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26th Sep 2022

Dutch leader seeks to avoid new EU treaty referendum

One year after the failed referendum on the EU constitution in the Netherlands, Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende has indicated he will try to avoid a second referendum on a possible revised treaty text.

Thursday (1 June) marks the one-year anniversary of the Dutch poll when 61.6 percent rejected the EU constitution.

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Mr Balkenende reiterated to international media on Wednesday (31 May) that The Hague will not put the document for ratification in a second referendum, with a poll for Dutch public television showing that an even larger number of 68 percent of the Dutch would today again vote "no."

"We should look for alternatives and we need time for that," he said according to Austrian daily Der Standard.

But the Dutch leader also said he would like to avoid a referendum on a revised version of the constitution, or any other new EU treaty text.

"Referendums are risky affairs. If you can avoid one that would be my preference," he said according to the FT.

The prime minister's remarks however do not rule out the possibility of a referendum on a new EU charter in the Netherlands.

New referendum still likely

Mr Balkenende had also rejected last year's referendum, which was initiated by a majority of the Dutch parliament despite opposition by Mr Balkenende's own Christian Democrat party.

The poll, which represented the first nation-wide referendum in Dutch history, was non-binding in theory, but effectively stopped The Hague from ratifying the charter.

If EU member states agree on a revised constitution text, the Dutch parliament is likely to come under intense pressure to organise a second referendum, with the public television poll showing that 83 percent of the Dutch want to have a new say if the constitution text is revised.

Mr Balkenende said The Hague believes that changes to the current EU treaty are necessary.

"If we tried to avoid [having] a new treaty that would be risky. I don't think the Treaty of Nice is enough so we have to talk about changes," he is quoted as saying by the FT.

"The question will be is it the responsibility of parliament to decide [how we ratify that], or do we have to organise another referendum."

Rift with Belgium

The Dutch "no" vote, followed by Dutch foreign minister Bernard Bot's famous assertion that the constitution is "dead," has put the Netherlands at odds with its neighbour Belgium, a fellow founding member of the EU.

Belgium and the Netherlands share a long tradition of being at the forefront of European integration, joined by Luxembourg in the Benelux group – but remarks by Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt on Wednesday (31 May) highlighted the growing divide between the two nations.

Despite The Hague's calls for a revised treaty text Mr Verhofstadt pleaded for further ratification of the EU constitution as it stands, while speaking before the European Parliament.

"Practically and politically, there is just one option: move forward with the ratification of this constitution," he stated.

"In my view those who in recent months have put ratification on the back burner are duty-bound to start or resume the ratification procedure."

Mr Verhofstadt referred to a special declaration attached to the constitution, which states: "If four fifths of the Member States have ratified it and one or more Member States have encountered difficulties in proceeding with ratification, the matter will be referred to the European Council [EU leaders meetings]".

"Well then, if not all of the countries start a ratification procedure, then the content of this declaration will obviously be pointless," he stated.

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