Rural Revolution: Unrest In The Netherlands

One could almost call it a classic of Dutch political life. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see the appearance in this country of newly created parties whose meteoric rise will upset the established order for a time. And even if, more often than not, their success will remain a fleeting phenomenon, they leave a lasting ideological imprint that will serve as a precedent for other similar movements, in the country as in the rest of Europe. The first example that comes to mind is that of Pim Fortuyn, a populist tragically assassinated a few days before the 2002 legislative elections. At the time, the far right, with its traditional anti-Semitic discourse, nostalgic for fascism and deeply on the societal level, was confined to the most radical circles On the contrary, this man marking his difference with Jean-Marie Le Pen and Jorg Haider, openly claiming his homosexuality and reversing the problem by claiming to be opposed to immigration and Islam in the name of Enlightenment will pave the way for the so-called strategy of de-demonization. In many respects, Fortuyn will have been the precursor of the new modern far-right, with a more polished discourse but ultimately more dangerous because it is capable of coming to power.

It is difficult today to predict whether the success of the new citizen farmer movement in the 2023 provincial elections will have the same influence in the rest of Europe. Even if it reflects concerns about the entire rural world on the continent, it also responds to Dutch specificities. Indeed, its popularity has been boosted by the famous nitrogen plan of the Rutte government, massively rejected in the agricultural community. At the origin of this plan, we find the observation that the Dutch agricultural model, with its intensive livestock farming, produces four times more nitrogen than the European average. Faced with the need to correct this trajectory, the government has opted for a radical plan aimed at halving emissions by 2030. The particularly severe conditions for farmers, who will be forced to reduce by almost a third the size of their livestock, or even for some of them to cease their activities – nearly 10,000 farms are expected to close – will have set fire to the powder and precipitated the breakthrough of the citizen farmer movement (BBB).

With 19% of the vote, this new party therefore comes first in the provincial elections by achieving the grand slam in each of them. Its scores are particularly impressive in the rural provinces of the North of the country where it exceeds 30% but it manages to obtain elected representatives everywhere, including in the metropolises and in particular in Rotterdam where the BBB exceeds 8%. Proof if there is one that beyond the only questions of the nitrogen plan, the BBB vote also reflects a general dissatisfaction expressed vis-à-vis the traditional parties and the government in particular. If we analyze the distribution of the votes compared to those of the previous provincial elections, we see that the BBB mainly attracted voters who came from the right, whether they were liberal conservatives from the VVD, Christian Democrats of the CDA or the extreme right of the PVV. That being said, the fourth contribution in votes for the BBB comes from former voters of the radical left, thus demonstrating an ability to seduce beyond the vote for the right. It is also true that, apart from agrarian questions and the emphasis placed on the defense of the rural world, the party’s program remains rather vague: we note, however, a moderate euroscepticism that does not, however, call into question the Dutch membership of the European Union, nor in NATO.

These elections mark a major defeat for the government in place led by Mark Rutte. Beyond the only provincial elections, it must indeed be remembered that it is the provinces that will then elect the senators next June. And the government, already a minority in the Senate, will then see its total number of seats fall further since they will only have 24 senators out of 75. Quite logically, it is the Christian Democrats who record the heaviest losses since a their electorate comes from rural areas which voted overwhelmingly in favor of the BBB. If the very existence of the government is not immediately threatened – the Senate, unlike the House, cannot overthrow the government – the latter will have enormous difficulty in passing certain pieces of legislation. On the other hand, tensions may arise between the liberal parties (mainly D66) which will seek to push for the adoption of texts in favor of the environment when the CDA, much more dependent, as we have seen, on rural voters , will undoubtedly want to curb the most restrictive measures vis-à-vis the agricultural world.

For the left, the results are mixed. The alliance formed by Labor and Ecologists lost a few seats but generally maintained its positions. The fact that it was overtaken by the BBB when the Alliance could have hoped to become the first force in the Senate nevertheless remains a highly symbolic setback. The sustainability of the marriage between the PVDA and the GL will be an essential element when it comes to the ability of the left to play for the win in the next legislative elections. However, this one is not unanimous within the two parties and this all the more so since no leader seems to emerge to run for the post of Prime Minister. The breakthrough of the BBB coupled with the fact that, unlike the PVDA, the Greens will lose a seat in the Senate could reinforce the feeling that it would be too risky to go with a head of the Green list in this context of extreme polarization and defiance of the world. rural towards ecological policies deemed too radical. One can therefore imagine that a Labor “lijsttrekker” would be a better choice. The current Vice-President of the Commission Frans Timmermans could be the best option to embody a joint candidacy. But we are not there yet.

What Can we Imagine For The Future?

It seems that the government will try to maintain itself until 2025, even if the hypothesis seems highly improbable all the same and that the risk of an early general election – basically a fairly recurrent scenario in the Netherlands – seems very high. The future of the nitrogen plan is not necessarily compromised, however, since the left is in favor of it and, with the help of Labor and the Greens, the government would have a majority on the wire in the Senate. However, it is not certain that the VVD and the CDA, at the provincial level, will demonstrate an excess of zeal with regard to the implementation of the plan in the various provinces where coalitions are likely to be formed. with the BBB. Especially since the question of the integration of the BBB into a government coalition on a national scale will of course be on everyone’s mind, in the very likely case that this party confirms its breakthrough in the next legislative elections.

Generally speaking, the emergence of this political force must also remind all political forces that although environmental measures constitute an absolute necessity in the non-negotiable context of the fight against climate change, they cannot be taken to the detriment of an increasingly marginalized and impoverished rural world, in the Netherlands as elsewhere. The feeling of downgrading is real and quite noticeable. And even beyond belonging to a peripheral area far from the major urban centers that can be presented as the winners of globalization, there is the fear of seeing one’s lifestyle disappear. Insecurity then becomes both cultural and economic.

In a certain way, it is better to have seen the anger of rural people fixated on this categorical vote rather than towards the extreme right, which the BBB will have finally pushed back, in the first place the FvD of Thierry Baudet who s completely collapses. Inventing a new model of rurality, both environmentally virtuous but fair and inclusive for the inhabitants while remaining respectful of their identity, will be a challenge for the years to come. This is also why what is currently happening in the Netherlands is highly significant for the whole of Europe.

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