Dutch Farmers maintain opposition to 'Green Reset' amid provincial turmoil

After seven months of back-and-forth between farmers and the Dutch coalition government, negotiations within the world's second-largest agricultural exporter collapsed last week.

Dutch Farmers maintain opposition to 'Green Reset' amid provincial turmoil
Dutch farmers
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Talks to form a provincial government in Noord-Brabant have restarted without the Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB) after they failed to strike a deal with coalition partners on agricultural policy, specifically the modernization of cattle sheds.

The BBB wanted to push back the timeline for that item from the start of 2024. However, the conservative VVD, Labour (PvdA) and GroenLinks did not concede.

"The other parties couldn't support our amendments, so we pulled the plug on the negotiations," said John Frenken, the BBB provincial assembly leader in Noord-Brabant.

Local VVD chairman Martijn van Gruijthuijsen told the provincial assembly his party no longer had confidence in the BBB. The VVD, which has nine seats, will look to form a coalition with PvdA, GroenLinks, D66, the Socialists (SP) and Lokaal Brabant. 

The BBB won 20% of the vote in the provincial elections, enough to claim 11 seats. 

BBB leader Caroline Van der Plas said the Dutch are sick of the never-ending crisis over reducing nitrogen emissions to 'save the planet.'

After seven months of back-and-forth between farmers and the Dutch coalition government, negotiations within the world's second-largest agricultural exporter collapsed last week.

The government aims to cut nitrogen emissions in half by 2030, as relatively large numbers of livestock and heavy use of fertilizers have supposedly led to levels of nitrogen oxides in the soil and water that violate EU regulations. Nearly half (46%) of the Netherlands' emissions come from farming.

Critics of the policy fear it will irreversibly damage the farming industry and adversely affect global food supply chains.

The BBB said the government 'exaggerated' the 'climate change' problem, lauding the proposed solutions as 'unfairly balanced' against farmers. The proposed environmental policies could force more than 11,000 farms to close and 17,000 farmers to dramatically reduce livestock farming over the next decade.

"I'm getting sick of it. We are driving people in the Netherlands crazy with this polarization," Van der Plas told Parliament Wednesday as the BBB's loan MP. 

The VVD conservative party, with backing from their five-party coalition, pledged to cut nitrogen emissions, igniting a dispute with the country's farmers, who feared for their livelihoods.

The government has tried to convince farmers to reduce their livestock herds or leave the industry to reduce nitrogen use. But they hit back with repeated protests, using their tractors to blockade roads, airports and supermarkets around the country.

In March, the party triumphed in regional elections after months of widespread protests that drew global attention since last year. Upwards of 40,000 protesters have gathered to oppose the government's plan in some cities.

The BBB ultimately rode the populist wave against the government's 'climate change' policies — winning more Senate seats than Prime Minister Mark Rutte's conservative VVD party with 17 of 75 seats as the VVD dropped from 12 to 10 seats.

Founded in 2019, their meteoric rise is a significant blow for Rutte's governing coalition, casting doubt over its aim to drastically cut nitrogen pollution on farms — also tabled in 2019.

The BBB used its 17 seats in the Dutch senate to block farm expropriations, which Rutte says are needed to lift a court-ordered stop on nitrogen-emitting construction of roads and housing.

Van der Plas said the movement is about more than just nitrogen and said voters are "fed up" with traditional politicians and politics. The March vote effectively became a de facto referendum on Rutte's leadership, the Netherlands' longest-serving prime minister. 

The BBB is convinced that the five-party coalition government led by Rutte will collapse and trigger a general election before the end of the year. According to general election polls published on Wednesday, the pro-farming party would tie the VVD in seats nationally.

While the populist movement does not want the country to leave the EU, it contends that the bloc should be a common market, not a super-state.

In March, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) party, one of his coalition partners, believes 2030 "is not feasible" to halve the country's nitrogen emissions.

Wopke Hoekstra, the CDA leader and Dutch Deputy Prime Minister, wants to renegotiate the policy's target timeline. Rutte said the public should not think the coalition is a roadblock to achieving its emissions policy.

"The opposite is true; we are accelerating," said Rutte. "Nevertheless, there are opposing views in the Cabinet."

The prime minister wanted to open a government buy-out scheme to compensate farmers who opted to leave the industry. The BBB opposed the measure.

"Nobody can ignore us any longer," Van der Plas told reporters then. "Voters have spoken out very clearly against this government's policies."

The government created a £22 billion programme to buy out farming businesses at 100% of their value, but it remains to be seen whether many farmers will opt into the scheme.

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