DeSmog

BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB)

Background

BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB) – or “Farmer-Citizen Movement” in English – is an agrarian right-wing populist party in the Netherlands, founded in response to the 2019 Dutch farmer protests.1University of Groningen. “BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB),” March 24, 2021. Archived December 10, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.is/LLPmB The party was established in November 2019 by agricultural journalist Caroline van der Plas alongside public relations executives Wim Groot Koerkamp and Henk Vermeer2University of Groningen. “BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB),” March 24, 2021. Archived December 10, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.is/LLPmB from agricultural marketing firm ReMarkAble.3Remarkable. “REMARKABLE MAAKT OPMERKELIJKE BOERBURGERBEWEGING.”. Archived June 16, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.is/sgJt0

The BBB opposes the Dutch government’s plans to cut nitrogen pollution in the country by reducing livestock numbers and buying out farms,4Anna Holligan and Paul Kirby. “Farmers’ protest party win shock Dutch vote victory,” BBC News, March 16, 2023. Archived March 16, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.is/VgeXu which Van der Plas describes as a “dogma dictated from The Hague”.5“Who are the BBB? The BoerBurgerBeweging explained,” The Northern Times, October 23, 2023. Archived February 21, 2024. Archive URL: https://archive.is/vpoa6 Nitrogen has been at high levels since at least 1990, when the first efforts were made to reduce it.6“Stikstof,” Wageningen University. Archived April 23, 2024. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/K7xLg

Author and journalist Ben Coates told the BBC in March 2023 that the BBB’s “policies are very much focused on opposing the government’s environmental policies”, and that “most people would characterise them as a right-wing, populist party that was quite anti-EU, anti-immigration and in favour of banning burkas for Muslims”.7Anna Holligan and Paul Kirby. “Farmers’ protest party win shock Dutch vote victory,” BBC News, March 16, 2023. Archived March 16, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.is/VgeXu

In the March 2023 Dutch provincial elections, the BBB secured 15 out of 75 seats in the upper house of parliament and received almost 20 percent of the vote.8Anna Holligan and Paul Kirby. “Farmers’ protest party win shock Dutch vote victory,” BBC News, March 16, 2023. Archived March 16, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.is/VgeXu According to Dutch newspaper The Northern Times, “this remarkable performance positions the BBB to potentially become the largest political party in the Dutch Senate”.9Who are the BBB? The BoerBurgerBeweging explained,” The Northern Times, October 23, 2023. Archived February 21, 2024. Archive URL: https://archive.is/vpoa6 Turnout for the election was the highest in years at 57.7 percent, according to the BBC.10Anna Holligan and Paul Kirby. “Farmers’ protest party win shock Dutch vote victory,” BBC News, March 16, 2023. Archived March 16, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.is/VgeXu

In the Dutch general elections of autumn 2023, the BBB increased its number of seats in the House of Representatives from one to seven.11Zetelverdeling Tweede Kamer,” NOS Nieuws. Archived May 5, 2024. Archive URL: https://archive.is/3Smk3 

Although the aims of the BBB often overlap with those of the Dutch farmers’ protests, Caroline van der Plas has denounced the violent tactics of protesting farmers at least twice in recent years.12BBB-voorvrouw Caroline van der Plas: ‘Boeren, blokkeer de snelwegen niet’,” Hart van Nederland, June 27, 2023. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog. In 2022, she said that she supports “their battle”, but that farmers have to wage it “within the limits of the law”.13Pim Pauwels. “BBB-leider Van der Plas wil dat boeren gevaarlijke acties stoppen,” MetroNieuws, July 27, 2022. Archived February 27, 2024. Archive URL: https://archive.is/7mDiY

Stance on Climate Change

The BBB’s leader, Caroline van der Plas, has a history of casting doubt over the extent to which climate change is a human-made phenomenon, writing in a tweet in 2023 that the “climate will always change”.14Caroline van der Plas. “Natuurlijk kun je proberen om versnelling tegen te gaan, maar klimaat zal altijd veranderen. Ook toen er nog nauwelijks of geen mensen, consumptie, auto’s, vliegtuigen en veehouderij waren, veranderde het klimaat. Wil niet zeggen dat je duurzamer met aarde mag en kunt omgaan.,” X post from user @lientje1967, January 29, 2023. Archived .png on file at DeSmog.

