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June 01, 2005
The Dutch Referendum: The World Responds
As expected, the vote in the Netherlands was not close. Here is some of the commentary, from here and there.
Memories of World War II. The euro. The prospect of further European Union expansion. Religion. Just plain gut feeling. "No" voters in the referendum had their reasons for rejecting the EU Constitution.
"I voted against, of course. I've lived through the war, and we shouldn't be giving it all away to those fascist countries," said pensioner Henk Kuit, citing Germany, France and Spain.
Aernout Claasen, an early "no" voter in Amsterdam, said mainstream politicians were "indoctrinating" the people.
"This Europe is not ready for a constitution. It first needs to harmonize its social security and tax laws," he said.
The veto of the European Union's constitution by EU founding members France and the Netherlands may deepen a rift over the bloc's budget, as Eastern European newcomers seek more funding and richer states in the west try to curb contributions.
The budget "is dead until the second half of 2006,'' Alexander Stubb, a Finnish member of the European Parliament who negotiated the current budget, said in a telephone interview. He blamed the French and Dutch referendum defeats and a German election due in September that will prevent Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder from making "any form of concessions.''
[No European leader] has been willing to deliver the last rites to the constitution in public because they do not want to be blamed for killing it off. Mr Blair is treading carefully because Britain knows that France holds him partly responsible for the no vote - Mr Chirac called a referendum only after his hand was forced by the British prime minister's decision to hold a poll.
Amid such sensitivity, a careful diplomatic dance is likely to be played out over the next two weeks. Wounded by the 55% no vote in France, which he blames on fears about an "Anglo-Saxon" economy sweeping across Europe, Mr Chirac may be in no mood to give Britain an easy ride.
A key moment may come next Monday when Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, gives his first formal response to the French and Dutch votes.
If the results were similar in France and the Netherlands, different factors were at work.. There is a strong case for Dutch objections to being the largest per capita net contributor to the EU budget when the country is now only the fifth wealthiest in the union. It rankled too that tough austerity measures were needed to balance the Dutch budget while France and Germany broke the terms of the eurozone's stability pact with their excessive deficits. And, as in France, there was dissatisfaction with an unpopular centre-right government.
But there were specifically Dutch factors too: worries about EU immigration policies - an issue highlighted by the murdered populist Pim Fortuyn and the killing of film-maker Theo Van Gogh against a background of anti-Muslim feeling that translates into hostility to Turkish membership of the union. Another was concern that traditional Dutch liberalism on drugs, homosexuality, euthanasia and abortion was threatened by conservative values somehow emanating from Brussels. None of these fears has any basis in reality, but this only underlines how much the EU has become a scapegoat for myriad ills. Too many - in France, the Netherlands and beyond - see European integration as a problem rather than the solution it used to be.
Before the Netherlands rejected a new European constitution Wednesday, something out of the ordinary happened: Voters held hundreds of debates about it in town halls and coffeehouses.
A similar raging discussion preceded France's resounding "no" vote three days earlier — with a more in-your-face French flavor. In a typical scene, finger-jabbing sheep farmer Jose Bove told gathered crowds that "200 years after the (French revolution's storming of the) Bastille, the people of the left today are going to wreck this constitution!"
With their votes, the French and Dutch people did indeed shatter the proposed constitution. They sent another message as well: Europe is not dead; it is being democratic. And that's important, too.
Some senior officials at the European Commission in Brussels remain in denial about the crisis they face and have tried to portray the No vote in France as a Yes to greater integration.
They noted that many French Left-wing No voters had said they wanted more European harmonisation and rejected the constitution as insufficiently socialist. The French result could be seen, in the eyes of federalist optimists, as a mandate for greater political union.
The Dutch vote makes a mockery of such wishful thinking. It is a Eurosceptic No, of a type that British voters will readily recognise.
But the long-term challenge is how Europe's leaders are to respond to the rejectionist voters and to define a version of the European ideal that can be supported by Europeans as a whole...
The more painful, but ultimately necessary, approach would be to redraft the constitution from scratch. That process is likely to end up with a less integrationist document. But it could be done by limiting the goal of establishing new voting arrangements in order to speed up decision-making in the enlarged community and by reforming the E.U.'s institutions in a way that bridges the gap between the views of the people and the views of the politicians.
Constitutions have a habit of coming in twos, so that might be a feasible answer. In effect it would lay out a path whereby Europe would become more integrated in many areas while leaving veto rights with member states in such matters as foreign policy, taxation and defense--and Europeans with a voice in making those decisions.
More in part II.
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The European referendum defeats: Après nous, le déluge
Dutch and French voters have soundly defeated the European Union's proposed new constitution, prompting huge press coverage and much from the official commentariat. Google News links to over 8,000 press stories. Macroblog provides useful links to the p... [Read More]
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