March 2. 2024. 1:40

The Daily

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Rutte insists his coalition can survive rise of farmers’ protest party

Although his plans to halve nitrogen emissions by 2030 must now be in doubt, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte insists his coalition can survive the meteoric rise of farmers’ protest party, BBB, which has emerged as the big winner in provincial elections that determine the make-up of the Senate.

There had been warnings that in the event of a nationwide meltdown in support for the government parties – Liberals, Christian Democrats, D66 and Christian Union – Mr Rutte’s loss of credibility and inability to push legislation through the upper house might force him to call a general election.

However, after the highest regional turnout in years at 57.5 per cent, it looks as if his Senate allies, Labour and GreenLeft, have held on to their seats, allowing them, together, to match the new firepower of BBB – and perhaps even secure the government’s key policies by a whisker.

As the final figures emerged on Thursday afternoon, the newcomers, Boer Burger Beweging, who describe themselves as a “farmer-civilian protest party”, looked certain to take 15 seats in the 75-seat Senate, and perhaps as many as 17 – a result described by Dutch media as “a monster win”.

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By contrast, Mr Rutte’s Liberals dropped two seats, from 12 to 10, although the four government parties between them should reach 24. That, combined with an expected 15 for Labour and GreenLeft, would total 39, enough to secure a government majority without the support of the BBB.

Acknowledging the “strong performance” of the farmers’ party, Mr Rutte said the result would not jeopardise the government’s survival.

“I believe this coalition can remain stable in the next few years because all the parties involved want to take responsibility for the direction of the country and have the realistic and sustainable policies to do so.”

The founder of BBB, Caroline van der Plas – whose mother was Irish and who frequently wears trademark green nail polish – maintained however that the results showed the Dutch electorate had “lost confidence” in Rutte’s government.

“Nobody can ignore us any longer,” said Van der Plas, who was elected as the party’s first and only MP in the 2021 general election. “Voters right across the country have spoken out clearly against this government’s failed policies. It must go.”

Those government policies aim to cut nitrogen emissions in half by 2030 because large concentrations of livestock and heavy use of fertilisers have led to nitrogen oxide levels in the soil and water that violate European Union regulations.

The BBB was founded in response to the Rutte government’s determination to achieve those cuts by dramatically reducing livestock numbers and compulsorily purchasing and shutting down thousands of working farms.

“We’re ready to sit down with everyone in the provinces to see how we can move forward in an agreed manner, but we will continue to oppose compulsory buyouts despite the government’s view that there’s no alternative,” Van der Plas said.

The BBB had been confirmed by Thursday evening as the largest party in at least nine of the country’s 12 provincial assemblies.