The BoerBurgerBeweging Conference begins and ends on Saturday with a loud salute to the woman who has to save farmers. †stoan goats for Caroline‘, party leader Erich Stejnik beats the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Nijkerk through his microphone. About 250 members – many white men with broad backs – stood, applauded and cheered Member of Parliament Caroline van der Plas of “BBB”.
Laughing, Van der Plas, 55, received applause on stage. She wears a colorful coat and a large necklace with wooden farm animals on it. “Bee lover I wasn’t allowed to wear that necklace last night.” “He shook a lot.”
A day after the government’s radical nitrogen plan was launched, many farmers are feeling angry and insecure. Minister Christian van der Waal (Nature and Nitrogen, VVD) declared that before 2030 emissions must be drastically reduced in many areas to conserve nature and comply with European regulations. That means less dung, less livestock, and therefore fewer farms – halved to 52,000 since the turn of the century.
BoerBurgerBeweging supporters pinned their hopes on their only representative in The Hague. It’s Van der Plas vs Van der Waal, Caroline vs Christian. The basic position of the former is always this: no farmer in the Netherlands thinks that nothing should be done, but this cabinet plan goes too far.
In the nitrogen crisis, the BBB party believes that it will do well with its “social right” vote in the provincial council elections in March next year, in which the party will participate in all provinces. The two government parties, the VVD and CDA, and an opposition party such as the Forum for Democracy, feel the competition, according to Van der Plas.
You can see they’re trying to corner us. In the D66 and CDA circles, it’s a bit like “no vision, no sense, populist”. In the right corner, the corner of the forum in particular, they are trying to associate me with the “cartel”. I think it’s fun to see. It seems people are a bit afraid of us.”
Read the report How did Caroline van der Plas debut in The Hague? I thought: Oh, Caroline, learn something about the political system
The BBB now has over 3,660 members. 160 members have been added since Friday, says secretary and co-founder Henk Vermeer.
Van der Plas deplored the fact that the working group Voll Gas drove tractors to the minister’s house Friday night for a story. “Stop that. You don’t visit people at home. No matter how angry you are,” she tweeted.
Some of her supporters were not happy about this, says Van der Plas before the conference, over a cup of coffee with a stuffed cracker. She received phone calls, text messages, and dismissive comments on social media.
“I’m not afraid to walk away from such work,” she says. When Farmers Defense Force rang D66 leader Rob Getten’s doorbell on the evening of 2020 to offer a “health food package,” I thought first: Fun move. But I changed that opinion. They know your address, right? You have suddenly appeared at your doorstep. As a politician you have absolutely no idea what kind of people it is.”
She says such a protest also doesn’t help, and is likely to work against it. “Now it’s about those farmers standing on Christian van der Waal’s doorstep. While it should be about the substantive discussion. That’s too distracting. Christian doesn’t really say: OK, I’ll then pull this plan. It doesn’t change anything. It just gives Negative sauce.”
The problem for farmers, says Van der Plas, is their weak lobby. As a former journalist and communications expert in the agricultural sector, she has been amazed by this for years. Nature and environmental organizations work together effectively for their public relations in “Green 11,” including Milieudefensie and Greenpeace, she says. But farmers are divided into different sectors and lack one strong voice.
“You let it all happen, you have to be proactive,” she told the farmers more than once. Van der Plas summarizes: There are interest groups for agriculture and horticulture (LTO), dairy farmers (NMV), pig farmers (POV), poultry farmers (NVP), arable farmers (NAV) and young farmers and horticulture (NAJK). Sitting on his island doing his own thing. Good things. But make it one umbrella lobby organization and invest money in it.”
The BoerBurger himself is steadily building on his progress, Van der Plas tells Congress in a long, spontaneous introduction to the party’s founding in 2019. “From the movement, to the amendment, to the memorandum of initiative,” she says. “With common sense, there are no strange behaviors, no strange people bring.”
Fifteen minutes later, Chief Stejnik intervenes. Caroline, there’s a topic today that many members of the room like to ask a question about: nitrogen.
