(CNN) A farmers’ protest party in the Netherlands has caused a shock after winning provincial elections this week, just four years after it was founded. Could their rise have wider implications?
The peasant-citizen movement or BoerburgerBeweging (BBB) grew out of mass protests against the Dutch government’s environmental policies, protests that saw farmers using their tractors to block public roads. The BBB is now on its way to becoming the largest party in the Dutch Senate.
The developments have cast doubt on the Dutch government’s ambitious environmental plans and are being watched closely by the rest of Europe.
The movement was fueled by ordinary farmers, but became an unlikely front in the culture wars. Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen have expressed support, while some on the far right see the movement as embodying their ideas of elites using green policies to trample on the rights of individuals.
On Wednesday, the Peasant-Citizen Movement won a landslide victory in regional elections, winning more Senate seats than Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s conservative VVD party.
The first exit poll showed the party expected to win 15 of 75 Senate seats with nearly 20 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Rutte’s ruling party, the VVD, fell from 12 to 10 seats, leaving him without a majority in the Senate. Thursday’s results showed the BBB party won the most votes in eight of the country’s 12 provinces.
Wednesday’s election victory is significant because it means the party is now the largest in the Upper House of Parliament, which has the power to block legislation passed in the Lower House challenging the Dutch government’s environmental policies.
As the election results are released overnight on Wednesday, BBB leader Caroline van der Plas told national radio station Radio 1: “Nobody can ignore us anymore.
“Voters have spoken very clearly against the policies of this government.”
Newspapers have described this week’s election result as a “monster victory” for the peasant-citizen movement, which has enjoyed support from sections of society who do not feel supported by Rutte’s VVD party.
For Arjan Noorlander, a political journalist in the Netherlands, the results of this week’s provincial elections have made the country’s political future very difficult to predict. “It’s a big black hole, what’s going to happen next,” he told CNN.
“They don’t have a majority so they should negotiate to form a cabinet and we have to wait and see what the impact will be.”
Tom-Jan Meeus, a journalist and political columnist in the Netherlands, said Wednesday’s result reflected “serious dissatisfaction” with the country’s traditional politics.
“This party is definitely part of that trend,” he told CNN.
“However, it is new in that it has a different agenda from previous anti-establishment parties, but it fits into the bigger picture that has existed here for 25 years now.”
Meeus believes the shock rise in support for the BBB party is largely coming from those living in small rural villages who feel disillusioned with government policies.
“Although it is a small country, there is this perception that people who live in the western, urbanized part of the country get all the benefits of government policies, and people who live in the countryside in small villages believe that successful people in Amsterdam, in The Hague, in Utrecht have the property, and they suffer for it.
“So the feeling is that the least successful and least intelligent people are trapped by a government that doesn’t understand what their problems are.”
Noorlander agrees that the main topic they have been talking about recently is the position of farmers in the Netherlands, due to “the pollution and the environmental rules mainly set in Brussels by the EU, they were pushing against that”.
“They want farmers to have a place in the Netherlands. That’s their main topic but it’s grown in recent months. It’s become the vote of people in those farming areas, outside the big cities, against people in big cities. do politics and be more international.”
Reject climate policies
The peasant-citizen movement was created four years ago in response to government proposals to tackle nitrogen emissions.
The Dutch government launched a campaign to halve emissions by 2030, pointing the finger at industrial agriculture for rising pollution levels that were threatening the country’s biodiversity.
The BBB party has hit back against the measures – which include farmer buyouts and cattle reductions – by instead emphasizing farmers’ livelihoods which are in danger of being destroyed.
Farmers protested the government’s green policies by blocking government buildings with tractors and dumping manure on highways.
Meeus believes this week’s election victory for the BBB means the program to tackle the nitrogen crisis is now in “big trouble”.
“This vote is obviously a statement by a large part of the voters to say no to this policy,” he said.
According to Ciarán O’Connor, senior analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, the BBB has built a platform on the back of the protest movement for his party to be the representative of the “real people”.
The BBB, he says, “has been a major driving force in getting people to protest, but also in shaping the ideologies and beliefs that fuel much of the movement; rejecting or challenging climate change or, du less, measures that would have a negative impact on farmers’ livelihoods and businesses; wider skepticism of the EU; anti-immigration and anti-Islam views on the rise as well.”
Former US President Donald Trump has promoted the protest at various times during his speeches over the past year. At a rally in Florida last July, he told the crowd: “Farmers from all over the Netherlands are courageously opposing the Dutch government’s climate tyranny.”
The peasant-citizen movement has also gained support from the far right.
A report by the International Counterterrorism Center describes how what began as local protests drew the attention of extremists and conspirators, seeing them in particular as evidence of the so-called “great reset” theory according to which the global elites use the masses for their own purposes. advantage.
According to O’Connor, the movement aligns with a populist view of climate action as a new form of tyranny imposed by out-of-touch governments on ordinary citizens.
“One of the tactics used by the Dutch farmers’ protest movement has been to use tractors to create blockades. International interest in the farmers’ protest movement, and this method of protest, has really increased in 2022 shortly after the convoy of Canadian truckers which was organized and promoted by a number of far-right figures in Canada, the United States and abroad as well,” he said.
“For many far-right figures, this movement was seen as the next iteration of this type of ‘convoy’ protest and they viewed it as a grassroots protest mobilizing against tyrannical or out of touch governments.”
For some analysts, however, for the far right, claiming the Dutch protests is premature.
“I wasn’t incredibly impressed with that,” Meeus said. “In general, the perception of the problem that was in the heads of far-right people in Canada and the United States was quite remote, from what I saw.
“It remains to be seen whether the peasant-citizen movement will present itself as a far-right party.