EU Constitution Battleground Moves to the Netherlands

Roger Wilkison

Election billboard calling on the Dutch electorate to vote against the European Union constitution in Amsterdam
As Dutch leaders make an 11th hour plea for a "yes" vote on the EU Constitution in Wednesday's referendum, opinion surveys in The Netherlands are predicting that a public disillusioned with Europe will reject the charter by an even larger margin than the stunning "no" delivered by French voters on Sunday.

Supporters of the European Union's draft constitution in the Netherlands concede that they are fighting a losing battle. For weeks, now, polls have shown that between 52- and 60-percent of the voters will cast a "no" vote. Foreign Minister Bernard Bot says the "no" vote in France was a big setback for proponents of the constitution in the Netherlands.

"All the polls indicated that if the French would have said 'yes', the Dutch, by a narrow margin would also have said 'yes'," he said. "But you see now the immediate effect in the polls of the French negative outcome also in the Netherlands. The figures are going up again for the 'no' camp. At the moment, it looks as if it is going to be a 'no' vote."

Like other EU leaders, Mr. Bot says that, even if Dutch voters turn down the constitution, other EU member states should continue the ratification process. But diplomats in Brussels say privately that if two of the six founding members of the EU, France and the Netherlands, reject the treaty, there is no point in going ahead with ratification elsewhere.

As was the case with French voters, the Dutch are angry at the political establishment in their country. Even though they have been among the strongest proponents of a united Europe, the Dutch are uneasy about the way Europe is going, and ordinary citizens seem bitter that they have not been given a say in such matters as the introduction of the euro, the EU single currency, which many blame for price rises.

Many also think their country contributes too much to the EU budget. And many others are concerned about what they see as uncontrolled immigration, especially from Muslim lands, which some blame on the EU.

Foreign Minister Bot admits that he and other political leaders have misread the concerns of voters about the effects of the EU on their daily lives.

"People have the feeling that they are being ruled from Brussels, that they have no say in the matter of enlargement, the euro, etcetera, which has, in itself, been beneficial because that is the interesting paradox, that all of these elements have brought prosperity to Europe, and particularly to the Netherlands, but, obviously, the general feeling is that it has been a disadvantageous business, let's say, for them as private citizens. And that, I think, we should have been able to explain in a better and more consistent way," said Foreign Minister Bot.

The referendum in the Netherlands is non-binding, but the government has vowed to respect it as long as the turnout is above 30 percent and the "no" side garners at least 55 percent of the vote. Unlike what occurred in France, the government says it will not resign if the constitution is defeated.


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