Dutch farmers on collision course with Brussels over compulsory farm buyouts

dutch farmers - REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
dutch farmers - REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

Brussels has warned furious Dutch farmers that compulsory farm buyouts are the only way for the Netherlands to meet its EU climate targets.

Climate chief Frans Timmermans said the European Commission would explain the green laws to Caroline van der Plas, the leader of the Farmers-Citizen Movement (BBB).

The BBB triumphed in regional elections last week after months of tractor protests that drew global attention and the support of former US president Donald Trump.

Farmers oppose prime minister Mark Rutte’s plans to reduce livestock numbers and buy up farms to cut nitrogen emissions, which are caused by manure and fertiliser.

“The Netherlands can only achieve the targets by buying out farmers and greening agriculture”, Mr Timmermans, who is Dutch, said.

“Let’s invest a lot in that. Above all, we have to give young farmers a perspective for the future,” the commission vice president told the NOS broadcaster.

The Dutch government says it must reduce nitrogen emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 to meet EU targets.

The BBB’s opposition to both the climate commitment and the compulsory purchase of farms put it on a collision course with the ruling four-party coalition and the EU.

BBB Netherlands - REMKO DE WAAL/ANP/AFP via Getty Images
BBB Netherlands - REMKO DE WAAL/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

Mr Timmermans, a commission vice-president, said Ms van der Plas would be “very welcome” to visit Brussels after her landslide victory.

“We will then do exactly the same thing we have done before with officials, which is to explain what the European rules are,” the socialist and former foreign minister said.

Mr Timmerman’s comments are likely to fuel online conspiracy theories that the nitrogen row is a globalist pretext to steal the farmers’ land.

Ms van der Plas called for a meeting with Mr Timmermans after reports his department had backed the farm buyouts in advice to the government.

But the former journalist, who only founded the BBB in 2019, demanded he comes to meet her rather than her travel to Brussels.

“I understand that Timmermans also often comes to The Hague, so it can be done very quickly,” she said and demanded to know what solutions Brussels was offering to the nitrogen issue.

The BBB came from nowhere to become the largest party in all 12 Dutch provinces in an electoral triumph that raised questions over the survival of Mr Rutte’s ruling coalition.

The vote became a de facto referendum on Mr Rutte’s leadership, who became leader in 2010 and is the Netherlands longest-serving prime minister.

tractors netherlands - Hollandse Hoogte/Shutterstock
tractors netherlands - Hollandse Hoogte/Shutterstock

The BBB can now use its 17 seats in the Dutch senate to try and block farm expropriations, which Mr Rutte says are needed to lift a court-ordered stop on nitrogen-emitting construction of roads and housing.

Its protests have spawned similar tractor demonstrations in Dutch-speaking Flanders in neighbouring Flanders.

Ms van der Plas has said the movement is about more than just nitrogen and said voters are “fed up” with traditional politicians and politics.

The BBB has registered as a political party for next year’s European Parliament elections as it seeks to build on its national success, which saw it victorious in urban and rural areas.

The populist movement does not want the Netherlands to leave the EU in a Brexit-style divorce but it says the bloc should be a common market and not a super-state.

It has also called for a southern and northern version of the euro to prevent richer northern member states from having to bail out poorer southern countries in the EU.

Ms van der Plas has also called for an end to discriminatory subtitling on countryside accents on television.

Conversations with people from rural districts are subtitled “as standard” on Dutch television, the BBB said before branding the practice “discriminatory”.

If non-standard Dutch is spoken on television, it argues, all dialects should be subtitled, even if the speaker comes from a city like Amsterdam or the Hague.