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Dutch farmers angry with Europe

Photo: Rob Engelaar Agence France-Presse Des agriculteurs néerlandais et belges brûlaient des palettes de bois et des pneus alors qu'ils bloquaient le passage de la frontière entre la Belgique et les Pays-Bas, à Arendok, le 2 février dernier.

“We can’t stand all these rules anymore. We monitor our fields by satellite and plane. The changes being imposed on us would take at least a generation. It’s quite simple, we want our skin! »

Jan Brouwer is the last of a family of dairy farmers who have operated a farm for five generations in Nijeveen. This municipality of 3,800 inhabitants is located in the province of Drenthe, in the northeast of the Netherlands. In addition to its magnificent mill dating from 1786, the environment is essentially made up of around twenty dairy farms. “Two will soon go out of business. In 10 years, a dozen could disappear; they can no longer do it. These lands will become wild again. Unless we build new houses there,” says Jan, pointing to these former cultivated lands that are now home to small pavilions. “They want to make us disappear! »

To survive on this 65-acre farm, Brouwer sells part of the milk from his hundred cows directly to consumers. His wife takes care of the calves and his 65-year-old father comes to help him even though he now has two prosthetic knees after spending years milking cows. This is one of the reasons why Jan purchased a milking robot, where each of the cows goes through around three times a day. All this for a whopping 35,000 euros. “We have no choice but to go into debt,” he said.

Two years ago, all the farmers in the region took part in the gigantic demonstrations which mobilized tens of thousands of them. They were reacting to the Dutch government's decision to reduce livestock numbers by 30% and eliminate 3,000 farms in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by 50% by 2030.

An ambiguous policy

Because this is where it all began. Dutch farmers were the first to rise up in Europe. Jan remembers the thousands of tractors blocking the roads of The Hague behind the slogan “No food without farmers”. This peasant revolt then spread to France, Germany, Belgium, Poland, Spain and Romania, finally forcing the European Union to review its “green deal» adopted a few weeks earlier and to step back on the reduction of pesticides as well as on crop rotation and soil protection measures. Ironically, it was the Dutchman Frans Timmermans who negotiated it before leaving the European Commission to take the helm of the Labor Party (PvDA).

“The Netherlands has a very ambiguous policy. For years, the government encouraged highly industrialized agriculture,” says Menno Hurenkamp, ​​a political scientist at the Utrecht University of Humanist Studies. “Today, farmers are being asked to drastically reduce their herds and to do it quickly. The big agricultural banks are pushing for expansion, but the new rules go in the opposite direction. You should know. »

Dutch farmers angry with Europe

Photo: Rob Engelaar Agence France-Presse Dutch and Belgian farmers participated in a roadblock near the border between Belgium and the Netherlands, in Arendonk, on February 2. Dutch farmers angry with Europe

Photo: Rob Engelaar Agence France-Presse

With its 53,000 farms and its four million cattle, its batteries of chickens on shelves and its floating cattle farms, the Netherlands emits four times more nitrogen pollution than the European average.< /p>

After years of postponement, in accordance with a European directive, the Council of State finally ordered the government in 2019 to reduce CO2 emissions in the immediate environment of large nature reserves called Natura 2000. In a report published in 2019, former prime minister Johan Remkes called for “drastic measures.” What Mark Rutte, prime minister since 2010, was quick to do, determined to make the Netherlands a world leader in environmental protection.

“The farmers felt betrayed to the point of becoming the symbol of all those in this country who feel neglected by the state and the power of the big cities,” says David Bos, a sociologist at the University of Amsterdam. “In the Netherlands, farmers are more popular than the environment. They may only represent 1% of the population, but the Dutch are viscerally attached to them. Their protest quickly transformed into a real political movement that completely turned the tables. »

The Party of the Forgotten

In 2019, the very charismatic Caroline van der Plas founded the Farmer-Citizen Movement (BoerBurgerBeweging, BBB) which, in just a few years, achieved phenomenal success. During her first election, this daughter of an Irish woman and a sports reporter arrived at parliament perched on a tractor. With its upside-down Dutch flags planted all over the country's agricultural land, the BBB came out on top in the regional elections of March 2023, to the point of practically erasing the Christian Democrats, who traditionally represented the deep country, from the map. In the legislative elections on November 22, he ranked well enough to participate in the coalition that radical right leader Geert Wilders is trying to form.

“Der Plas may not be the most sophisticated politician, but she is a model of frankness that speaks to ordinary people,” says sociologist Bos.

In the province of Drenthe, Jan Brouwer is one of the 17 BBB elected officials (out of 43 deputies) who sit in the provincial Parliament. In June, he wants to take the farmers' voice to Brussels. “I want to go there and ask the questions that ordinary people ask. We are the small-town party that no one listens to in the big cities,” he says. In 17th position on the list, he has some chance of being elected. But for this to happen, on June 9, the BBB would have to repeat its success from last year.

Dutch farmers angry with Europe

Photo: Rob Engelaar Agence France-Presse Dutch and Belgian farmers demonstrated in Eersel, in the south of the Netherlands, on February 1.

According to the general director of Greenpeace Netherlands, Andy Palmen, the farmers have been exploited. “Dutch agriculture has exceeded all environmental and social limits. Today she hits a wall,” he says. Greenpeace had proposed a fund of 4 billion euros to encourage farmers to convert. This was eventually reduced to 1.5 billion. Mr. Palmen does not believe that scientific research, on the treatment of manure for example, will significantly reduce emissions in the long term. “The science promises a lot on paper, but in practice the results are very limited. The only solution is to reduce livestock numbers and our meat consumption. I don't see any others. »

Ecology and agriculture

“We want to live on our income, not on subsidies,” replies Jan Swaag. At the northern tip of North Holland, Barsingerhorn is a village of 925 inhabitants where, thanks to the salt meadows, the Swaag have been producing milk since 1850 which makes it possible to make Beemster, an aged Gouda cheese very popular for its salt crystals.

“There are rumors that we mistreat our animals, it’s a joke! » says Jan, petting the snout of the little cow Roosja, born the day before and already on her feet. “In the Netherlands, there are not many radical green activists. But they have a whole network that influences elected officials. They don't want to eat meat anymore, but that's not the Dutch opinion. We represent ordinary people who have their feet on the ground. In the cities, we don't think quite like we do here. There is a real gap. »

Jan left the Liberal Party (VVD) — which had moved to the left and “always demanded more regulations,” he says — for the BBB. “Of course we have to adapt to climate change, but we have to give ourselves time. Not make us disappear and then import food from countries that do not have the same standards as us. » As for Europe, he says, “it’s a good thing, but we no longer talk about food sovereignty there.” “However, it is Europe that must feed Europeans,” he emphasizes.

In a country of 17 million inhabitants which barely covers the combined surface area of ​​Gaspésie and Bas-Saint-Laurent, the price of land is prohibitive. “That’s why buying a farm is becoming more and more difficult, and banks are hesitant to lend to us. » Jan was only able to do this with the help of his brother Nicolas and his nephew Louis.

Everyone hopes not to be the last in the family to operate a farm. But they are far from convinced.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116