Re-birth of the union?

31st May 2005, Comments 0 comments

The creation of 'New Europe' has given rise to as many problems as it was meant to solve. The EU constitutional referendum in Holland on 1 June is the perfect case in point, writes Sam Coleman.

Oh Holland, land of ironies.

Nick Gabrichidze has been angered by the way the document was presented

The country that once stood for so many liberal and progressive causes — only to see those convictions doubted and even rejected — is going through another bout of national introspection. This time in regard to the upcoming EU constitution.

The Netherlands has been one of the strongest founding members of the European Union (EU) when the Netherlands teamed up with Belgium, West Germany, Luxembourg, France, Italy, to form the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951.

The Netherlands was even home to the Maastricht Treaty that bore the European Union into existence 13 years ago.

With the highest per capita contribution to the EU fund (EUR190, with number two Sweden contributing only EUR 90), it is considered one the EU’s most filial founding fathers, a mantle of EU steadfastness that has helped nurture and expand the idea of a united and encompassing Europe.

*quote1*That is until now. With Wednesday's at best narrow endorsement of the presented EU constitution and at worst rejection of it, the Netherlands joins France in sending a clear signal to its leadership that EU directives are not taken as the final word on what’s good for Europe and its people.

The rejection of the constitution by the Dutch is something one that even the most diehard eurosceptic would have had a hard time imagining just a few years ago from the Dutch.

"Well you never know, I hope it’s a no but we’re very encouraged by the polls, that's for sure. Still, there's a lot of propaganda out there,” states Richard Canderwal, a press spokesperson for the Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF).

The populist LPF party, along with the Socialist Party (SP) and the small Christian parties, the ChristenUnie and the SGP, are calling for a no vote.

The government parties — Christian Democrats (CDA), Liberals (VVD) and Democrats D66 — are pushing for a yes vote, as are the opposition Labour (PvdA) and green-left Groenlinks parties.

"Most recent poll shows that 40 percent will turn out and that all polls, even the government's poll, shows acceptance of the constitution trailing by at least 1 percent,  and in most others by 5-10 percent. It looks like it will be defeated," Wouter Kolk, a member of staff of the PvdA's European Affairs department for the Dutch Parliament, admits glumly.

Frans Timmermans, leader of the Dutch delegation on the new constitution

The vote though is purely consultative, not a binding one and in that sense the government — should it choose to — could in theory reject the voters' negative conclusion.

That, however, in the time of post-Pim Fortuyn populism is unlikely to happen.

All parties have already declared that should the vote be above a 30 percent turnout, they would abide by the will of the people, be it "ja" or "nee".

"We've said that if it's 30 percent a no is a no," says Kolk.

"If it's a no then we'll be held to the Nice Treaty which simply cannot handle the enlargement of the new members. It's a pity because we feel that with this constitution we could address the problems and the sentiment that people have against the European project," he says.

*quote2*Those criticisms include the overly bureaucratic nature of the EU, its lack of transparency and democratic processes and the speed at which change —the euro currency, but especially enlargement — is happening.

"What the people have against the constitution isn't just what it says," explains Nick Gabrichidze, a Georgian-born Dutch citizen (38). "It's the way it's been presented to us. I mean they tell everyone about it in January and expect three months later to vote on it, that’s crazy in a modern Europe."

"Secondly, it’s not really a constitution, it’s 300 pages of laws that nobody reads anyway," Gabrichidze says.

 According to the LPF, the constitution gives up too many veto righ

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