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Farmers set to shake up Dutch political landscape

March 15, 2023

The outcome of a provincial election in the Netherlands could end Prime Minister Mark Rutte's environmental protection plans.

Thousands of demonstrators attend an anti-government protest by farmers' organizations in The Hague
Farmers say they are being unfairly targeted by the still unfinalised proposals Image: Peter Dejong/AP Photo/picture alliance

Opinion polls suggest a party started by disgruntled farmers could get significant support in Wednesday's provincial elections in The Netherlands.

That is bad news for Prime Minister Mark Rutte as provincial elections also determine the make-up of the Senate.

What might we expect from voters?

The polls show the BBB or BoerBurgerBeweging (Farmer-Civilian Movement) could win more seats in parliament's upper house than Rutte's conservative VVD party.

It will be a severe setback for Rutte's governing coalition, which has not had a Senate majority since the previous provincial elections in 2019 and must negotiate deals with left-wing opponents.

The BBB could ally with other parties in the Senate to challenge Rutte's plans to cut nitrogen emission levels.

Why the farmers oppose the plans

The Dutch prime minister has committed to halving the Netherlands' nitrogen emissions by 2030.

To do that that his government announced plans to reduce livestock numbers by a third and possibly the "expropriation" of farms. Farmers say the still unfinalized proposals are unfairly targeting them compared to sectors such as industry and transport.

"We don't really feel heard," Erik Stegink, national president of the BBB said. "Sometimes we don't even feel welcome in our own country anymore."

Rising tides - Climate change and coastal protection

It is the issue that prompted the party's formation in 2019. The BBB won a single Dutch House of Representatives seat in 2021, but its popularity has since surged partly to Rutte's environmental policies.

More than 10,000 Dutch farmers protested in The Hague on Saturday against the government's plans.

Rutte, who has been in power since 2010, says he has "hope" his governing coalition could solve problems, including the farm plans.

lo/rc (AFP, AP, dpa)