A farmers' protest party emerged victorious in the Netherlands on Wednesday amid provincial elections that will determine the make-up of the country's Senate.
The BBB (BoerBurgerBeweging), or the Farmer-Citizen Movement party, rode a wave of protests against the government's radical environmental policies — projected to win more Senate seats than Prime Minister Mark Rutte's conservative VVD party.
According to the first exit poll, BBB is expected to capture 15 of 75 seats in the Senate and assume the power to block legislation agreed upon in the Lower House of parliament. According to the same poll, the VVD dropped from 12 to 10 seats.
The meteoric rise of BBB is a significant blow for Rutte's governing coalition, casting doubt over its aim to cut nitrogen pollution on farms drastically, the single issue upon which BBB was founded in 2019.
Owing to widespread protests last year, and several months of back-and-forth negotiations between the farmers and the Dutch government, they have yet to reach a mutual agreement on tackling nitrogen emissions.
The Dutch government is pushing ahead with its radical nitrogen emissions policies, which farmers say will damage their industry.
Rutte's government has refused to back down on nitrogen emissions targets, prompting farmers to protest again.
"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 several court cases ordering the government to limit emissions and preserve nature before new building permits can be granted.
The BBB said the problem has been exaggerated and that proposed solutions are unfairly balanced against farmers. The proposed environmental policies are estimated to force more than 11,000 farms to close and 17,000 farmers to dramatically reduce their livestock farming.
Critics of the Dutch government fear these policies will irreversibly damage the Dutch farming industry and adversely affect global food supply chains.
The Dutch farmers converged on Zuiderpark in The Hague on Saturday, with thousands attending the event. Several high-profile politicians and commentators spoke on stage to support the farmers amid a considerable police presence.
Jan van Zanen, the mayor of The Hague, had put out a statement last week stating that only 25,000 were allowed to attend the event.
Throughout the day, police attempted to stop tractors and busloads of protesters from travelling to The Hague from around the country.
The Dutch authorities also mobilized the military, fearing an escalation and potential violent clashes.
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.
In its fourth consecutive term since 2010, Rutte's government has dropped to a 20% approval rating, its lowest in a decade.
The protest organizer and Farmers Defence Force chairman Mark van den Oever said the Dutch government has been pushing these policies for 12 years and that "more and more they take our civil rights, like today."
"They are blocking our protest in all kinds of ways, with bureaucracy," said van den Oever. "That's the main problem here in Holland. They're taking our civil rights, especially farmers."
"They want to close down a lot of farms, and we are against it, of course," the organizer told Rebel News.
Rebel News also asked whether Rutte's government had budged since our team was in the Netherlands last year.
"No, not at all," said van den Oever. "They are doing more strict regulations on farms, and three weeks ago, they took 62,000 hectares of our land that we cannot use anymore because of nitrate regulations."
With tractors set to shut down a portion of the city as part of their protest, the Farmers Defence Force leader says the government fears this massive protest will influence public opinion.
"They want to block our protest because they think this huge protest will have a major influence on public opinion, and that's why they try to block us in every way," he explained, adding that the government is down in the polls.
The farmers' side only needs four seats to "block all this ridiculous regulation. That's our goal."