Politics & Economics

EPP’s pursuit of european farmers bolstered as dutch farmers’ Party (BBB) aligns ahead of european elections

December 2023
By Maximilian Powell

As the European elections draw near, it’s not only European voters that the political groups in the European Parliament are competing for; they are also vying for new political entities, especially given recent successes of new parties, notably in the Netherlands.

On Friday 15 December, the Dutch Farmers’ Party (BBB) announced that it would join the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament, selecting a former EPP policy advisor as their lead candidate for the EU elections. The decision to join the EPP, arising after months of uncertainty and speculation, is seen as a sort of triumph for the group, especially since the BBB has also been engaged in discussions with the liberals (Renew) and the national-conservative ECR.

Sander Smit, the BBB’s lead candidate for the EU elections, brings significant experience to the table, having worked for 8.5 years in the Dutch delegation within the EPP group in the European Parliament. His focus encompassed various sectors, notably agriculture, rural development, environment, climate, and fisheries. After the decision was announced Smit told reporters: “We feel very much at home at the EPP. We experience the most connection here in terms of content, but also in terms of DNA and core values”.

The BBB significantly disrupted the Dutch political scene earlier in the year, emerging as the major victor in provincial elections that determine the Senate’s composition, securing 15 out of 75 seats. Despite performing less impressively in the recent national elections, winning only 7 out of 150 seats, they are seen as pivotal in the ongoing Dutch coalition negotiations aiming to establish a right-wing cabinet alongside the far-right PVV.

Advocating for farmers, BBB’s decision to join the EPP comes amidst increased efforts by the EPP to court the farmers’ vote and position itself as ‘the farmer’s party’ ahead of the EU elections. In May, the party voted on a resolution named ‘European Farmers’ Deal’ during a congress, a clear reference to the EU’s sustainability flagship strategy, the Green Deal. This move has led to a tension within the Parliament, particularly with other centrist groups such as Renew, the S&D, and Greens, owing to the group’s stance on critical Green legislation. These tensions came to a head in July, when the EPP attempted to undermine the Nature Restoration Law, a key legislation under the European Green Deal, arguing that it could jeopardize food production and the livelihoods of farmers.

Prior to BBB’s decision, the six-MEP Dutch delegation solely comprised the centre-right Dutch Christian-Democrats (CDA) – the party of the European Commissioner for Climate Action, Wopke Hoekstra – and the smaller centrist Christian Union (CU) party. Another newcomer party, the centre-right NSC led by Peter Omtzigt, formerly associated with CDA, has expressed its intent to also align with the EPP. Current polling suggest that collectively, this would bring six new MEPs to the EPP group, one from BBB and five from NSC. However, all current EPP members from CDA and CU are expected to lose a number of their current seats in the European Parliament.