Dutch vote takes on greater significance

30.05.05 @ 09:45

  1. By Honor Mahony and Mark Beunderman

BRUSSELS - Following the political shockwaves unleashed in Brussels by the French rejection of the constitution, the Dutch poll two days from now has taken on even greater significance.

  • It seems unlikely the constitution could survive a second no from a founding member state (Photo: http://xlcus.com/povray/)

The likelihood that the constitution could survive a second rejection by another founding member of the EU is small.

But polls ahead of Wednesday's vote continue to put the no camp in the lead with 57 per cent, although there were also reports of the yes camp gaining ground over the weekend.

The country's election researcher, Maurice de Hond, released a statement before the results in France were known saying the French result would be "decisive" for the Netherlands.

A French "no" would mean that less "yes" voters would turn out, according to the pollster.

"Chances are high that in that case, the share of no-voters will lie above 60 percent" said his statement.

The Dutch referendum is non-binding, but it will be difficult to ignore the results if the turnout is high.

Nine countries already ratified

After the French results became clear, the current head of the EU, Luxembourg's prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker, insisted that ratification in other countries must go on.

Along with European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, he pointed out that nine countries representing almost half of the EU's population have ratified the document already.

This point seemed to be taken up by Dutch prime minister Jan-Peter Balkenende who called the French result "disappointing" but said that France should not "lay down the law" to the Netherlands.

British prime minister Tony Blair's reaction to the vote will also be keenly awaited. His country, which is due to go to the polls in spring of next year, is widely expected to turn the constitution down.

A French no could let Mr Blair off the hook. However, if the treaty is declared dead, the British will have to start clearing up the political mess as they take over the EU helm on 1 July.

The UK will have to deal with questions about whether the treaty can or should be re-negotiated, or whether less controversial parts of the 448-document can be introduced anyway.

But earnest speculation about the future of the constitution is only likely to take place after the Dutch referendum - when EU leaders know whether they are dealing with one or two rejections of the EU charter.

EU heads are gathering for their traditional summer summit in Brussels on 16 June where the options will be discussed.

For its part, the constitution itself suggests that if after two years, four-fifths (or 20) of member states have ratified the document and "one or more" have not, EU leaders should meet to discuss what to do.

They may decide to break off the process but must decide under unanimity under the current Nice Treaty.

Sticking to the line

For now, however, they are sticking to the line that ratification must go on.

German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, whose country finished parliamentary ratification on Friday, said the French result was a "setback" for the ratification process but did not mean the end of it.

Denmark, another country with a high probability of rejecting the treaty, is also set to press ahead with ratification.

"We respect the decision of the French people, but I believe the Danes should decide for themselves, what we want", said Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Sunday.

Luxembourg is next up to vote in July, followed by Denmark on 27 September.

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