The Netherlands is voting in a referendum on the European Union's draft constitution, and opinion polls say Dutch voters, like the French last Sunday, will reject the treaty. VOA Europe correspondent Roger Wilkison reports from Brussels that a second "no" to the charter could deliver a fatal blow to the EU's blueprint for further integration.
The Netherlands has traditionally been a major champion of European integration. But Dutch voters have been unhappy with the direction the EU has been taking in recent years. Many think it has expanded too far and too fast. Most believe the introduction of the euro single currency has made their cost of living higher. Some also resent the distant pan-European bureaucracy in Brussels. But, above all, they appear to be furious that they were never consulted by the EU or their own government about the way the European project has changed their lives in recent years.
Danielle Jongh, who has actively campaigned for a "no" vote, explains why she is voting against the constitution.
"People feel that they have no real influence on what's happening, what's happening with the future of the European Union, and what's happening with our own country," she said.
One theme underlying Dutch opposition to the treaty is that while the Netherlands underwent painful belt-tightening in order to conform to EU budget rules, France and Germany have gotten away with breaking those rules for four straight years. And, as Lousewies van der Laan, a pro-constitution member of parliament points out, her fellow citizens are unhappy with the Netherlands being the biggest per capita contributor to the EU budget, despite the fact that it is not the union's richest country.
"We pay the most per capita to the European Union's budget, and a lot of people think the money isn't being very well spent and then add to that we haven't really had a debate on Europe for the past 40 years, that people didn't feel included in very important decisions like the enlargement with the countries from eastern Europe, like the introduction of the euro,” she adds. “A lot of people are going to use today to complain about the past rather than take an important step to improve the future."
All the mainstream political parties, news media, business organizations and trade unions are for the constitution. Bert Bakker, another member of parliament, says that only a "yes" vote will keep the Netherlands prosperous and in the European mainstream.
"Holland is the country that profits most from European integration when it comes to economic profit. Moreover, of course, there are so many problems that can only be solved in an international context,” he noted. “So, for me, the only conclusion can be 'yes.'"
But the opinion surveys show that up to 60 percent of the Dutch will vote against the treaty. The polls say the Dutch are growing fearful of losing their own identity within an ever-expanding union and as a result of their own large and rapid influx of immigrants.
Bart Staes is one voter who is suspicious that, in a more centralized Europe, Dutch interests may not be well served.
"I don't feel it's good for the Netherlands. It detracts from its independence in the European community,” he said. “I think it's only adding more bureaucracy."
After the French "no" last Sunday, EU leaders said ratification should continue, noting that nine nations representing nearly half of the EU's citizens had already approved the charter. But a Dutch "no" would make that position less tenable, and the leaders will have to come up with new answers at a summit two weeks from now.