Protesting farmers keep party leaders trapped after fierce election debate

The party leaders who participated in the final debate before the Provincial Council elections were trapped in the provincial house in Den Bosch for around 30 minutes after the debate on Tuesday evening. The security services considered it not safe for them to leave due to hundreds of farmers and tractors gathered outside the provincial house to protest, AD reports.

The honking of tractors could be heard throughout the debate, according to the newspaper. About 500 people stood in front of the building with flags, fireworks, and upside-down flags, a spokesperson for the provincial house said. Tractors were parked in all the streets around the building.

The security services, therefore, decided to ask the 250 people who attended the debate to wait inside the building while they cleared a path for them. “If the security people say that it is not safe to go outside, then I listen to them,” PvdD leader Esther Ouwehand said on the television program Op1 afterward. The party leaders and spectators were allowed to leave about half an hour later.

The debate

The final debate was organized by broadcaster NOS and happened on the eve of the Provincial Council and water board elections. In the debate, national politicians Mark Rutte (VVD), Jesse Klaver (GroenLinks), Thierry Baudet (FvD), Joost Eerdmans (JA21), Attje Kuiken (PvdA), Lilian Marijnissen (SP), Wopke Hoekstra (CDA), Geert Wilders (PVV), Mirjam Bikker (ChristenUnie) Esther Ouwehand (PvdD), Sigrid Kaag (D66), and Caroline van der Plas (BBB) tried to sway voters to their side.

PvdD leader Ouwehand clashed with BBB leader Van der Plas when she said that half of the land in the Netherlands was “confiscated” by livestock farming, NOS reports. Van der Plas called the use of that term polarizing. “It’s just land owned by farmers who have been farming there for years, sometimes for centuries,” she said.

The BBB leader argued for a long-term vision for space in the Netherlands. “Who needs what space in 2050?” She thinks this spacial planning should happen in “regional agreement,” with the implementation left entirely to the provinces, where agriculture has the biggest lobbying influence, as NRC recently pointed out.

D66 leader Kaag stressed that the Netherlands is in an acute crisis where the climate is concerned, and that requires immediate action. To solve the nitrogen problem, livestock must be halved, she said. The government made 24 billion euros available for farmers to stop voluntarily. But if not enough farmers volunteer, expropriation may have to be an option, she said.

Previous debates showed that Kaag’s coalition partners disagree with her on this point. The CDA and ChristeUnie, in particular, said that the target of halving nitrogen emissions by 2030 is open for discussion.

PvdA leader Kuiken clashed with FvD leader Baudet. According to Baudet, the government takes land from farmers to use it for solar panels and wind turbines in the fight against climate change, which he thinks humans have no influence on anyway. “Mr. Baudet has never seen a farmer up close. Maybe he has a pair of brown boots at home,” Kuiken snapped at him.

After the debate, she said she maybe shouldn’t have made that comparison to Nazi boots, but she stands with the content. Kuiken called Baudet a danger to democracy because he spreads conspiracy theories that result in journalists and scientists being threatened. “The party is getting smaller but no less dangerous,” the PvdA leader said.

PVV leader Wilders and Prime Minister Rutte (VVD) clashed about Netherlands residents’ waning confidence in politics and the government. According to Wilders, that is primarily Rutte’s fault. “You’ve done too much damage,” he said.

Rutte retaliated by pointing out that the country emerged from the economic crisis under his leadership. “And what have you done?” he asked Wilders. “Your positions have become more and more extreme. You are on the flanks and do not participate.”

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