Dutch minister upsets farmers

By Gaston Dorren
Published: Friday 15 September 1995

The first Dutch agriculture minister of urban origin, Jozias van Aartsen, has upset farmers in the country, charmed free-market enthusiasts, and at the same time added fillip to the green movement. In his recent policy paper, he envisions a rural development scheme with less regulation and financial- support. He suggests involving more virgin tracts and organic farming.

For decades, the Department of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries, headed by Christiandemocrats belonging to the rural stock, was a bulwark of the farmers' lobby. Conservation, organic farming and environmental protection were touched up only grudgingly, and after much pressure. The main thrust was always for more production, regardless of whatever the side-effects may be.

The recent policy paper, Dynamism and Innovation, arguably represents the most radical idea ever conceived in Dutch consensus politics. Van Aartsen expects farmers to conform to 2 external constraints: the market and the environment. Both are, however, remote perspectives.

About 1/3rd of the agricultural production of the Netherlands heavily depends on European Union (EU) subsidies, and left to the minister, it may have to survive unsheltered in the stem climate of the world market.

This was apparent from a draft version of the paper which was distributed earlier this year among 30 sector opinion leaders. All this persuaded the free-marketeer minister to amend his suggestions. But even in the final text, he insists on describing the interferences by the EU as 'artificialities' that need to be checked. This view which is gradually gaining ground, could prove important for eastern Europe and the South.

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