Dutch Farmer Party Poised to Overtake Rutte’s Liberals in Senate

(Bloomberg) -- The upstart Farmer-Citizen Movement is set to become the biggest party in the Dutch upper house, in a stinging defeat for Prime Minister Mark Rutte and coalition parties whose environmental policies are drawing stiff opposition from the agricultural industry.

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The Farmer-Citizen Movement, which is known by its Dutch initials BBB, is projected to win 15 seats in the 75-seat Senate, according to exit polls by Ipsos. All four parties in the Dutch coalition lost seats in what looked to be the worst Senate election result for Rutte’s liberal party, the VVD, of his 12-year premiership.

The seats held by the Dutch coalition — comprised of the VVD, the Christian-democratic CDA, the progressive centrist D66 and the smaller Christian Union — are seen dropping to 24 from 32. That’s short of the 38 votes needed for a majority, meaning the coalition will need support from opposition groups, such as the Greens and Labor Party, to pass legislation including plans to halve nitrogen emissions by 2030.

“This is not the victory we hoped for,” Rutte said in Den Bosch. “When the dust settles and talks start, my party will be available to contribute,” he said. “I think the cabinet can remain stable in the coming years.”

Intensive farming has devastated biodiversity in the Netherlands, the world’s second-largest exporter of agricultural products, forcing the government to impose drastic measures to comply with European Union rules on reducing nitrogen pollution. Farmers in particular have been at the center of the new policies with thousands taking part in months-long protests against the measures which will put some of them out of business.

Many voters felt they weren’t taken seriously by the cabinet and “went to the polls,” said Caroline van der Plas, leader of the populist Farmer-Citizen Movement, which entered the Dutch political scene in 2019. “This group of voters normally stays at home, but they have now made themselves heard,” she said.

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If implemented, the government’s plan would require cuts of as much as 95% in emissions in some provinces and could reduce livestock in the Netherlands by one-third over the next eight years.

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