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Liekuut | Not livelihood security but nitrogen should be the major theme

13 November 2023

In ‘Liekuut’, which is the Groningen dialect for straight ahead or straightforward, we regularly share the perspective of one of our academics on a topical issue. This is how we show that UG researchers contribute to the societal debate.

Livelihood security seem to be the magic words of this election campaign. It is presented in the media as the major election theme. According to Dirk Jan Wolffram, this is the case because the truly major themes are not translated into the parties' political visions... ‘It wasn’t always like that,’ says the Professor of History of Governance and Politics in Modern Times. ‘In the fifties and sixties, fundamental debates about the societal order led to the establishment of national insurance legislation in response to the economic crisis of the 1930s.’ Drastic and complex solutions to something that was a real fundamental societal problem at the time: livelihood security.

Nitrogen policy as litmus test

‘The great litmus test for defining decisive policy in the upcoming cabinet formation will be the nitrogen file. In a way, that’s our big national hotbed; a very complex issue that simply must be solved – all scientists involved agree on that. The issue entails many hurdles and challenges and touches upon several areas: housing and infrastructure, the health of our soil and inner waterways, the future of farming and animal wellbeing. Besides that, we are bound to European legislation. All of these aspects have to be pointed out before we can come to a vision and a clear policy.’

Complex matter

‘We’re talking about possible mandatory buy-out schemes, nitrogen levies for businesses, and a solution for airport Schiphol. The nitrogen issues ironically also make it more difficult for us to achieve certain climate goals, because we are only allowed to build a small number of wind turbines and we can’t realize any CO2 storage units because of the emission during construction. All in all, a very complex matter that one-liners aren’t going to solve.’ However, when GroenLinks-PvdA also let go of 2030 as the target year to achieve a 50% nitrogen emission reduction, the urgency of the nitrogen problem disappeared.

Prosperity inhibits policy-making

‘In a country as prosperous as the Netherlands, livelihood security shouldn’t have to be a theme. On the other hand, this prosperity also causes politicians to be very conservative in their policy solutions – you know what you have and you don’t want to lose that – and reluctant to draw any clear ideological lines, preventing national and international challenges from becoming concrete. The emphasis on livelihood security therefore hampers effective policy choices on larger terrains, such as nature and climate but also international cooperation.’

The big search

‘During this election campaign, politics and the electorate are clearly searching for the right direction. Voters have been drifting for years and ever since the nineties, most parties miss a clear ideology, which makes it difficult to distinguish between them. The increased prosperity and a reduced dependence on the state also ensures a less ideologically-steered profile. Someone who now thinks social housing should be improved, might see immigration as a threat. Voters are drifting between PvdA and PVV. Due to the rise of market forces in the past decades and the emphasis on self-reliance of citizens and the ‘participation society’, parties are searching for what it is citizens actually want from their government and what politics are able to offer.’

Huge challenges

‘In the next decades, in addition to our national nitrogen policy, we are faced with huge challenges in the area of climate change – a supranational problem. It doesn’t only touch upon biodiversity but also upon development questions, the associated migration, and economic interests. Next to that, international security is also a theme that rarely gets mentioned in the campaign. Even though, for almost two years now, a war has been going on on the borders of Europe, and the situation in the Middle East is nowhere near stable. If the political parties will also take these issues seriously, it could be a new starting point to make policies that will benefit us not just now but especially tomorrow, and that will give the voter something to go on.

Overview of all 'Liekuut' opinion pieces.

Last modified:13 November 2023 11.17 a.m.
View this page in: Nederlands

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