In 2005, the Netherlands and the Flanders region of Belgium agreed to give the 300 hectare Hedwige polder in Zeeland back to the sea. The idea was to make up for the loss of saline nature areas caused by the dredging of the Westerschelde estuary in order to keep Antwerp harbour accessible to large ships. I wrote about this in a previous column.
A deal is a deal, you might think. But nothing is further from the truth. Alternatives are now being thought up and designed. We are now five cabinet decisions further down the line and we still seem to be far from breaking the impasse. The disastrous flood of 1953, the polder's role in feeding the world, Zeeland's right to make its own decisions... no stone is unturned in the search for arguments. But the European Commission has run out of patience. It sees a solution in Henk Bleker's latest plan, a partial return of the polder to the sea. But there is strong criticism of this plan too. 'Not a drop of water in the Hedwige', declares PVV MP Richard de Mos. And: 'If necessary I will lie down on the dike in front of the diggers myself.' A real government crisis was looming but before it could become a reality the cabinet fell through the failure of its coalition negotiations.
So what now? Nobody knows. One after another, they have got bogged down in the heavy Zeeland clay. Duchess Hedwige de Ligne, wife of Engelbert IX, Duke of Arenberg, lived just over a century ago. I think she is looking on from above in astonishment. And I would suggest that the people of Zeeland keep their eyes skinned. If they see De Most lying down at the foot of the dike, they will know that the bulldozers are on their way.