Public support for protesting farmers faltering; 9 arrested at demonstration

Police escorting farmers out of The Hague after their protest against the government's nitrogen policy, 19 February 2020
Police escorting farmers out of The Hague after their protest against the government's nitrogen policy, 19 February 2020Politie Den Haag eo, @POL_DenHaagTwitter

Fewer than half of the Dutch public still supports the farmers who have been protesting across the Netherlands in high-profile events for the last five months. The farmers staged an organized demonstration in The Hague again on Wednesday, which ended with nine arrests and dozens of fines issued by police.

Where the farmers previously commanded support from 89 percent of the public back on October 1, that fell to 60 percent two weeks later. Support now sits at just 49 percent, opinion pollster Gijs Rademaker said Wednesday night on RTL 4 television program Jinek.

The lack of support is largely because the public is disappointed by those farmers who have spoken most harshly and made unreasonable demands, yet without rebuke from their representatives. Violence and intimidation at several protests has also led to a lack of public empathy towards the farmers. 

Events on Wednesday were unlikely to help matters, even though police said, “the vast majority of demonstrators adhered to the agreements made.” Nevertheless, two were held for refusing to identify themselves, two more for inciting violence, and one each for disturbing the peace, insulting a public official, and not complying with police orders. The ninth was taken into custody for setting off fireworks.

Many farmers were also stopped for taking their tractors on Dutch highways, despite warnings that it was against the law. Authorities said 106 fines were handed out in total, including to tractor drivers pulled over on the A12 near The Hague, and the A28 in Drenthe.

“It’s war: Never give up,” read one sign on a tractor stopped in The Hague, according to the Telegraaf.

The farmers, rallied together by activist group Farmers Defense Force, claim their industry is too heavily effected by the government’s environment policies, including new regulations on nitrogen emissions and land contamination. The protests have continued even after the government announced a half-billion euros in budgeted programs to assist the farmers in making their businesses more environmentally and economically sustainable.

Even the farmers themselves are divided, Rademaker said. A survey of 1,400 in farmers showed that 64 percent were open to using more sustainable animal feed, 50 percent were in favor of circular farming, and 46 percent were in favor of buyouts. The three issues were opposed by 29%, 40%, and 50%, respectively.