Protest election in the Netherlands: Much more than just nitrogen

Protest election in the Netherlands: Much more than just nitrogen

The peasant-citizen movement could win the Dutch provincial elections on Wednesday and thus become the strongest force in the Senate.

Flags turned the wrong way round at farmers' demonstrations in the Netherlands

Upside down flags: blue at the top, red at the bottom. Demonstrators last weekend in The Hague with the farmers’ protest symbol Photo: anp/imago

THE HAGUE/NIEUW-BALINGE taz | Half a year after the week-long Agricultural protests dominated the nitrogen crisis continue Dutch politics. In the run-up to the provincial elections this Wednesday, the conflict between farmers and environmental regulations dominated the debate. It’s no wonder that a party that until not so long ago was smiled at as a peripheral oddball has high hopes of winning the election: the BauerBürgerbewegung (BBB, BoerBurgerBeweging).

According to surveys, the party, which was only founded in 2019, is likely to be the strongest force in 5 of the 12 provinces. All are located in the rural East and Northeast, where the population has felt disadvantaged by The Hague or the “West” with its urban conurbation for years. The BBB, led by its charismatic co-founder Caroline van der Plas, echoes this sentiment: “The voice of and for the province” is its self-description.

Polls from the weekend show how well this brand is doing, according to which it is ahead of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s right-wing liberal VVD with 14 percent of the vote. In the country’s fragmented spectrum of parties, that could be enough to win the election. This would also make it possibly the largest faction in the new Senate, whose members will be elected by provincial MPs at the end of May. Because the government does not have a majority there and needs opposition support, the first chamber of parliament is an important power factor.

Authentic, down to earth and honest
Caroline van der Plas (BBB)

“The farmers represent the displeasure of society”

So far, the BBB has had only one MP: its figurehead, Caroline van der Plas, 55, a former Christian Democrat who is praised as authentic, down-to-earth and honest by her rapidly growing base of supporters. In doing so, she is fulfilling a basic need that goes back far further in the electorate than the nitrogen crisis to which the BBB owes its popularity.

The centre-right coalition in The Hague wants to halve nitrogen emissions, in the Netherlands relatively the highest in Europe, by 2030 to meet environmental regulations and protect natural areas. Plans to halve the number of livestock have been around for years – as have protests by those affected who fear expropriation. The government has announced them as a last resort and the BBB rejects them just as strictly as the target year 2030, which is perceived as too short-term. Instead, they rely on innovative technologies to reduce nitrogen emissions.

as himself last summer large parts of the population with the protesting farmers solidarity, the BBB rose rapidly. “Farmers are hard workers who work hard. That also applies to many Dutch people,” explains van der Plas at an election campaign date in the village of Nieuw-Balinge in the province of Drenthe in early March. “People who want to go on vacation with their caravan in the normal way and have the feeling that they are being ruled from an ivory tower. We lost sight of that for a long time. The farmers represent this resentment.”

False flags: blue at top, red at bottom

A large demonstration last weekend in The Hague once again made it clear how various protests in this context against the Rutte government merged. Under the inverted national flags known from last summer farmers, opponents of the Corona policy, and the supporters of various right-wing parties such as PVV (Forum voor Democratie or Belang van Nederland) gathered. The social reference in almost all speeches was striking. The crisis of the advanced Dutch neoliberalism is a fixed point of reference for this movement. The answer: a sometimes rabid anti-state and anti-elite reflex.

The BBB shares much of this displeasure, but is taking a more dovish stance, which appears to be paying off with voters. It is undoubtedly a protest party with a rather conservative following, who previously often voted for the Christian Democrats or the right-wing liberal VVD. “When we vote, we’re a little to the right of center. In the social sphere, more on the left,” said van der Plas recently in the telegraphinterview.

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