By Bart H. Meijer
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – A farmers’ protest party shook up the political landscape in the Netherlands on Wednesday, emerging as the big winner in provincial elections that determine the make-up of the Senate.
The BBB or BoerBurgerBeweging (Farmer-Citizen Movement) party rode a wave of protests against the government’s environmental policies and looked set to have won more Senate seats than Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s conservative VVD party.
A first exit poll projected BBB won 15 of a total of 75 seats in the Senate, which has the power to block legislation agreed in the Lower House of parliament, with the VVD dropping from 12 to 10 seats.
The meteoric rise of BBB is a major blow for Rutte’s governing coalition, casting doubt over its aim to drastically cut nitrogen pollution on farms, the single issue upon which BBB was founded in 2019.
“Nobody can ignore us any longer,” BBB leader Caroline van der Plas told broadcaster Radio 1.
“Voters have spoken out very clearly against this government’s policies.”
The government aims to cut nitrogen emissions in half by 2030, as relatively large numbers of livestock and heavy use of fertilizers have led to levels of nitrogen oxides in the soil and water that violate European Union regulations.
The nitrogen problem has crippled construction in the Netherlands as environmental groups have won a string of court cases ordering the government to limit the emissions and preserve nature, before new building permits can be granted.
The BBB says the problem has been exaggerated and that proposed solutions are unfairly balanced against farmers, leading to the closure of many farms and food production shortages.
Rutte’s government has not had a Senate majority since the previous provincial elections in 2019 and must negotiate deals with mostly left-wing opponents.
The two most cooperative parties, Labour and GreenLeft, looked set to have held on to their seats, keeping their combined group at a par with BBB and possibly enough to maintain support for Rutte’s policies.
BBB won a single Lower House seat in 2021, but its popularity has surged on the back of growing distrust of the government and anger over issues such as immigration.
Rutte’s government, in its fourth consecutive term since 2010, has dropped to a 20% approval rating, its lowest in a decade.