In a surprising turn of events, a farmers' protest party has made significant gains in the provincial elections of the Netherlands, shaking up the country's political landscape. The BoerBurgerBeweging (Farmer-Citizen Movement), known as BBB, capitalized on the wave of protests against the government's environmental policies and appears to have secured more Senate seats than Prime Minister Mark Rutte's conservative VVD party.
According to an initial exit poll, BBB is projected to have won 15 out of 75 seats in the Senate, which holds the power to block legislation approved in the Lower House of parliament. In contrast, the VVD's seat count is expected to drop from 12 to 10.
The meteoric rise of BBB poses a significant challenge to Rutte's governing coalition, raising doubts about its ambitious plans to reduce nitrogen pollution on farms, the very issue that prompted the founding of BBB in 2019.
BBB leader Caroline van der Plas declared, "Nobody can ignore us any longer," emphasizing that voters had clearly expressed their opposition to the government's policies.
The government's objective is to halve nitrogen emissions by 2030, as high livestock numbers and excessive fertilizer use have resulted in nitrogen oxide levels in the soil and water that breach European Union regulations.
The nitrogen problem has had a detrimental impact on construction activities in the Netherlands, as environmental groups have won multiple court cases mandating the government to restrict emissions and protect natural areas before granting new building permits.
BBB argues that the problem has been exaggerated and that proposed solutions unfairly burden farmers, leading to the closure of numerous farms and shortages in food production.
Since the previous provincial elections in 2019, Rutte's government has lacked a Senate majority and has had to negotiate agreements with predominantly left-wing opponents.
The two most cooperative parties, Labour and GreenLeft, are expected to retain their seats, potentially maintaining a combined group that matches BBB and potentially supporting Rutte's policies.
BBB had only secured a single seat in the Lower House in 2021, but its popularity has surged due to growing distrust of the government and frustration over issues such as immigration.
Rutte's government, now in its fourth consecutive term since 2010, has seen its approval rating drop to 20%, the lowest in a decade.