Dutch politician Frans Timmermans, the architect of the EU’s Green Deal, is backing away from a domestic commitment on nitrogen usage reduction.

Timmermans, the recent European Commissioner for Climate Action, stepped away from that role in August to contest the Dutch elections. He is leading the Labour Party/Green left party grouping, and hopes to become the next prime minister.

The Dutch government fell over immigration issues, but its determination to cut nitrogen usage by 50% by 2030 led to fierce opposition from farmers, and fuelled the rise of the Farmer Citizen party, the BBB. This target gained the approval of the European Commission in Brussels, but failed to pass into law as the four-way ruling coalition fell apart.

Timmermans now seems to be distancing himself from the 2030 deadline for the halving of nitrogen usage.

In an election debate last weekend, he said of talks with farmers: “We’re talking about specific years, but what we really need to talk about is nature.”

He added: “We’ll see how we can come together, and I think that’s more important than keeping exactly what we agreed in the election manifesto.”

This was interpreted as a step towards the more manageable, less ambitious target of 2035 for the halving of nitrates reductions in the Netherlands.

It has been estimated that one-third of cows could have to be culled to meet the proposed 2030 deadline for the halving of nitrogen usage, primarily to meet air quality targets.

The Labour-Green alliance Timmermans leads is currently polling at 16%, in third place.

The New Social Contract party, only formed in August, leads on 19%.

It has hit support for the BBB. Led by Caroline van der Plaas, it was the leading party in July opinion polls in the summer following their stunning success in March’s local and Senate elections, but is currently polling in fifth place at 6%.

The election takes place in two weeks, on 22 November.