High turnout for Dutch vote

01.06.05 @ 07:30

  1. By Honor Mahony
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BRUSSELS - Shortly before polls closing at 21.00, a turnout of 62% percent has been reported for the Dutch vote on the EU Constitution.

The turnout poll was conducted by Interview/NSS at 21.00

The figure lies ten percent higher than during the European Parliament elections in June 2004, when 39 percent of the voters made their way to the ballots.

The Dutch referendum is not legally binding, but the Dutch parliament has said it will heed the results if the turnout is over 30 per cent - a threshold which has now already been reached.

The polling stations will stay open until 21.00 CET with preliminary results expected shortly afterwards.

Prime minister Jan-Peter Balkenende is then expected to make a statement on the vote.

Once he has had his say, the leaders of the three principle EU institutions – Jose Manuel Barroso of the Commission, Josep Borrell of the parliament and Jean-Claude Juncker representing the council will also make a statement.

Their reactions will be keenly watched after what is expected to be second No vote in a founding member state following France’s rejection three days ago.

The final official results are not expected to be announced until Monday afternoon, as in certain areas in the country voting is done by ballot box rather than electronically.

Some 12.16 million Dutch are eligible to vote with a further 600,000 more voters set to join in from overseas.

Voters are being asked "Are you for or against the Netherlands giving its consent to the Treaty to establish a Constitution for Europe?

Ahead of the poll, the country's referendum commission sent out a short version of the constitution in April and May to all Dutch households, while the government sent out a constitution flyer on 21 May.

The full version of the document, which has 448 articles and is over 400 pages long, has been available for free in libraries and at local government outlets.

Criticism

However, Mr Balkenende's government has been strongly criticised for how it carried out the referendum campaign, leading to newspaper reports that it had pushed some voters to the no camp.

And polls on the eve of the referendum continued to put the no side well in the lead.

An Interview/NSS poll predicted that 60 per cent of voters would reject the treaty, while election researcher Maurice de Hond put the no at 59 per cent.

Senior Dutch politicians have also been pessimistic about the results, with foreign minister Bernard Bot telling CNN on Tuesday "it looks as if it is going to be a no".

The Dutch no camp, which was buoyed by the resounding French rejection of the treaty on Sunday, stretches across the political spectrum from left to right, as was the case in France.

Highest amount per capita

The bad feeling directed towards the EU concerns the rise of prices when the euro was introduced; a fear of further enlargement and anger that Dutch citizens pay the highest amount per capita into EU coffers.

The Dutch also worry that the country's traditional tolerance towards issues such as cannabis and euthanasia may be undermined by the EU.

If they turn the constitution down, it is likely to mean the document's definitive demise and it will send further shockwaves through an EU still reeling from France's rejection.

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