Result calls into question premier Mark Rutte’s ability to implement harsh policies to cut nitrogen emissions from farms.
The farmer-friendly FarmerCitizenMovement (BBB) landed a major victory in Wednesday’s Dutch provincial elections, which determine the composition of the Senate.
The rural party came from nowhere to finish ahead of Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) party in an election seen as a referendum on the government’s performance.
The results call into question the Rutte government’s ability to implement harsh policies aimed at clamping down on nitrogen emissions from farms, which triggered huge farmers’ protests last summer — and confirm BBB’s meteoric rise in Dutch politics.
BBB — which had no representative in the Senate before last night’s election — is set to win 15 out of 75 seats, becoming the largest force in the Parliament’s high chamber (tied with a Labor-Green coalition), ahead of VVD’s 10 seats, according to exit polls published by Dutch newswire ANP on Thursday morning.
It is major blow to Rutte’s ruling coalition — made up of VVD, the liberal Democrats 66, the conservative Christian Democratic Appeal and the Christian Union — which lost eight of its 32 seats.
While the results are unlikely to affect the government’s nitrogen agenda at the national level, they might delay its implementation.
According to Simon Otjes, assistant professor in Dutch politics at Leiden University, Rutte’s government will likely have to align with the left-wing Green-Labor alliance in the Senate — which has the power to veto any legislation — which supports its nitrogen policy.
But, at the regional level, “there are center-right majorities with BBB and parties such as CDA and VVD, and these will be oriented at delaying, postponing and obfuscating” the central government’s attempt to clamp down on nitrogen emissions, Otjes said.
“Provincial governments are the ones who are going to implement the policies: They’re the ones who are going to decide, for example, which farms are going to close,” he added.
Pro-farmer party leaders were jubilant at the results.
Caroline van der Plas found inspiration from her opponents
“People, what the fuck happened?” said party leader Caroline van der Plas in an ecstatic victory speech Wednesday night.
The atmosphere was a lot less joyful at the VVD’s election night event, where Rutte acknowledged the results were “not what [he] wanted,” but said the stability of his Cabinet was not called into question.
The elections turned into a referendum on Rutte’s rule, with 60 percent of voters saying they wanted to express their views on the government by voting — and 46 percent said they disapproved with its policies, according to an online poll from Ipsos published by public broadcaster NOS on Wednesday evening. Election turnout was 57.5 percent.
The farmers’ party, created four years ago in response to the so-called nitrogen crisis, is now the third largest political force in the Netherlands, with 16 percent of the national vote according to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls.