Decentralization of Dutch Nature Policy: Opportunities and Threats for Nature
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Recently, the Dutch government and the provinces decided to increase the degree of decentralization in nature policy. To do so policy agreements between the governments were made in the Nature Agreement. This thesis analyses the recent decentralization of nature policy in this agreement according to criteria for successful decentralization to determine the strengths and weaknesses of this decentralization and the opportunities and threats of this decentralization for nature. The focus in this thesis is on the decentralization of national nature policy towards the provinces, the relations with other governments and non-governmental organizations is not addressed in detail. Criteria for successful decentralization used in this study are derived from the analysis of former decentralizations of Dutch nature policy together with more general criteria derived from the literature. These criteria are: policies including decisions of (inter)national importance are unsuitable for decentralization, complex and multi-faceted policy issues in an area specific context are suitable for decentralization, the suitability of the parts of the policy cycle for decentralization, the availability of sufficient resources, political commitment, a clear legal framework, accountability and transparency at the local level and the capability and readiness of the personnel to execute decentralized tasks. Besides, the involved governments must also stick to their agreements in order to make a decentralization successful. This literature study shows that not all administrative nature types of the Netherlands are suitable for decentralization towards the provinces. Nature types more suitable for decentralization are: national landscapes, the development areas and robust connection zones of the EHS, agricultural lands, the green blue veining and green in and around cities. Because these nature types include complex issues in a regional context, which are preferably managed by the provinces as they stand closer to these issues. Other nature types preferably governed by the national government are: core areas of the EHS (national parks and Natura 2000 sites) and protected nature monuments (outside of Natura 2000), because these areas are of internationally important ecological value, and the Dutch government made international commitments regarding these nature types. Some parts of the policy cycle seem more suitable for decentralization compared to others. The implementation stage of nature policy is the most suitable stage for decentralization and is already decentralized to a large extend in the Netherlands. The suitability of the decentralization of the agenda setting and formulation stage of the policy cycle depends on the context of the policy issue and the administrative type of nature in which the issue occurs. The formulation and agenda setting of complex and multi-faceted policy issues woven into a regional context can better be handled at the provincial level, as they stand closer to the issues and the involved stakeholders. Whereas the formulation and agenda setting of more central, uniform and generic policy issues can better be handled at the national level. The review of policies (review stage) needs to be done at the same level as the agenda setting stage. Some decentralizations of the Nature Agreement are more likely to be successful compared to others. The decentralization of national landscapes, other nature, parts of the EHS (core areas excluded) and the responsibility for the management plans for Natura 2000 sites do seem suitable for decentralization, because these parts of this decentralization offer complex multifaceted issues involving many stakeholders. Whereas other parts of this decentralization such as the decentralization of national parks, protected nature monuments and decisions on conservation matters and harmful activities in and around Natura 2000 sites, seem unsuitable for decentralization. Because these parts of decentralization include decisions of international importance based on international commitments. The most important weakness of this decentralization is the lack of (financial) resources at the provincial level. Besides this other weaknesses are: some lack of political commitment, obscurities of the legal framework, possible fragmentation of internationally important parts of nature policy and some lack in the capability and readiness of the personnel. Important strengths are the decentralization of complex multifaceted policy issues in a regional context towards the provinces and the accountability and transparency of the Nature Agreement. Important opportunities for nature regarding this decentralization are: the possible increase of social support for nature policy, the possible increase of freedom for local natural resource managers to give their own interpretation on nature management, more opportunities for the provinces for region specific developments and the increase of local variation in Dutch nature. This decentralization of nature policy can improve the local identity of Dutch nature and enhance regional developments. But this decentralization seems to bring more threats for nature, with as most important threat the degradation of existing nature due to the lack of financial resources at the provincial level (governmental cuts). Besides, the fragmentation of internationally important nature, the possible priority for some provinces for economic development instead of nature conservation and development and the probable loss of knowledge of nature (policy) on the national level, are also important threats for nature.