Ninety-nine percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening, and is a human-made phenomenon.15Krista F Myers et al. “Consensus revisited: quantifying scientific agreement on climate change and climate expertise among Earth scientists 10 years later,” Environmental Research, October 20, 2021. Archived May 8, 2024. Archive URL: https://archive.is/PqgAa  

Van der Plas has also claimed that current Dutch climate targets are “too ambitious”, and has pushed back against what she claims is a “climate revolution”, calling instead for a much slower “climate evolution”.16BBB. “Kop d’r veur! Nederland als Volkshuis – HJ Schoo-Lezing,” September 5, 2023. Archived September 27, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.is/uSSdQ 

In an interview with Dutch radio station BNR, van der Plas said that the BBB doesn’t want to reduce the amount of livestock in the Netherlands,17Caroline van der Plas (BBB) wil mes zetten in klimaatdoelen: ‘Te ambitieus en scherp’,” YouTube video uploaded by user @BNR, November 12, 2023. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog. which many Dutch experts regard as one of the most important measures to take in battling climate change.18Krimp van de veestapel: Medaille met twee kanten,” Wageningen University, March 1, 2021. Archived May 9th, 2024. Archive URL: https://archive.is/FrX8p She said the BBB wants to rely on technological innovations provided by Dutch companies to reduce CO₂ emissions instead:19Caroline van der Plas (BBB) wil mes zetten in klimaatdoelen: ‘Te ambitieus en scherp’,” YouTube video uploaded by user @BNR, November 12, 2023. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog.

“We want to make sure that entrepreneurs in the Netherlands can still do their work. In the end we are also talking about their incomes.”

Van der Plas has also repeatedly played down the Dutch agricultural sector’s contribution to nitrogen pollution across the country, arguing that “other measures” can be used to reduce nitrogen levels across the Netherlands.20Nee de natuur kan niet herstellen zonder stikstofreductie, ook al zegt Caroline van der Plas van wel.,” Pointer, March 13, 2023. Archived December 2, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.is/557VJ In a speech, she said that the Dutch “don’t have a nitrogen-problem, but a problem with the laws surrounding nitrogen”, and argued that a key factor in the Netherland’s nitrogen pollution were the geese that “shit into nature reserves”.21‘We hebben geen stikstofprobleem, maar een stikstofwetprobleem!’ – Caroline van der Plas,” YouTube video uploaded by user @BoerBurgerBewegingBBB, November 3, 2022. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog. 

The BBB’s “Election program 2023-2027”, which outlines the party’s policy platform, includes a section about climate subtitled “Going green should not get you in the red”.22BBBetter every day,” BoerBurgerBeweging. Archived December 14, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.is/tbB5U The section states: “Although the climate has been subject to autonomous change throughout the earth’s existence, human activity certainly also has an impact. There is, however, no unity of opinion or even of research about the weight of this impact.” 

The section also goes on to state: 

“BBB aims for a society in which we limit our impact on the climate where we actually are able to and for as much as we can influence it. […] Globally, the Netherlands only contribute 0.4% to CO₂ emissions and our CO₂ footprint per inhabitant is already much lower than that of many other (Western) countries.”

However, the party also acknowledges the need for an energy transition:

“A transition to sustainable energy is required as a climate measure and to end the use of fossil fuels. During this transition, we will not phase out fossil energy sources as long as there are no affordable sustainable alternatives.”

The group does not mention the climate impact of agriculture, which constituted 11.4 percent of the Netherlands’ greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, according to data from Climate Watch.23Netherlands,” Climate Watch. Archive URL: https://archive.is/j8RGF Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

On biodiversity, the program says: 

“BBB acknowledges the importance of strengthening biodiversity wherever possible. We do not want to do this by creating new nature but by ensuring that there are the right amounts of flora and fauna – which may also sometimes mean that there is just no room for a certain species.”

BBB was co-founded by marketing firm ReMarkAble,24Remarkable. “REMARKABLE MAAKT OPMERKELIJKE BOERBURGERBEWEGING.”. Archived June 16, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.is/sgJt0 whose clients have included pesticide firm Bayer and meat processor Vion, according to Dutch investigative journalism outlet Follow the Money.25Harm Ede Botje. “Hoe de stadse Caroline van der Plas de stem van de boer werd,” Follow the Money, March 11, 2023. Archived May 9, 2024. Archive URL: https://archive.is/E4g0a 

Follow The Money reported:

“One of the BBB founders, Henk Vermeer, denied in the television program Medialogica that ReMarkAble’s agro-industrial clients tried to influence the party’s positions. However, ‘people from the sector’ could easily find him. He was in their contact lists and ‘the same applies vice versa’.”

Follow the Money also showed that a quarter of all the BBB’s representatives elected to provincial parliaments were farmers themselves,26Jan Daalder and Tom Claessens. “Kwart BBB-Statenleden is boer, van wie ruim de helft vlakbij natuurgebieden,” Follow the Money, April 13, 2023. Archived May 9, 2024. Archive URL: https://archive.is/azdqh and that one BBB member in the upper house of Dutch parliament is also a chair of the union for poultry slaughterhouses.27Jan Daalder and Harm Ede Botje. “Ambtenaren over dubbele pet van BBB-senator en pluimveelobbyist Oplaat: ‘Voel me niet vrij om dingen met hem te bespreken’,” Follow the Money, January 12, 2024. Archived April 17, 2024. Archive URL: https://archive.is/zMDyJ

Caroline van der Plas repeatedly used data from a foundation called Agrifacts, which presents itself as an independent research institute, but is financed by large agro-companies like For Farmers, Agrifirm, and Royal A-ware.28Harm Ede Botje. “Hoe de stadse Caroline van der Plas de stem van de boer werd,” Follow the Money, March 11, 2023. Archived May 9, 2024. Archive URL: https://archive.is/E4g0a

Before founding the BBB, van der Plas promoted the Dutch agricultural sector in a variety of professional positions, including as a spokesperson of Dutch farmer union LTO Noord and a board member of the pr-initiative Agro NL, according to her LinkedIn profile.29Caroline van der Plas,” Linkedin. Accessed May 9th, 2024. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. 

