(CNN) A farmers’ protest party in the Netherlands has caused a shock after winning provincial elections this week just four years after it was founded. Could their rise have wider implications?
The Farmer-Citizen Movement, or BoerburgerBeweging (BBB), was born out of mass demonstrations against the environmental policies of the Dutch government, demonstrations where farmers used their tractors to block public roads. BBB now becomes the largest party in the Dutch Senate.
The development has called the Dutch government’s ambitious environmental plans into question, and the rest of Europe is watching them closely.
The movement was driven by ordinary farmers, but has become an unlikely front in the culture wars. Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen have voiced their support, while some on the far right see the movement as embodying their ideas of an elite using green politics to trample on individual rights.
“Triumph of the Monster”
On Wednesday, the Farmer-Citizen Movement won a big victory in regional elections, gaining more seats in the Senate than Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s conservative VVD party.
According to the first poll, the party was set to win 15 of the 75 seats in the Senate with almost 20 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Rutte’s ruling VVD party dropped 12 out of 10 seats – leaving it without a majority in the Senate. Thursday’s results showed that the BBB party had won the most votes in eight of the country’s 12 provinces.
Wednesday’s election victory is significant because it means the party is now the largest in the upper house of parliament, with the power to block legislation agreed in the lower house, putting the Dutch government’s environmental policy in question.
When the election results came out on Wednesday, BBB director Caroline van der Plas told domestic radio 1: “No one can ignore us anymore.
“Voters have spoken very clearly against the policies of this government.”
Newspapers described this week’s election result as a “monstrous victory” for the Farmer-Citizen Movement, which has enjoyed support from sections of society unfamiliar with Rutte’s VVD party.
For Dutch political journalist Arjan Noorlander, the results of this week’s regional elections have made the country’s political future very difficult to predict. “It’s a big black hole, what happens next,” he told CNN.
“They don’t have a majority so they would have to negotiate to form a government and we’ll have to wait and see what the impact is.”
Dutch journalist and political columnist Tom-Jan Meeus believes Wednesday’s result reflects “serious dissatisfaction” with the country’s traditional politics.
“This party is definitely part of that trend,” he told CNN.
“However, it is new in the sense that it has a different agenda than the previous anti-establishment parties, but it fits into a bigger picture that has been here for 25 years.”
Meeus believes that the shock increase in support for the BBB party is largely due to people living in small rural villages who are disillusioned with the government’s policies.
“Even though it’s a small country, there’s a perception that people living in the western, urbanized part of the country get all the benefits of government policies, and people living in small villages in the countryside believe that successful people in Amsterdam, The Hague, Utrecht have the goods, and they suffer for it.
“So the feeling is that less successful, less intelligent people are trapped by a government that doesn’t understand their problems.”
Noorlander agrees that the main topic they’ve been talking about lately is the position of Dutch farmers because “because of the EU’s pollution and environmental rules, mostly in Brussels, they were against it.”
“They want a place for farmers in the Netherlands. That’s their main issue, but it’s become wider in the last few months. It’s become the voice of people living in these farming areas, outside the big cities, against the people in the big cities. Politics and internationalization.”
Abandoning climate policy
The farmer-citizen movement was founded four years ago in response to the government’s proposals to reduce nitrogen emissions.
The Dutch government launched an effort to halve emissions by 2030, pointing the finger at industrial agriculture for rising pollution threats to the country’s biodiversity.
The BBB party has opposed the measures – which include buying out farmers and reducing livestock numbers – instead of focusing on the livelihoods of farmers who are at risk of being destroyed.
Farmers have been protesting the government’s green policies by blocking government buildings with tractors and dumping manure on highways.
Meeus believes BBB’s election win this week means solving the nitrogen crisis is now in “big trouble.”
“This vote is clearly a statement by a large portion of the electorate to say no to this policy,” he said.
According to Ciarán O’Connor, senior analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, the BBB has built a platform behind the protest movement for their party as a representative of the “real people”.
The BBB, he says, “has been one of the leading driving forces in getting people to protest, but also in shaping the ideologies and beliefs that drive much of the movement; combating or challenging climate change, or at least measures that would negatively impact farmers’ livelihoods and businesses; the wider EU- skepticism; anti-immigration and anti-Islam views are also increasing.”
Support from the extreme right
The former president of the United States, Donald Trump, has promoted the protest at several points in his speeches during the past year. At a rally in Florida last July, he told the crowd: “Farmers all over the Netherlands are bravely standing up against the Dutch government’s climate tyranny.”
The Farmer-Citizen Movement has also received support from the extreme right.
A report by the International Counter-Terrorism Center describes how events that began as local protests gained the attention of extremists and conspirators, particularly to see it as evidence of the so-called “Great Reset” theory, in which global elites use the masses for their own purposes. put to account.
According to O’Connor, the movement aligns with the populist view of climate action as a new form of tyranny imposed on ordinary citizens by outside governments.
“One of the tactics used by the Dutch farmers’ protest movement has been the use of tractors to create blockades. International interest in the farmers’ protest movement and this method of protest really grew in 2022 not long after the Canadian truck convoy was organized. and various far-right figures in Canada, the United States and also internationally are promoting it “, he said.
“Many on the extreme right saw this movement as the next iteration of that ‘convoy’-style protest, seeing it as a popular demonstration mobilizing against tyrannical or untouchable governments.
However, for some analysts, it is premature to claim that the Dutch protests are a far right.
“I was incredibly unimpressed,” Meeus said. “In general, the perception of the problem that was in the minds of the far right in Canada and the United States was quite distant, as far as I could see.
– It remains to be seen whether the Farmer-Citizen Movement presents itself as a far-right party.