Europe’s right wing piggybacks on Dutch farmer protests

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You see angry farmers. The far right sees opportunity.

Europe’s right-wing populists have been quick to jump on what has until now been a mostly domestic issue in the Netherlands over limits on nitrogen and ammonia emissions. With farmers fearful of a loss of livelihood if steep cuts on emissions are implemented in the agricultural sector, right-wing leaders like Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen and even Donald Trump have framed the protests as a “climate tyranny” out to oppress hard-working citizens.

On Thursday, the farmers got official support from the Polish government, which is trying to get Brussels to back down from its plans to cut emissions from the agricultural sector. Agriculture Minister Henryk Kowalczyk, of the ruling right-wing Law and Justice Party, met with Dutch farmers in Warsaw and endorsed their cause.

“I will support in the EU the position of the Dutch farmers to maintain production, and I hope that their government will change its mind,” Kowalczyk said. “I will be looking for allies among EU ministers — I have already found some — for our position on stopping measures that could lead to a reduction in food production in the EU. This is our common, important task.”

For the protesters, the international support has boosted their cause, giving them attention and support all the while putting the Dutch government on the back foot. 

“We’re very glad to have found allies in Europe who can help us in how the Dutch government is treating us — basically wanting to wipe us off the map of the Netherlands,” Sieta van Keimpema, a board member of the Farmers Defense Force, one of the leading organizations of Dutch farmers, told Polish MPs. She blamed their struggles on the EU’s flagship climate policy, known as the European Green Deal.

Right movement

One Polish MP, Jarosław Sachajko, a climate skeptic who represents the right-wing populist party Kukiz’15 and met with van Keimpema, said being told to cut emissions is akin to “good night stories for children or people who … think the Earth is flat.”

Other leaders have used the protests to blame other totemic entities like the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the EU. Dutch far-right MP Thierry Baudet called WEF chief Klaus Schwab “Darth Vader” on Twitter and accused him and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte of trying to “demolish the farmers.”

For its part, the Dutch government has largely been circumspect. The country’s agriculture minister warned that the farmers’ actions — which included dumping manure and stacks of hay on a highway and blocking traffic — would ensure them “less and less support.”

Andrej Zaslove, associate professor at the Dutch Radboud University and a specialist on populism, said the protest “taps into broader issues of identity” of the farmers, making the protest a wedge issue. “It’s about [how] the farmers really see their identity being challenged. It’s kind of a way of life. And I think this is something that the radical right picks up on.” 

Former U.S. President Donald Trump weighed in last weekend, saying the measures would mean farmers would no longer be allowed to work their land. 

Farmers are fearful of a loss of livelihood if steep cuts on emissions are implemented in the agricultural sector | Bart Maat/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

Almost half of people in the Netherlands support the protests, which are morphing into a broader movement within the Netherlands too.

“It’s kind of an anti-establishment protest,” Zaslove said, adding that some of its backers believe “the state is not for the people.”  

A spokesperson for the Dutch agriculture ministry said: “This is not the way to get ahead, we have to find a way forward together. The Dutch Cabinet wishes to cooperate with all relevant parties to shape the sustainable future for agriculture.”

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