from Spiked, 23 March 2023
The stunning success of the farmers’ party has shattered the cosy, green consensus.
In last week’s provincial elections in the Netherlands, an insurgent party, the Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB), took the largest vote share in all 12 Dutch provinces.
This is a remarkable win for the farmers’ party. The BBB (BoerBurgerBeweging) was only founded in 2019. It was born out of sympathy for the widespread Dutch farmers’ protests against the government, a populist movement which is still going strong today. The party is focussed on issues related to agriculture and the countryside. Among its proposals are a ministry for the countryside and allowing farmers to have more say in matters of agricultural policy. It also hopes to reduce the power of the European Union in the Netherlands, saying that while the Netherlands should remain a member state, the EU should aim to be merely a trading bloc, not a federal superstate (if only).
This unlikely victory means much more than just local seats. The provincial councils determine the makeup of the Dutch senate, its Eerste Kamer (first chamber). The Eerste Kamer functions much like Westminster’s House of Lords. It scrutinises the governing lower house (the Tweede Kamer) and has the power to reject proposed legislation.
In May, the new crop of provincial leaders will elect the Eerste Kamer, with the BBB projected to gain 17 seats, the largest of any party. This has the potential to massively shake up Dutch politics – particularly so given the scale of the losses endured last week by the current ruling coalition, comprised of prime minister Mark Rutte’s VVD party, the centrist D66 party, and the Christian-democratic CDA and ChristenUnie parties. After a weak performance in the provincial elections, the coalition parties are projected to end up with just 24 senate seats in May, down from their current total of 32.
In a chamber with just 75 seats, such swings are hugely significant. Parties with only one or two seats will now have an opportunity to really make their presence felt by teaming up with the BBB. Some of the ruling coalition parties may even be tempted to take up more populist policies, which are less likely to be blocked by a BBB-dominated senate. There is a real potential here for government policy to be brought more in line with voters’ concerns.
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