Johan Hamster (40, ChristenUnie) has been deputy for agriculture, nature, damage repair, internationalization and nitrogen for half a year. In particular, the repair and reinforcement operation related to the mine damage and the Groningen nitrogen approach require his attention.
Hamster announced in January that he would stop as councilor for the social domain and economy in Stadskanaal municipality. Then he was called if he wanted to succeed Henk Staghouwer because he had been appointed Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.
I believe that what we want to achieve is achievable. If not, we go back to the area
Johan Hamster, Groningen deputy on behalf of ChristenUnie
‘The work as a councilor or deputy is comparable, the intensity is different,’ says Hamster. ‘I now have to deal with several interest organisations, various ministries and intensive processes such as the strengthening effort and the area process around the nitrogen supply, in addition to the policy on the Wadden Sea.’
Were you able to assess the feelings that the nitrogen approach evokes beforehand?
‘Yes and no. In the run-up to the letters of June 10, I was already working a lot with nitrogen. We knew the message would have an impact. The sector had already made itself known last time, in 2019. But the intensity as it is now is different. Although it is not so bad here in Groningen.
“The reduction target here is 25 percent with a focus on one Natura 2000 area. This makes it a fairly manageable task compared to many other regions in the Netherlands. We are trying to respond to this with the Groningen nitrogen approach.’
You think the Groningen farmers are allowed to squeeze their hands so they get off so well?
‘I won’t say that. It remains a big task. If it affects your business, you really need to work. In this connection, it lands on the farm. But I am optimistic, entrepreneurs are used to looking for solutions.’
Does all the pressure that is being put on the nitrogen dossier from The Hague disturb your relationship with, for example, agriculture?
“I don’t think this is a disturbed relationship. It may also have to do with the Groninger slope, which is not easily disturbed. What helps is that we as management try to find the right tone. We make points of attention for the central government’s policy, and we take a prerequisite position as a province. So we create the opportunities, the economic sectors and nature managers can fill that in themselves.’
Do you intend to implement the national reduction target at all costs, even if it turns out not to be possible?
“We see the state’s overall task as a task. Once we have implemented our Groningen nitrogen plan and the northern nitrogen approach, we will see if there is still a task left. In any case, we have devised a process to get there. And there are clear goals. Not only for nitrogen, but also for climate and water. It is important for, for example, the peat colonies.’
Does Groningen deal with the restructuring or restructuring of agriculture?
“We start with the low-hanging fruit scheme, which is an initiative that companies can use relatively easily. This is an innovation scheme and not a restructuring scheme. I’m excited to see how far we get with it. It also depends on the enthusiasm of agricultural companies to participate.’
How is the process going now in Groningen?
‘We want to have formulated a task and goals before September. In the autumn, we will discuss it with the various sectors, so in addition to agriculture, we will also discuss transport, industry and nature managers.
‘The map issued by nitrogen minister Christianne van der Wal has attracted great interest among farmers, but also among governments. Especially since so much was still unclear. We try to indicate more clearly how we perceive the task. That should bring peace back.’
You can also restore peace by promising not to buy up companies and by allowing PAS reporters.
‘We have received assurances from the government that a solution will be found for the 180 PAS detectors in Groningen. So they still get a permit. Furthermore, as it stands now, we are dealing with one skid steer. But we also have a task to reduce emissions by 97 mol. Then you are not there with the purchase of one company. Therefore a general reduction target.’
Having trouble implementing this policy?
“So far it is possible, all the more so because I believe that what we want to achieve is achievable. If not, we go back to the area. I think that can also be explained to the farmers. So far it has been a success.’
Isn’t that a little too positive? Groninger already had a problem with the subsidence and is now getting another one from a government they no longer trust.
“I actually see comparisons, also with the benefits case. People get into trouble because the government has not set it up properly. So we have to do it differently this time. It is not without reason that we as a province have just submitted ten points to the central government, conditions for the implementation of state policy. These bottlenecks should be resolved within a year.
‘People want certainty and perspective on a good sandwich. So I understand that the House of Representatives has also asked for a more concrete perspective for agriculture.’
What will Groningen look like in ten years?
“Groningen is and will be an agricultural province. I think the outer area of Groningen went through a transition around 2030 that was ultimately better than expected for the farmers. And I hope that they will farm in a more nature-inclusive way.’
Successor to Henk Staghouwer
Before succeeding fellow party member Henk Staghouwer, the Groningen deputy Johan Hamster was a councilor on behalf of ChristenUnie for twelve years and partly deputy mayor of Stadskanaal. He took up that position in 2010. Before that he was a member of the city council. Hamster graduated from the University of Groningen in philosophy and previously worked as a philosophy and violin teacher. As a councillor, he managed the portfolios Education, Work and Income, Finance and Youth Care. He managed to get the municipality back on its feet financially through major cuts. Binnenlands Bestuur magazine chose Hamster as the year’s best local administrator in 2020.