Farmers protests increasingly radical, police say; Coalition party demands debate
Compared to last week, fewer farmers are now protesting against the Cabinet's nitrogen plans. But the protesters' actions are getting harsher, said national police commander Willem Woelders. Coalition party D66 wants an emergency debate on the farmers’ protests on Wednesday after a demonstration at Minister Christianne van der Wal’s (Nature and Nitrogen) got out of hand on Tuesday evening.
“The group that carries out actions is smaller but more radical. Farmers have the feeling that there is no prospect of a solution for them. I hope this doesn’t escalate further, but I don’t think it is dimming yet,” Woelders said. He spoke of “a worrying development the Netherlands should pay attention to.”
In addition to breaking through a police barricade and dumping waste at Minister Van der Wal’s home on Tuesday, farmers have also been blocking highways and provincial houses with tractors, popping up at town halls, smearing manure on the facades of government buildings, and setting fires to hay bales.
According to Woelders, it is difficult for the police to be everywhere on time. “The farmers decide for themselves when they are going to do something. They are organized and disorganized. That makes them unpredictable. We have limited information. We often have to react to what we see. Then it takes time to get there. Sometimes we also get stuck in a traffic jam, and everything is already over when we get there. You will never get a situation where nothing happens anywhere. That is not realistic.”
In addition, it is sometimes physically impossible to stop farmers, like at the Minister's house on Tuesday evening. “Suppose you put police vehicles on the roadway. Then they go around it, through the verge and the slope. I wouldn’t stand in front of a tractor either. As a police officer, you must be careful with what you do. People have to consider how big the risk is on the spot, what is safe and feasible. Some farmers cooperate, some not.”
Woelders stressed that the police are not involved in the nitrogen policy and that demonstration is a fundamental right. He expects that farmers will continue to use this right in the coming days. “The problems have not been solved after today, that is clear. The government needs at least another year to determine concretely what will be done. And all the while, there will be unrest among the farmers.”
Coalition party D66 wants an emergency debate on the farmers' protests on Wednesday. “The government is failing its core task: keeping the country safe. What will the Cabinet do against the aggression of threatening farmers? I want a debate about that tomorrow,” said D66 faction leader Jan Paternotte.
Other politicians also condemned the protest. “Stop this madness. Stop threatening this Minister and her family. This has long since stopped being about your right to protest,” tweeted GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver.
PvdD leader Esther Ouwehand called it “completely unacceptable to harass the Minister's family in this way.” She also asked for a debate about the farmers’ protest.
Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte called on the farmers to comply with the law during their protests and called demonstrations that cause dangerous situations “unacceptable.” Despite this, demonstrations got out of hand in several places. Multiple protesters were arrested, including five at the Tweede Kamer and at least one on the A28 highway.
Reporting by ANP and NL Times