Earlier BBB policy proposals reportedly included an “expert committee” to check teaching materials and prevent books with “incorrect information about agriculture” being distributed in schools, according to reporting by Follow the Money, as well as a hotline which pupils and parents could use to file complaints about teachers who stood up for “their own ideologies”.30Harm Ede Botje. “Hoe de stadse Caroline van der Plas de stem van de boer werd,” Follow the Money, March 11, 2023. Archived May 9, 2024. Archive URL: https://archive.is/E4g0a

Opposition to Netherlands nitrogen policy

The BBB has consistently opposed the Dutch government’s policy to significantly cut nitrogen pollution, particularly from agriculture. 

Its “Election Programme 2023-27” states:31BBBetter every day,” BoerBurgerBeweging, [date]. Archived December 14, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.is/tbB5U 

“The current nitrogen law has to go and be replaced with a broad view on nature policy, nature conservation and restoration of nature where necessary. The suffocating nitrogen regulations in the Netherlands act like a self-imposed lock-down for agricultural entrepreneurs, infrastructural projects (like road construction) and building projects and should be removed as quickly as possible. The above ministry is tasked with the preservation of all elements in the landscape and ensures that there will still be potatoes, vegetables, meat or fish on our plates in 50 years’ time.”

In March 2023 the BBB won the Dutch provincial elections,32BBB nu in alle provincies de grootste partij geworden,” NOS Nieuws, March 17, 2023. Archived July 18, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.is/nVN3P which are the governmental entities responsible for executing nitrogen policy.33Dit betekent de winst van BBB voor het stikstofbeleid,” RTL Nieuws, 2023. Archived May 9th, 2024. Archive URL: https://archive.is/hm6Vj However, a report by Dutch newspaper NRD found that BBB politicians had not been effective in office at carrying out their agenda due to a lack of political experience.34Oscar Vermeer, Marko de Haan and Yasmine Bouazzati. “In de provincie leren BBB’ers compromissen sluiten. En als het over stikstof gaat, wijzen ze vaak naar Den Haag,” NRC, March 22, 2024. Archived April 4, 2024. Archive URL: https://archive.is/8HhUp 

Despite this, the party’s success in the elections pushed the Dutch national government to pause its nitrogen reduction plans, in a significant win for the BBB. According to U.S. news site Mongabay:35Ashoka Mukpo. “In the Netherlands, pitchforks fly for an empire of cows,” Mongabay, September 7, 2023. Archived April 26, 2024. Archive URL: https://archive.is/rmwag

 “Almost immediately, the BBB’s shocking win [in the March 2023 elections] upended the Dutch cabinet’s plans for addressing the nitrogen crisis. Badly beaten at the polls and facing a no-confidence vote in parliament, Rutte agreed to hit pause on the plans and signaled that his government was open to pushing back the emissions reduction deadline from 2030 to 2035.”

“Europe has never said that we have to reduce nitrogen to achieve our nature goals. You have other measures for that,” said BoerBurgerBeweging frontwoman Caroline van der Plas in March 2023.36Nee de natuur kan niet herstellen zonder stikstofreductie, ook al zegt Caroline van der Plas van wel.,” Pointer, March 13, 2023. Archived December 2, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.is/557VJ

Funding

There are some questions over the funding of BBB. 

At its formation, the BBB was using ReMarkAble’s bank account, according to a book written by Dutch investigative and political journalist Marcia Nieuwenhuis.37Piet Lekkerkerk. “De DDDubieuze start van BBB: financiële vervlechting, verdwenen donaties en verkochte boeken die niet in de boekhouding voorkomen,” Blog post on FVD-Watch, October 23, 2023. Archived December 22, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.is/i1fOx 

ReMarkAble claims to have donated around €174,000 to the BBB via in kind services, in part related to sales of the “BoerBurgerBoek”, a book published written by Van der Plas and published by ReMarkable, though these figures are reportedly not reflected in the BBB’s filings, according to Nieuwenhuis’ book.38Piet Lekkerkerk. “De DDDubieuze start van BBB: financiële vervlechting, verdwenen donaties en verkochte boeken die niet in de boekhouding voorkomen,” Blog post on FVD-Watch, October 23, 2023. Archived December 22, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.is/i1fOx  

An investigation published by Follow the Money and Dutch newspaper AD in March 2023 found that the BBB was mainly funded by small gifts.39Harm Ede Botje. “Hoe de stadse Caroline van der Plas de stem van de boer werd,” Follow the Money, March 11, 2023. Archived May 9, 2024. Archive URL: https://archive.is/E4g0a 

Affiliations

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