Voters in the Netherlands have overwhelmingly rejected the European Union's proposed constitution three days after their counterparts in France also turned down the charter. Exit polls showed 63 per cent of Dutch voters voted "no" and only 37 per cent were in favor of the document.
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende was quick to concede defeat. He says he is very disappointed at the result. "It's clear that we are not pleased with this, are not happy with this outcome. Dutch voters have given a clear signal. It is obvious that we will be respecting this outcome completely," he said.
Mr. Balkenende says that despite the defeat of the constitution in both his country and in France, the ratification process should go on. Nine countries have already approved the constitution. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, also insisted that every one of the EU's 25 members should have its say about the merits of the charter. Mr. Juncker says that he will make proposals on how the bloc can move forward after the two devastating defeats at a European summit in Brussels in two weeks' time.
To go into effect, the EU constitution, which was designed as a blueprint for further European integration, must be approved by every member state
Meanwhile, opponents of the constitution in the Netherlands were celebrating their victory. Geert Wilders, a right-wing member of parliament who campaigned against the treaty, calls the result a thrashing of the political elite by ordinary people. "The large majority of the Dutch people have rejected this, and I'm very proud of them for having done that. If you realize that in the second chamber (the lower house of parliament) two thirds of the parliamentarians were in favor of the constitution, but two out of three people in the country are against the constitution, I'm very happy that the Dutch voters have stuck two fingers up to the elite in Brussels and The Hague," he said.
Why did the Dutch, traditionally seen as being among the most pro-European of the continent's peoples, turn down the constitution in such an emphatic way?
Joris Van Poppel, the Europe editor of the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, says ordinary citizens felt left out of the decision-making process regarding the future of Europe and their own country. "The reason why people opposed it is that they feel marginalized. The Dutch used to like the European Union when there were only six members. Now there are 25, and they feel they don't have any power any more. And, second of all, they haven't been asked about any of the major changes in the European Union. They are fed up with the euro (single currency). They're fed up about enlargement. And they've never been asked, so that's really why they opposed the treaty now," he said.
The rejection of the charter by the Dutch and the French this week not only casts doubt about the EU's plans to expand into Turkey, the Balkans and Ukraine but also raises questions about its appetite for economic reform in the face of mounting global competition. The euro fell to its lowest level in eight months against the US dollar after the result of the Dutch referendum was announced.