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Pro-farmer party wins big in Dutch elections after protests over emissions regulations

Members and supporters of the Farmers Defense Force (FDF) demonstrate against the government's nitrogen policy in the Zuiderpark in The Hague.
Members and supporters of the Farmers Defense Force (FDF) demonstrate against the government's nitrogen policy in the Zuiderpark in The Hague. Copyright ROBIN UTRECHT / ANP / AFP
Copyright ROBIN UTRECHT / ANP / AFP
By Rosie Frost
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Action against new climate laws in the Netherlands has spurred the popularity of a new political party.

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Farmers in the Netherlands have attracted global attention by blocking roads, dumping manure and protesting outside the houses of politicians.

Now a farmer-friendly political party BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB) has landed a major victory in provincial elections on 15 March to appoint members of the Dutch Senate.

Sem van der Wal / ANP / AFP
Farmer-Citizen Movement (BoerBurgerBeweging) or BBB leader Caroline van der Plas speaks to the press.Sem van der Wal / ANP / AFP

The rural party finished ahead of Prime Minister Mark Rutte's People's Party for Freedom and Democracy. The victory has called into question support for climate policies meant to limit the country's nitrogen emissions. 

It also means that the BBB is now the third-largest political force in the Netherlands. 

Why are Dutch farmers protesting?

More than 10,000 farmers joined fresh protests on Saturday 11 March ahead of the election. Many were flying the country’s flag upside down in a symbolic representation of the movement.

They say that the new regulations to cut nitrogen emissions have been exaggerated and current proposals to solve the problem are unfair and ineffective.

Rutte has committed to halving nitrogen emissions in the Netherlands by 2030. Levels of nitrogen oxides in the country’s air and water are currently higher than EU regulations allow.

AP Photo/Peter Dejong
An upside-down Dutch flag was hung on a barn in protest against the Dutch government's plans to drastically reduce emissions of nitrogen pollutants.AP Photo/Peter Dejong

A lot of these emissions come from the waste produced by the country's more than 100 million cows, pigs and chickens. Despite its small size, the Netherlands is the world’s second-biggest exporter of agricultural products by value behind the US.

To cut nitrogen emissions, the government plans to reduce livestock numbers by a third, which could mean some farmers face compulsory buyouts. 

Despite many in rural regions acknowledging the significance of the climate crisis, Rutte has been criticised for the sudden announcement of these agriculture plans.

How did the BBB grow in popularity?

The BBB or Farmer-Citizen Movement was founded in 2019 by agricultural journalist Caroline van der Plas.

The government’s plans to reduce the number of livestock in the Netherlands and close some farms have caused the party to soar in popularity - especially in rural areas. In the north and east of the country, pre-election polling indicated it was the largest political party.

With the seats BBB has won in the Dutch Senate, it could form an alliance with far-right parties to block these new nitrogen emission regulations.

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