The Dutch government is facing headwinds: farmers are particularly angry. They oppose environmental regulations. Right-wing populists join and use the resentment in the election campaign.
In two large protest actions, several thousand people demonstrated in The Hague against the environmental and climate policy of the Dutch government. During a blockade by climate protectors, the police temporarily arrested around 700 demonstrators on Saturday evening, and a water cannon was also used. In a large demonstration by farmers in a nearby park, however, the feared violent riots did not materialize.
Several thousand farmers went to The Hague on Saturday to protest against the planned environmental regulations for agriculture. The government wants to intervene drastically in intensive livestock farming in order to reduce pollutant emissions. “No farmers, no food” or “Proud of the farmers” read banners. The radical farmers’ organization “Farmers Defense Force” had called for the “biggest demonstration of all time”, right-wing organizations and populist politicians had also mobilized their supporters.
Only a few kilometers as the crow flies from the farmers’ rally, around 3,000 climate protectors from the “Extinction Rebellion” action group demonstrated for significantly stricter measures in climate and environmental protection. They had occupied a slip road and chained themselves or glued themselves to the asphalt. In the evening the police cleared the street. Nobody got hurt.
The protests took place just days before the provincial elections and are an expression of the growing resentment in the country. Above all, the requirements for agriculture determine the election campaign. Next Wednesday, decisions will not only be made about the provincial parliaments, but also indirectly about the composition of the first chamber of the national parliament (comparable to the Bundesrat in Germany). According to surveys, a sharp shift to the right is imminent. Heavy losses are predicted for the governing coalition, and it is doubtful whether they will then get a majority for their plans.
Right-wing parties and movements also involved
Right-wing parties and movements also took part in the farmers’ rally. The right-wing populist Geert Wilders called for resistance to the coalition and for voting it out.
For fear of riots, the city had banned tractors and blocked access roads and important intersections with military trucks. At the demonstration site, however, an excavator broke through the blockade. Two people were arrested.
Last year, farmers across the country protested violently for weeks. They doubt the need for environmental measures.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s centre-right coalition had decided to reduce nitrogen inputs in natural areas by up to 50 percent by 2030. This particularly affects livestock farms that produce ammonia. The trigger for this decision was a ruling by the highest court in 2019. The government estimates that the measures could mean the end for around 30 percent of the companies.
Dramatic consequences for biodiversity
The owners of the approximately 3,000 farms that emit the most nitrogen near threatened natural areas are to be persuaded to sell them or at least to drastically reduce their livestock. But expropriations are not excluded either. “We have no choice,” said Minister for Nature and Nitrogen, Christianne van der Wal. “Nature cannot wait.”
For years, far too much reactive nitrogen has been emitted into the air at the European protected Natura 2000 sites in the Netherlands. The main cause is intensive animal husbandry, which produces a lot of ammonia. This has dramatic consequences for biodiversity.
The Dutch agricultural sector is huge and one of the largest exporters in the world. Last year, around 52,000 agricultural businesses exported goods worth 122 billion euros, almost a quarter of which went to Germany.
The 2019 ruling not only had major consequences for the farmers: projects near natural areas where nitrogen is released may not be approved. This means that the construction of housing and roads is halting, industry cannot expand, and even the energy transition is in jeopardy.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.