Police in The Netherlands fired gunshots at Dutch farmers who were protesting the implementation of EU-based climate rules on the emissions of nitrogen that threaten the livelihoods of thousands.
On Tuesday evening, police fired what they said were warning and “targeted” shots at a farmer’s protest in Heerenveen in the north of the country. The Friesland police claimed a “threatening situation” had ensued after protesters allegedly tried to drive through the line of police and law enforcement vehicles, necessitating the use of firearms.
The incident, footage of which was widely shared on social media, did not result in any injuries, though three protesters were arrested and one tractor was hit with a bullet, the local De Telegraaf newspaper reported.
The National Criminal Investigation Service (Rijksrecherch) said that an investigation into the incident will be conducted as a result of officers discharging their weapons.
The use of force by the police was condemned by the Farmers’ protest group Agractie, which questioned if “people had to die first” before the government comes to the table to negotiate with the farmers, adding that the situation could have turned out much worse.
ACP police union representative Maarten Brink said that it was unclear from the footage posted on social media what had necessitated the firing of gunshots, saying police officers “never just grab” their weapons without reason.
At the heart of the dispute and the protest is the decision of the left-wing coalition government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte to impose green agenda standards laid out by the European Commission.
Under the EU’s Natura 2000 network, which designates vulnerable habitats for both animals and plants, the bloc mandates that the 27 member states “must ensure that the sites are managed in a sustainable manner, both ecologically and economically.”
In order to fulfil that mandate, the Dutch government has announced plans to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions produced by livestock by 50 per cent by 2030. Last month, the government described the move as an “unavoidable transition,” saying that it will seek to reduce emissions close to protected areas by between 70 and 95 per cent. It has been estimated that as much as 30 per cent of livestock farms could be shut down.
The Dutch farmers, for their part, have claimed that other EU nations are not acting as zealously to fulfil the requirements and therefore they are being put at an unfair disadvantage. Agriculture plays a key role in the economy of The Netherlands, with the LTO national farming lobbying group estimating the industry accounts for 54,000 businesses throughout the country and produced 94.5 billion euros in exports in 2019.
The protests, in which large tractors have been used to shut down roads and other key areas of infrastructure, have not only led to clashes with police but have also resulted in food shortages at supermarkets across the country at a time in which inflation and food prices have already been soaring due to the aftermath of COVID lockdowns and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a major food supplier.
On Wednesday, the protests continued, with farmers deploying their tractors to Groningen Airport.
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