Dutch Farmers Take Down Dutch Government

Tom Finnerty27 Jul, 2023 3 Min Read
The end of the nation-state? Or its revival?

Earlier this month the Netherland's coalition government fell apart, leading Mark Rutte -- the longest serving prime minister in Dutch history -- to announce his resignation and for elections to be called for the fall. The proximate cause of all of this was immigration, a topic which has been roiling most of European politics since Angela Merkel's infamous decision to open the E.U.'s borders to a nearly unlimited number of migrants from Africa and the Middle East in 2015.

More specifically, it had to do with the structure of the government's family reunification policy for asylum seekers. Rutte's party -- the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) -- wanted to impose a limit on the number of family members recent migrants could sponsor to emigrate to the Netherlands. Two of the parties in the coalition, the center-left Christian Union Party and the further left D66 , refused.

But looking a little deeper, it is easy to see that this has a lot to do with the effect that the farmers have had on the nation's politics over the past year. That's because Rutte's rationale for taking a hardline stance on immigration was to get ahead of the Farmers-Citizen Movement (BBB), the political party that has declared war on his government's anti-farming policies and which shocked European politics watchers in March by winning the most seats (tied with the Green Party) in the Dutch senate elections and becoming the largest party in all twelve Dutch provinces in their regional elections.

They might have a point there.

BBB leader Caroline Van der Plas had already called for caps on refugees admitted to the country, saying that the government had to look at "how many genuine asylum seekers Netherlands can reasonably cope with." Meanwhile, BBB's negotiations with the Rutte government over scaling back his environmental policies, which included mandatory reduction of cattle numbers and compulsory farm sales, broke down shortly before this immigration fight came to a head.

Recent polls have found BBB to have tied, or even slightly overtaken, Rutte's VVD, as the biggest party in Holland. Journalists have started asking Van der Plas if she thinks she will end up as prime minister. Her answer: “If it comes, it comes.”

It will be difficult to pull off -- the Dutch constitution is built around proportional representation, which generally means that every government is a coalition government pulled together from the multiplicity of parties duking it out in parliament. Even if BBB ends up as the single biggest party in the election, the other parties could conspire to lock them out of power, as they have done so far in provincial governance.

Still, the west has seen a wave of populist political upsets since 2016, beginning with Brexit in Britain and the Trump election in the U.S. Moreover, the farmers are in a fight for their way of life -- as we've discussed before, the Netherlands is the second biggest agricultural producer in the world, after to the United States, and farming is so deeply embedded in their bones that the Dutch are known for it, even when they've been transplanted to South Africa, the U.S., Canada, or anywhere else. So while the deck might be stacked against them, you'd be a fool to count them out.

Tom Finnerty writes from New England and Ontario.


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