Dutch farmers’ protest party wins big election win, shaking Senate

AMSTERDAM, March 15 (Reuters) – A farmers’ protest party rocked the political landscape in the Netherlands on Wednesday, becoming the clear winner in provincial elections that determine the composition of the Senate.

The BBB or BoerBurgerBeweging (Farmers-Citizens Movement) party rode a wave of protest against the government’s environmental policies and looked set to win more Senate seats than Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s conservative VVD party.

An early exit poll projected that BBB won 15 of 75 total seats in the Senate, which has the power to block legislation passed in the lower house of parliament, with the VVD dropping 12 to 10 seats.

BBB’s meteoric rise is a blow to Rutte’s governing coalition, casting doubt on its aim to drastically reduce nitrogen pollution on farms, the only issue BBB was founded on in 2019.

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“Nobody can ignore us anymore,” BBB leader Caroline van der Plas told Radio 1.

“Voters have come out very clearly against the policies of this government.”

The government is aiming to halve nitrogen emissions by 2030, as relatively high livestock numbers and heavy use of fertilizers have resulted in levels of nitrogen oxides in soil and water that breach European Union regulations.

The nitrogen problem has crippled construction in the Netherlands as environmental groups won a series of court cases ordering the government to limit emissions and preserve nature, before new building permits could be granted.

The BBB says the problem has been exaggerated and the proposed solutions are unfairly against farmers, leading to many farm closures and food production shortages.

The Rutte government has not had a majority in the Senate since the previous provincial elections in 2019 and must negotiate agreements with mostly left-wing opponents.

The two most cooperative parties, Labor and GreenLeft, appeared poised to retain their seats, keeping their combined group tied with BBB and perhaps enough to maintain support for Rutte’s policies.

BBB won just one seat in the Lower House in 2021, but its popularity has grown due to growing distrust of government and anger over issues such as immigration.

The Rutte government, in its fourth consecutive term since 2010, has dropped to an approval rating of 20%, its lowest in a decade.

Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Susan Fenton and David Gregorio

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