Netherlands: Dutch farmers' rebellion takes over the Senate

The party created by farmers affected by the Rutte government's climate measures becomes the most voted force in the Senate.

When the government of the Netherlands decided to implement climate policies that severely affected the countryside, it never thought that it would end up - both literally and democratically- taking over the Senate. In addition to organizing mass demonstrations and protests, the farmers formed a political party, the Citizens' Farmer Movement (BBB ), which became, with 15 seats, the most-voted party in the last regional elections for senators.

Rutte forced to do parliamentary somersaults to push through new laws

After the closing of polls and recounts, the BBB obtained between 15 and 17 seats (the final allocation will be finalized in May) out of the 75 that make up the Senate of the Netherlands. The four-party coalition that forms the national government tallied 24 (it had 32), far from the majority that would allow them to move forward with their bills. In the Dutch legislative process, the Senate has the final say. In other words, Mark Rutte's government will be forced to do parliamentary somersaults with opposition groups in order to get new proposals through, depending on their content. For example, it will hardly be able to count on the BBB to push forward climate policies, while left-wing formations, such as the social democratic PvdA and the Green party (GroenLinks), which together tally 15 seats, will block any movement on tightening immigration measures.

The government wants to close 3,000 farms by 2024

Prime Minister Rutte, considered an "environmentalist ideologue," is forcing his proposals, even the most radical ones, through legislation. Thus, the government's plan to halve nitrogen emissions by 2030 involves closing thousands of farms. By 2024, the authorities have approved the closure of up to 3,000 farms near "environmentally sensitive areas". This would limit "emissions of nitrogen oxides from farm animal manure and.... ammonia from fertilizers".

Although Rutte has assured that these closures will, in principle, be voluntary, farmers are wary of the threat of mandatory land purchase for those who do not comply with the program before the fall. This measure provoked a reaction from the farmers and people living in rural areas, with massive demonstrations that have been commonplace for years running. The last one, on the Saturday before the regional elections, gathered more than 10,000 farmers with tractors and trucks in The Hague.

Tear gas and dogs against farmers

According to The Federalist in 2022, some 40,000 farmers took part in protests throughout the year, causing traffic disruptions on major highways and blocking supermarket distribution centers. The protests were harshly repressed by the forces of law and order, following the government's instructions, even resorting to tear gas and the use of police dogs in cities such as Heerenveen. This response was eerily similar to the one used by the Canadian government to repress truckers protesting against Covid vaccine mandates.

In response, Irish-Dutch journalist Caroline van der Plas founded the BBB in 2019. The rise of the new party was meteoric and van der Plas herself won a seat in Congress in 2021. Polls, at that time, gave the party vote estimates of up to 15 seats. Far from the governmental accusations, which portrayed the farmers as radicals, the BBB leader denounced the "lies" of Rutte and his Cabinet: "Hardly any farmer says he does not want to cooperate in nitrogen reduction. They want to be part of the solution, but they also want the right to exist. The starting point of the policy should not be: you have to go. It should be: how can we make sure you can stay?" she said.

Rejection of the Executive's policies

This catchphrase from van der Plas was chanted by BBB supporters at the protests. "We see the farmers around us and we know how important our farmers are. How are we going to eat if we don't produce food? All those families have been there for centuries. It's their country. They made it flourish," stated a participant at the latest protests. They also accused government officials of trying to deceive them: "They lie to our faces. They are trying to steal the companies from the farmers and land workers, and they are trying to take away our freedom," said another protester.

The results of Wednesday, March 15 are clearly a vote of rejection of the Rutte government and its policies. Van der Plas herself pointed out that her triumph is largely due to citizens fed up with their prime minister. "Many voters did not feel seen. If they had been listened to or taken seriously by the government, this group of voters would normally have stayed at home, but on Wednesday they made their voices heard," she said.