime to the East. This would, even under a potential future single currency, allow for the purchasing power parities in Europe to be equalled out over the different regions. The plan was over time to level up the economies of the regions to the East over time, preferably with a single currency that had been the dream since the 1960’s. It was recognized that Germany would pay a price for this but the reward of reunification and subsequent European stability was one that could be readily accepted by the German people. Germany was not the only significant contributor with the cost being born by the wealthier countries to the West, most notably Britain, France and the Netherlands. Effectively you are looking at a transfer of wealth and resources from West to East.
This means that Eastern Europe is potentially the the largest beneficiary of the reduction in Dutch agriculture with well-funded expansion of their rural economies funded in part by the Dutch!
I refer back to my earlier mention of “political space”. I will explain this as follows. The Urgenda case to reduce Dutch carbon emissions succeeded on the grounds of Human rights violations in the European Court of Human Rights. The countries of Eastern Europe have a lower regard for the authority of this court illustrated by their greater number of alleged breaches. In 2021 the Polish Constitutional Tribunal dismissed the supremacy of the Court of Human Rights in a spectacular fashion. Human rights law is the main weapon of the environmental activist and is repeatedly used in their legal arguments. The latest action on July 15th 2022 being a joint approach by Environmental Action Germany and the Dutch Mobilisation for the Environment, seeking to block a gas field in the North Sea at a time when Western economies are being held to ransom by reliance upon Russian gas. The ability of a country to stick two fingers up to the court gives it a great advantage compared to more compliant countries that respect its authority.
So, to sum up we risk seeing the demise of the Dutch farmer paid for by the Dutch and benefitting Eastern Europe.
Finally a warning – if environmental activists continue to use human rights law to pressure democratically elected governments into unpopular actions against the will of their people they risk forcing a crisis of competing authorities. All this whilst countries with less freedoms or regards for human rights increase their use of resources, their emissions and their pollution.