Netherlands: farmers’ sling at center of provincial elections

The Dutch voted on Wednesday in crucial provincial elections in which a new party pledged to give voice to the farmers’ revolt and challenge the government and its plans for the environment.

The “Farmer-Citizens Movement” (BBB) ​​could be one of the big winners of these elections, according to polls, which are used to appoint representatives to the Senate at the expense of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s ruling coalition. Party of the centre-right VVD.

The agriculture world has expressed its anger in recent months by demonstrating against government plans to reduce the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions, notably garnering support from former US President Donald Trump.

A good performance by the BBB would mean that it could ally itself with other parties in the Senate to thwart government policy, and in particular to oppose any reduction in herds or possible evictions of farmers. .

The first results are expected after voting ends at 9:00 pm (8:00 pm GMT).

The BBB was only founded in 2019 and has only one MP, but has exploited populist and anti-elitist tensions and sentiment in the Netherlands, mainly at the expense of Mr Rutte, in office since 2010 and the longest serving Dutch prime minister to do.

In the Netherlands – the world’s second largest agricultural exporter after the United States, despite its small size (about 41,500 km2 for 18 million inhabitants) – farmers believe the executive is ignoring their concerns.

“We really aren’t heard, sometimes we don’t even feel welcome in our own country,” the BBB’s national president and pig farmer Erik Stegink told AFP last week.

– manure and flags –

Demonstrators with tractors in Den Bosch on the eve of elections in the Netherlands on March 14, 2023 (ANP/AFP – Jeroen Jumlett)

Highways blocked by tractors and fertiliser, heated rallies outside politicians’ homes, inverted Dutch flags placed in fields to symbolize their catapults: the farmers’ actions have attracted worldwide attention.

They were still in the thousands to demonstrate on Saturday in The Hague, where the government sits, while climate activists blocked a main artery of the city at the same time.

The government aims to reduce nitrogen emissions, a greenhouse gas emitted especially by fertilizers and livestock waste, by 50% by 2030.

The measure is necessary, according to him, to solve the housing crisis in the Netherlands where major construction projects, which also emit nitrogen, have been suspended by the courts for environmental reasons.

The Hague wants to release 25 billion euros by 2035 to help the agricultural sector reduce its nitrogen emissions, notably through a reduction in livestock but possibly also through removal in places close to protected natural areas.

Farmers say they are unfairly targeted by the government compared to other sectors such as industry and transport.

The far-right has taken up the issue, alleging that farmers are victims of a “globalist” conspiracy to deprive them of their land.

However, the polls predict a crushing blow for the populist Forum for Democracy (FvD) party, which was the overwhelming winner of the last provincial elections in 2019.

Its leader Thierry Baudet has in recent years advocated a corona-sceptic conspiracy theory and raised a “hero” Vladimir Putin in hopes of a Russian presidential victory in Ukraine.

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