The Astounding Rise of the Dutch Farmer-Citizen Movement

The Netherlands is one of the world’s most densely populated and urbanized countries. But it is also a farming powerhouse; by some measures, the Netherlands is the world’s second largest agricultural exporter by value, following only the United States. The Netherlands manages to profit so handsomely from farming in such a crowded land by focusing on the intensive production of high-value crops.

By many measures, the Netherlands’ agricultural system operates in an environmentally responsible manner. In 2019, the World Economic Forum lauded the country as a leader in efficient and sustainable agriculture. But Dutch farmers, like almost all others, are responsible for some environmental degradation, which the government of the Netherlands is now eager to reduce. Pronounced opposition is generated in the process. Recent restrictions on nutrient runoff and a ban on neonicotinoid insecticides have been viewed by most Dutch farmers as a threat to their livelihoods. In 2019, a new Dutch party, the Farmer-Citizens Movement, emerged to represent the country’s agricultural sector. This party seeks to enact a “Right to Agriculture Act,” wants to reduce the power of the European Union over Dutch farmers, and is wary of climate mitigation policies. It is generally regarded as a center-right to right-wing populist organization.

In the Dutch provincial election of March 15th, 2023, the Farmer-Citizen Movement achieved a shocking victory, not only coming in first place nationwide (with more than 19 percent of the vote), but also achieving a first-place showing in every province. In the same contest, all the Netherlands’ established parties saw major losses. The only other significant party experiencing a gain was the Party for the Animals (Partij voor de Dieren; PvdD), which took almost 5% of the vote nationwide. Intriguingly, these two growing parties are situated at the opposite ends of the political spectrum, particularly when it comes to agricultural issues. Caroline van der Plas, leader of Farmer-Citizen Movement, has stated that the Party for Animals is one of her party’s two main enemies, the other being Wakker Dier, an animal-welfare organization that seeks to end factory farming.

The recent Dutch election attracted a great deal of interest in the country. According to NL Times, “The turnout stood at 57.5 percent, higher than 2019’s already high 56 percent … [and] likely [to] be the highest since the late 1980s.” Its results have generated much analysis, if not soul-searching, among the leaders of the Dutch political establishment. According to EuroNews, the election represented a “resounding rebuke to Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s ruling four-party coalition.” As the NL Times reported:

 

 

Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the BBB’s massive victory “a very clear cry to politicians” and a “very clear relevant signal” from the voter. Rutte told ANP he does not yet know how to interpret this cry. He needs more time to think about it. Sixteen hours after the first results is too early for a “full-fledged analysis,” he said.

The electoral map of the 2023 provincial election in the Netherlands reveals precisely what one would expect: the Farmer-Citizen Movement had its best showing in provinces with relatively low population density and its worst in those of higher density. It might be surprising, however, that it did as well as it did in such thickly settled areas as North and South Holland and Utrecht, taking more than 13% of the vote in all three. But as the agricultural map of the Netherlands posted below shows, even these provinces have a significant amount of highly productive agricultural land. The Farmer-Citizen Movement also finds some support among Dutch urban dwellers; the national economy of their country, after all, rests heavily on its agricultural sector.

Intriguingly, the electoral returns of the Party for the Animals show very little geographical variation. I started to make a map of its vote by province, but abandoned the quest when I realized that it would reveal almost nothing. This party’s vote-share was almost the same in agrarian Drenthe (4.5%) as in highly urban South Holland (4.7%).

As the 2023 Dutch election indicates, Europe is experiencing a political realignment in which the division between rural and metropolitan areas figures more prominently than it did in the past. The same tendency is found in North America. Climate politics will almost certainly intensify this divide. It will be interesting to see how such a realignment plays out in coming elections.

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