Unravelling the constitutional puzzle

25th May 2005, Comments 0 comments

Here is a 10-point guide to what the supporters and opponents of the EU Constitution are saying in the Netherlands.

1) Democracy

Opinion polls suggest the 'no' campaign is leading in the Netherlands


The Dutch government and supporters of the constitution — drawn up under the stewardship of former French president Valéry Giscard D'Estaing — say the treaty will make the 25-member European Union more democratic.

It will do this by giving the 732 Members of the European Parliament (EP) more say in 42 policy areas. In addition, meetings of the Council of Ministers that used to be held behind closed doors will now be public.


The opposition says the constitution is actually undemocratic because the Council of Ministers and not the European Parliament will have the last say on most issues — and the MEPs have no control over defence, foreign or monetary policy.

Parliament will also not be able to have an individual commissioner — an EU 'minister' — fired.

2) Citizens rights


The constitution includes certain basic rights, such as the right to life, equality between men and women and protection against unfair dismissal and protection of personal data.

Members of the public who collect a million signatures can force the European Commission to reconsider a topic. It will also be easier for citizens to go to the European Court of Justice.


Some opponents on the left agree that far from advancing democracy, the constitution is the road to a "neo-liberal" project that will better serve the free movement of capital and the privatisation of vital utilities (water, energy and public transport).

Requiring one million signatures is too much, and in any event, the European Commission is obliged to only consider issues raised by the petition and will not be obliged to accept it.

3) National identity/rights of member states


The government has been at pains to argue that the constitution will not lead to a super state and will not supersede the Dutch Constitution. In fact, supporters say, the EU constitution defines the areas the EU can deal with and the ones that remain the preserve of member states.

For instance, the government in The Hague would retain control of taxation policy, social insurance, culture, education, health and foreign policy. A majority among member states would be required to agree cooperation on criminal justice. Individual member states can block any changes that would conflict with "fundamental aspects" of national policy.

That means the Netherlands will have the final say in relation to its policies on soft drugs, abortion and euthanasia.


Not so, say opponents to the treaty.

Decisions are to be made in an increasing number of policy areas by a majority vote rather than on the basis of unanimity. This is leading to a European federal super state under which Brussels gets more powers and national governments lose control over key policy decisions.

Apart from its championing of the internal market, the EU constitution spells out that the EU would have 'joint competence' with member states in relation to 10 areas, including social policy, consumer affairs, energy and public transport.

The EU would have a coordinating or supplementary role in relation to industrial policy, health and education. National parliaments can pass judgement on initiatives planned by Brussels, but the European Commission can decide to ignore criticism and press ahead.

The right to veto would be removed in 25 policy areas.

4) No more war

Terrorism is a major concern in the Netherlands


The government has given a lot of emphasis to the unifying nature o

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