Dutch set to hold Constitution referendum this December
The Netherlands is likely to be among the first EU member states to hold a referendum on the Constitution - and is set to do so before the end of this year, during its own EU presidency.
A senior source in the Dutch Foreign Ministry told the EUobserver that the EU poll is likely to be held in December 2004 - the last month of the Dutch EU presidency which kicks off on 1 July.
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One of the initiators of the Dutch EU referendum, the Green member of the Dutch parliament Farah Karimi, told De Volkskrant on Tuesday (22 June) that "if everything works out well", the referendum could even take place as early as November.
However, other sources point out that the actual moment will depend on the pace of work by EU and Dutch translators and legal experts, which first have to work on the precise text of the Constitution.
But once the final text is ready, the Foreign Ministry source said it would be sent without delay to the Dutch parliament, which will organise the referendum about 50 days after the text is signed.
By contrast, the British government signalled on Monday (21 June) according to Reuters that it may delay its referendum until after its Presidency, which will last from July to December 2005.
This would enable Downing Street to use its Presidency to "sell" Europe to the public first before holding the poll in 2006.
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair told the BBC over the weekend: "There's absolutely no need to have [the referendum] straight away."
The Belgian and Spanish governments have both signalled that they would favour a quick referendum like the Dutch.
Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt recently said he would like the Belgian referendum to take place on the same day as the Dutch poll - possibly in the form of a "Benelux referendum" involving Luxembourg as well.
However, the Belgian parliament still has to decide whether or not to hold the referendum, and major French-speaking parties are still undecided.
France could hold a referendum on the Constitution next spring, according to former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.
Dutch parties support Constitution
The Dutch referendum, the first nation-wide poll in the history of the country, will be non-binding.
All major centre-right and centre-left parties this week declared their support for the EU Constitution, which was adopted by EU leaders at a Brussels Summit last Friday (18 June).
But given the increasingly eurosceptic tone of the public debate in the Netherlands, the outcome of the Dutch referendum is uncertain.