Farmers’ Protest in Netherlands Reflects Rise of Popular Revolts in Europe

Weeks after Dutch farmers began to rebel against their government’s livestock reduction environmental plan, farmers in other European countries are rallying in support.

Farmers gather with their vehicles next to a Germany/Netherlands border sign during a protest on the A1 highway near Rijssen, Netherlands, June 29. They are protesting the Dutch Government's nitrogen plans, which would eliminate a sizable number of farms.
Farmers gather with their vehicles next to a Germany/Netherlands border sign during a protest on the A1 highway near Rijssen, Netherlands, June 29. They are protesting the Dutch Government's nitrogen plans, which would eliminate a sizable number of farms. (photo: Vincent Jannink / AFP via Getty Images)

The June 10 introduction by the Dutch government of a large environmental plan, which will reduce the country’s livestock population by at least 30% by 2030, has triggered waves of violent demonstrations throughout the country. 

The plan followed a 2019 ruling from the country’s top administrative court that the Netherlands was violating European nature conservation directives. Dairy cows are particularly targeted by these measures as they produce polluting emissions from manure and artificial fertilizers.

The Netherlands is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in Europe, due to its intensive animal agriculture. It is the second largest agricultural exporter in the world after the U.S.

The goal of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government is to reduce ammonia pollution, as well as nitrogen emissions by between 40% and 95%, depending on the area, which will necessarily have a dramatic impact on the lives of Dutch farmers, who fear losing their lands and farms built over generations. 

According to an estimate by the Ministry of Finance, more than half of farm holdings will disappear or be cut back in the next eight years. This drastic decision by the Dutch government has driven tens of thousands of farmers to the streets, causing clashes with the authorities and blockades throughout the country in recent weeks.


Inconsistent Measures

Chris van Bruggen, a dairy farmer in the Alblasserwaard region, recently published an opinion piece on the national newspaper NRC, in which he argued that nitrogen reduction and the protection of the environment in general requires a radically different eating and consumption pattern, a shift that would need to extend to all spheres of society and not just agriculture. In his view, farmers are being used as scapegoats in government initiatives to comply with European directives that only displace the problem, rather than solve it.

“This will have an enormous impact in the entire profession, people will lose their only source of income, and this feels unjust, the farmers’ anger is understandable,” Van Bruggen told the Register, noting that food production represents only 13% of the Netherlands’ total carbon dioxide emissions. 

“Moving food production elsewhere in the world makes no sense and is unwise, especially when this objective of nitrogen reduction will fundamentally maintain or expand other economic activities and industries,” he said, also pointing out the lifestyle habits of the Dutch and Westerners in general, which contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.

Moreover, as highlighted by some data in an article published by the New York Post, ammonia pollution from manure has already declined by nearly 70% since 1990. The article’s author Michael Shellenberger, who characterizes himself as a liberal environmentalist, considers these measures to be disproportionate, since Dutch farmers can keep reducing pollution by putting in place “low-cost, common-sense fixes, like diluting manure with water, injecting it into the soil and more frequently washing down barn floors.”

He added that since the early 1960s, the Netherlands has doubled its yields while using the same amount of fertilizer. “It’s hard not to conclude that politics and green ideology, more than science and reason, are driving the government’s decision,” wrote Shellenberger, who was included in Time magazine’s 2008 list of “Heroes of the Environment.”


City vs. Countryside

A more uncompromising analysis is made by Father Elias Leyds, a member of the Community of St. John in the Diocese of Den Bosch and a founder of EWTN in the Low Countries of Europe. In an interview with the Register, he attributed this political crisis to the government’s technocratic orientation, and a deep ignorance of the facts on the ground that leads it to impose measures from above that are disconnected from reality. 

He also mentioned tensions generated  by the recent participation of several Dutch government ministers in Klaus Schwab’s World Economic Forum, whose economic and ecological objectives for 2030 are correspond closely to the government’s new measures. 

“It gives people the feeling that there is something wrong going on with their government’s philosophy, without necessarily having the intellectual tools to oppose the policies they disapprove,” Father Leyds said, noting that the Dutch farmers are crystallizing a more widespread popular discontent towards their nation’s elite. This explains the wide popular support that they are receiving across the country, he said. 

“There is a great sense of popular admiration for farmers in the Netherlands as they work extremely hard, but there also tends to be a clear cultural divide between the city and the countryside, for the city of merchants has always looked upon the farmers of the countryside with a certain contempt,” Father Leyds continued. 

In contrast, the priest said people from smaller communities and the countryside — who, because of their proximity to nature, tend to be more conservative and much more attached to their Christian religion — feel a natural empathy with farmers, who embody the image of the family business, of generational continuity, discipline and hard work. 

This is also the reason why Father Leyds regretted the absence of a position on the issue, from the different Christian churches in the country. “The Church should embrace this challenge of nature that God is giving us through this crisis,” he said, “and I think this protest movement is particularly interesting: It’s a bit like the Yellow Vests movement, but it is deeper since Holland is usually more peaceful and less revolutionary than France.”


Towards a European Alliance? 

With the arrival of summer not serving to weaken the determination of Dutch farmers to protest, commentators around the world are wondering how big the revolt might get in the fall, especially since the discontent is beginning to spread to other European countries, notably Italy, Spain, Germany and Poland. And these growing movements could well be the harbingers of popular revolts against the elites on a European scale, as postulated by the historian of law and political ideas Philippe Fabry, author of a number of books, including History of The Next Century

Fabry has developed a system of geopolitical prediction that he calls “historionomy,” which has attracted media attention. This system, which studies the structure of history and political systems to identify historical patterns that are likely to repeat themselves, allowed Fabry to predict the Russian invasion of Ukraine in January 2019. 

Asked by the Register about the scope of the current Dutch and more generally European unrest, Fabry considered that “Europe as a whole is today at the same stage as France in 1780,” a few years before the French Revolution began.

The particular novelty of this moment, according to him, is that in the face of a European elite that has long been constituted beyond national frameworks, a new form of network is emerging among the European peoples themselves, who until recently remained confined to their national frameworks and who today are uniting to stand up to their elite, which they consider to be cut off from them.

Added to this is an unprecedented economic situation in the European countries, which have been severely weakened by the COVID lockdowns and more recently by the war in Ukraine — a situation that will most certainly contribute, in his view, to delegitimate the continent’s central power. 

“This allows us to diagnose that we are on the eve of a movement of revolution on a European scale, that could lead in the long run to the constitution of a first form of European nation state,” Fabry speculated, “but the process will take several decades that will be crossed by very important troubles, with probably even countries that will leave the EU in the process.”