July 21, 2023 - 5:30pm

EU climate commissioner Frans Timmermans, the mastermind behind so many of Brussels’s recent green policies, has this week announced his intention to run in the Dutch elections in November. This vote, outwardly routine, might be the most consequential for the EU in decades. Usually, European elections are a choice between Left-wing and Right-wing parties, but in the Netherlands, it could become a referendum on the legitimacy of the EU’s Green Deal and other environmental policies. 

In the past, the Dutch electoral spotlight has been hogged by Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom (PVV), an economically liberal but otherwise Right-wing political movement with particularly strong opposition to uncontrolled immigration. This time, however, the attention focuses on the Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB) led by Caroline van der Plas since its founding in 2019. 

The party has come into existence as a direct reaction to the numerous environmental laws its supporters consider a direct threat to the viability of Dutch farmers, who are among the most technologically advanced and productive in the world. Measured by the number of exports, the Netherlands is the world’s second largest agricultural player, after the United States. 

The previous government, under Mark Rutte, underestimated the appeal the issue would carry beyond the farming industry, and he and other parties were completely blindsided by the BBB’s victory in provincial elections earlier this year. The Farmer-Citizen Movement has been called many things, from left-of-centre to far-Right. Regardless of its exact situation on the political spectrum, it represents a backlash against the perceived environmental overreach of Left-wing parties and EU bureaucrats in Brussels. 

Here’s where Timmermans’s entry into the race becomes particularly crucial. He is set to run for the position of leader of the combined Labour and Green Left parties, making him the epitome of everything the BBB stands against. According to the most recent polling, this coalition party is at 18% and the BBB at 16%, setting the stage for an intense campaigning season over the next few months.

Timmermans has repeatedly clashed with the European People’s Party (which represents centre-right members of the European Parliament) over plans for nature restoration laws and other proposals to push back against agricultural activities. Although it is only admitted beyond closed doors, European conservatives are sensing the growing public resistance to particularly zealous climate policies. Obsessing over Net Zero, as well as plans to kill 200,000 cows in Ireland in the name of climate change, is now viewed with renewed scepticism. As the recent UK by-elections have shown, anger against environmental overreach like London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zones (Ulez) can help a flailing conservative party to hold on to a few seats amidst a sea of losses.

The Dutch elections will put this proposition to the test on a national level, and its results will have an impact on the continental commitment to Net Zero and other climate change proposals by capitals beyond Amsterdam. Should the BBB repeat its success from the provincial elections, and anti-environmentalism become a winning proposition, one can rest assured that other European parties will take notice. Who knows, perhaps this November will mark the beginning of the end of the EU’s Green Deal.