Most of the members who go to the microphone want to say they find Cabinet plans ridiculous. According to them, the nitrogen crisis is a “paper problem” with strict standards that is now turning the whole of Holland upside down. Lower pastures mean warmer temperatures in the Netherlands, and nature didn’t help that. If farmers are forced to leave, the ‘ecosystem’ of employment, landscape management and social cohesion in the countryside will collapse. The quality of the living environment will come under pressure due to population growth and migration.
Read the report An unprecedented expression of dissatisfaction with the VVD: the party voted against its nitrogen policy
Rabbit guard Henk Unk wants to return to the protest in front of the minister’s house, which Van der Plas condemned. “I understand you can’t say everything in The Hague,” he says. “I think deep in your heart you’re thinking otherwise. But that doesn’t matter.”
A woman asks, will the national protests in The Hague on June 22 get out of hand? “I don’t know why this is getting out of hand,” Van der Plas replies. “What gets out of hand is the policy in the Netherlands.” So we’re all going to The Hague? The woman asks the audience. “Jeuuuh!”
“They haven’t given up yet,” van der Plas says after GMM in her blue Suzuki.
The conversation continues in the yard of Alice van Drei in Negerc, the wife of a farmer with cows, pigs, and chicks who participates in the public debate about raising livestock. Fourteen farmers, plus two supporters, are seated at the table under the apple trees. Van der Plas takes a seat, joins the conversation and has time to catch up on some cigarettes.
One farmer asked her, “What is really the plan behind this?” “It is protected by nature. But this is a stick to be beaten.”
“Earth”, think of others. “It’s just a battle for space,” says van der Plas.
A hectare of farmland costs a ton here in Nigeria, Van Dere estimates. She believes that if the farmers stopped or the government confiscated their property, it would quickly reach four times the value of the land.
Van der Plas: “And then they will soon build a beautiful Vinex district with all kinds of tile gardens. How is that for biodiversity?”
“Postage is still green for the animals,” says one farmer’s wife. “And then the farmers are blamed because many of the species are gone.”
There’s nothing wrong with nature here at Gelderse Vallei – a nitrogen hotspot – in their opinion. Yes, it is the state that neglects meadows and ditches. Foxes scare away rabbits, hares, pheasants and squirrels. A lot of geese – ten times since the seventies apartments One cow,” says the wife of a farmer.
One farmer notes that “nature is always changing.” “Plants go in and plants go down. Otherwise, Alice would have milked the dinosaurs here.”
Alice herself says that buying is not an option for many farmers. Suppose she would have received 1.5 million euros, she would still be unable to repay 1.5 million euros to repay all bank loans. “I have been a farmer for twenty-five years. What should I do then? Then, as a returnee, I can sit behind the payout in the supermarket.”
“What can we do?” asks the farmer’s wife, Van der Plas. Strict measure: a farmer is suggesting to cut off the food supply to supermarkets. “Only then would the citizen feel, oh my goodness, that we might need cultivators after all.”
No, I think that’s a very bad idea, says van der Plas. “If you are going to deprive citizens of food, you will not make them stand behind you.”
Van der Plas anticipates that this will be fought in court. “No judge can say that this factory has disappeared because of that farmer’s emissions.” The BBB tells farmers to do nothing and not sign anything.
It’s up to the politicians first, van der Plas says. The government’s plans for nitrogen still have to pass through the House and Senate. Provinces still have to make plans before July 1, 2023 to reduce nitrogen. “With state elections coming up, MPs won’t have to worry about this.”
One farmer asks, “Are rural suicide rates really being monitored?”
“When the need is greatest, Caroline is near!” Alice van Dre tweeted afterwards with a picture of the table conversation. Yes, “the bar is set high,” says Van der Plas on the way back to the car. “I often tell people ‘Don’t expect me to solve everything for you in a day. I’m afraid sometimes.'”
A version of this article also appeared in the June 13, 2022 newspaper