A farmers' protest party angered by new green laws triumphed in shock Dutch election results, prompting its leader to ask: “People, what the f--- happened?” Caroline van der Plas’s Farmers-Citizen Movement (BBB) is projected to become the equal largest party in the senate, taking 15 seats from none before the vote. The Left-wing GroenLinks/PvdA is also expected to win 15 seats, in the wake of months of turbulent farmer protests against government plans to cut nitrogen emissions.
Regular readers will be familiar with the Dutch farmer protests. The short version of their story is that the E.U. has been pressuring the Dutch government to reduce emissions by 50 percent by the end of the decade. Since Holland is the world’s second-biggest agricultural exporter, after the United States, the agricultural sector is the most obvious place to make cuts.
Of course, farming isn't just abstract economic sector, or even just a job. It's a historic way of life in the Netherlands. So when the Dutch government started pressuring farmers to significantly reduce their livestock numbers; implemented emissions licenses, required for any expansions of existing farms; and announced plans for shutting down at least 3,000 farmers (which included threats of confiscation of farmland if farmers refused to sell); the farmers fought back.
For months farmers have been periodically "slow rolling" highways, pulling tractors out onto the open road in order to reduce the flow of traffic. They blocked food distribution centers and dumped their milk rather than send it to market. They did whatever they could to remind their fellow citizens that they were there, that they weren't going away, and that what they did was necessary for the Dutch nation to continue.
In December we reported that prime minister Mark Rutte had vowed not to change course or negotiate with the farmers, who he argued were breaching the peace. Well now he'll have to, since the farmers' party, the BBB, hold more senate seats than his party does:
Rutte, the centre-right Dutch prime minister, insisted his coalition government would survive, after its four member parties lost eight of their combined 32 seats in the 75-seat senate. “This is not the result we wanted,” he said, after projections showed his VVD party was on course to win 10 seats.
"Not the result we wanted" is quite the understatement! According to The Telegraph, as the largest party in the senate (tied, once again, with the Greens), the BBB is now in an ideal situation to "form alliances with other parties in the senate and block green legislation."
Now, the BBB still have a lot of work ahead of them, and this result doesn't guarantee that they will successfully rollback Rutte's environmentalist policies. But it does give them an invaluable seat at the table, of the kind that they didn't have before. So, pace Mr. Rutte, let the negotiations begin.